On February 1 the National Rifle Association will commence its inaugural hosting of one of the largest gun shows in the United States with the weeklong Great American Outdoor Show held at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The show promises attendees nearly 1,000 exhibitors displaying wares for hunting, fishing and other outdoors activities as well as "concerts, fundraising dinners, speaking events, archery competitions, celebrity appearances, seminars, demonstrations and much more!"
But behind the NRA's sponsorship of the show is the backstory of how the NRA led a 2013 coup against the previous organizers of "the largest outdoor show in America" at the Farm Show Complex over a dispute about the sale of assault weapons following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. With its takeover of the event -- which will now also be used as an NRA fundraising tool -- the NRA is consciously injecting its Second Amendment absolutism into an annual outdoors show that has been a Harrisburg fixture for more than 60 years.
Here are five reasons why the NRA's Great American Outdoor Show is different from your typical hunting and fishing enthusiast expo:
1. NRA Ousted The Previous Owners For Refusing To Allow Assault Weapons Post-Newtown
Following the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where a gunman used an assault weapon to take 26 lives, Reed Exhibitions -- which in recent years had organized the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, the annual hunting and fishing show held since 1951 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex -- announced that it would not allow assault weapons to be displayed or sold at the 2013 show. In response, sellers of assault weapons and other vendors staged a boycott of the show. The NRA entered the fray, backing the boycott and effectively killing the show, which was subsequently cancelled by Reed Exhibitions. Local officials estimated the cancellation caused an $88 million revenue loss in the Harrisburg area. In April 2013, the NRA announced that it would organize the 2014 show, renamed as the Great American Outdoor Show, after beating out 16 other potential organizers who submitted bids to put on a gun show at the Farm Show Complex.
2. Past NRA President David Keene: Show Is A Rejection Of The Obama Administration Gun Agenda
Signaling an introduction of politics into an event that had largely been about fishing and hunting, former NRA President David Keene described the NRA's takeover of the show as a victory for the Second Amendment and a repudiation of the Obama administration's support for banning assault weapons. In an interview with PennLive.com, Keene, who now heads The Washington Times opinion page, said that the cancellation of the 2013 show evidenced "everybody rejecting the president's narrative":
In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in December 2012, which left 20 [sic] dead, the White House's push to convince Americans that no one needed to own an AR-15 [assault weapon] backfired, Keene said. The majority of Obama's measures aimed at restricting gun sales have failed in Congress.
"It turned out that wasn't true," Keene said. "The fact was that the particularly graphic Harrisburg show collapse, with everybody rejecting the president's narrative, traveled like electricity across the political and outdoor community. Things began to change. It's almost as if the collapse of the show was the fulcrum on which everything turned."
3. Chief Show Sponsor Outdoor Channel Will Bring Its Inflammatory Spokesman Ted Nugent
The show will highlight a recent series of partnership deals between the Outdoor Channel, the NRA, and inflammatory NRA board member Ted Nugent. In January, Outdoor Channel announced the "expansion of its strategic partnership with the National Rifle Association" and a new "multi-year talent and endorsement agreement" with Nugent, whose show Ted Nugent Spirit of the Wild airs on Outdoor Channel. To wit, Nugent recently represented Outdoor Channel at the gun industry's annual trade show, where he compared Jewish film executive Harvey Weinstein to a Nazi because of Weinstein's opposition to the NRA. Nugent also created controversy and faced accusations of racism for an interview conducted at the trade show where he called President Obama a mongrel -- a term for a dog of indeterminate breed. In hiring Nugent, the Outdoor Channel's CEO had claimed that the NRA board member "symbolizes everything that is right in our industry." Outdoor Channel, which under new ownership has signaled a hardline stance against gun safety measures, is the Great American Outdoor Show's top sponsor. Nugent is slated to make an appearance at the show on February 5.
4. Manufacturers Of Guns Used In Newtown And Other Recent Massacres Represented At Show
In contrast to the 2013 show's plan to banish assault weapons from the premises, this year's show will feature a booth from Bushmaster Firearms International, the gun manufacturer that made the AR-15-style assault weapon used in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. Other assault weapon manufacturers at the show include Beretta USA Corp., DPMS Firearms, Mossberg, Remington Arms Company, Smith & Wesson, and Taurus International. A Smith & Wesson assault weapon was used during the July 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater mass shooting, and a Remington shotgun was used in the September 2013 mass shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. According to a Violence Policy Center report, Beretta, DPMS, Remington, Smith & Wesson and Bushmaster parent company Remington Outdoor, Inc. (formerly known as Freedom Group) are all NRA corporate donors. Also in attendance will be Oath Keepers of Pennsylvania, a state chapter of the far-right patriot movement group.
5. Unlike Past Years, Attendees Of Show Cannot Buy Guns On Site
In previous years, attendees could purchase firearms on site. However, the NRA announced in April 2013 that attendees wishing to buy guns may put in their order at the show, but must have the transaction completed at an off-site location. When asked to explain the reasoning behind the policy the NRA issued an explanation-free press release that PennLive.com columnist Nancy Eshelman commented showed "why organizations pay big bucks to their PR people, who are specifically trained to write entire paragraphs that say nothing." Kermit Henning, the outdoor contributor for the local ABC affiliate, speculated that, "I think what they're saying is, 'We don't want to sell a gun because if we do and it's used in a crime then we're liable and it'll give the show a bad name especially the first year.' So I think they're covering their butt." Some local gun dealers see the policy as a move to benefit large gun manufacturers at the expense of local businesses.