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Mon February 3, 2014
Around the Nation

Outdoor Show Reopens Under New Management: The NRA

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 7:33 pm

Last year, organizers of one of the nation's largest outdoor shows tried to ban certain guns in the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. But the industry struck back with a boycott, and the Eastern Sports and Outdoor show was eventually canceled.

This year, it's back and bigger than ever.

Now called the Great American Outdoor Show, it stretches over nearly a million square feet in the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. It's also under new management — the National Rifle Association. But that doesn't mean the show is just about guns, says Todd Boyer, who enjoys hunting and came to the show from nearby York, Pa.

"It's not just hunting; it's not just fishing," Boyer says. "It's recreational shooting, it's hunting, it's fishing — everything's included."

"I see a little more, at least in my opinion, a little more of the [assault rifle]-style stuff than I did before," he adds. "I think always more is better, so it's nice to see a variety."

This is the first exhibition show the NRA has ever run. A lot of it is still the same — lots of booths advertising hunting trips, taxidermy, fishing expeditions, and all the accessories one would need.

But there is one big change — the NRA added a shooting sports hall, with more national gun manufacturers. Jeremy Greene of the gun rights group says others shouldn't be fearful their favorite exhibitor will be chased away.

"We're not trying to turn this into a gun show," Greene says. "It's going to maintain hunting, and archery and fishing and camping and boating and RV exhibits, but we're really excited about bringing a shooting sports hall with national manufacturers to showcase their full line of products to attendees."

He says the NRA wants to use the Great American Outdoor Show as a chance to show a different side to the gun rights group, one focused on education and outdoor activities.

"We hope that people do have an open mind, and they come out and they, you know, take in the show and they see what we're all about," Greene says. "I think that they'll find that NRA is very much in tune with what they care about."

And what if another mass shooting like Newtown happens in the U.S.? Russ Thurman, who covers outdoor and gun shows as publisher and editor of the trade magazine Shooting Industry, says the controversy over last year's attempted ban serves as a warning to other shows.

"To respect that, is what I think the message is," Thurman says. "As opposed to making a decision that impacts not only the show that you have, but also impacts a lot of people's incomes, and most certainly the ... many thousands and thousands of people that attend the show."

Organizers say without a show, the Harrisburg area lost out on $44 million in direct spending in hotels, restaurants, and at the show itself. In coming years, they hope the new show will beat that, as the NRA markets it to all its members.

Copyright 2014 WITF-FM. To see more, visit http://www.witf.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

In Pennsylvania, one of the nation's largest outdoor shows is back on this week. It was cancelled last year in the wake of the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Ben Allen, of member station WITF in Harrisburg, reports that this year's show is bigger than ever and it's got a new high-profile organizer.

BEN ALLEN, BYLINE: Last year, the organizers of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show announced a ban on certain guns because of the shootings. The industry struck back with a boycott of the show and it was eventually cancelled.

Russ Thurman covers outdoor and gun shows as publisher and editor of a trade magazine called Shooting Industry. He says the ban caught everyone off-guard.

RUSS THURMAN: The size, the scope of it. So I think that it was rare. I think it was extremely rare, and I think it actually kind of startled people that they would make a decision like that.

ALLEN: Thurman says if there was one change across the country after Newtown, it was a bit more of a subdued mood at shows. People were worried about the tragedy and about new gun control legislation. But now, Thurman says things are back to normal.

This year, the show is back and it's got a new name. The Great American Outdoor Show stretches over nearly a million square feet in the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. The National Rifle Association now runs the show. Todd Boyer was walking the floor this weekend.

TODD BOYER: That's what is good about it. There's just everything.

ALLEN: Things like this duck call.

BOYER: It's not just hunting. It's not just fishing. It's, you know, it's recreational shooting. It's hunting. It's fishing. It's - everything's included.

ALLEN: Boyer came up from nearby York for the day. He's an outdoors guy who enjoys hunting.

BOYER: I see a little more, I mean, at least in my opinion, a little more of the AR-style stuff than I did before. I think always more is better, so it's nice to see a variety.

ALLEN: That may be because the NRA is running the show now. It's actually the first exhibition show it's ever run. A lot of it is just the same - lots of booths advertising hunting trips, taxidermy, fishing expeditions, and all the accessories one would need. There is one big change, though. The NRA added a shooting sports hall with more national gun manufacturers. Jeremy Greene of the gun rights group says others shouldn't be fearful their favorite exhibitor will be chased away.

JEREMY GREENE: We're not trying to turn this into a gun show. And it's gonna maintain hunting and archery and fishing and camping and boating and RV exhibits. But we're really excited about bringing a shooting sports hall with national manufacturers to showcase their full line of products to attendees.

ALLEN: He says the NRA wants to use the Great American Outdoor Show as a chance to show a different side to the gun rights group, one focused on education and outdoor activities.

GREENE: We hope that people do have an open mind and they come out and they, you know, take in the show and see what we're all about. I think that they'll find that, you know, NRA is very much in tune with what, you know, they care about.

ALLEN: And what if another mass shooting like Newtown happens in the U.S.? Russ Thurman, who covers the industry, says the backlash over the decision to ban certain weapons from last year's show should serve as a warning to other event organizers.

THURMAN: As opposed to making a decision that impacts not only the show that you have but also impacts a lot of people's incomes and most certainly the - I don't how many - thousands and thousands of people that attend the show, respect it.

ALLEN: Organizers say without a show last year, the Harrisburg area lost out on $44 million in direct spending in hotels, restaurants, and at the show itself. In the coming years, they hope the new show will beat that, as the NRA markets it to all its members. For NPR News, I'm Ben Allen in Harrisburg. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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