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.