HARRISBURG - The Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show show was postponed indefinitely Thursday after its organizers' ban on assault weapons triggered a backlash and a growing vendor boycott.
Reed Exhibitions posted a notice on the website of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show that said an "emotionally charged atmosphere" had been created that would make it impossible to hold an event "designed to provide family enjoyment."
The nine-day show had been scheduled to start Feb. 2 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg. Reed's statement said the show was being postponed "for now" but did not elaborate, and a Reed spokeswoman declined an interview request or to provide details beyond that posting.
"Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event's historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families," Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions' regional president, said in a statement.
He said that the presence of "modern sporting rifles" would have distracted from the show's focus on hunting and fishing, "a product decision ... of the type event organizers need to make every day."
The ban, Burchett said, would have affected a small percentage of the show's 1,000 exhibits.
"We hope that as the national debate clarifies, we will have an opportunity to consider rescheduling the event when the time is right to focus on the themes it celebrates," he said.
An email sent Thursday to ticket-buyers promised refunds and said the process will be posted on the show's website.
Reed had decided to ban the sale and display of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines after the elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
The company had previously said the decision was made because of concerns that the "current climate" would distract from the emphasis on hunting and fishing "and possibly disrupt the broader positive experience of our guests."
The move angered a significant portion of the show's customer base, and a growing number of vendors had announced they were pulling out of the show. Online listings showed more than 200 sellers had decided against participation, a number Reed did not confirm.
Reed Exhibitions Thursday announced on its website its decision to postpone the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, given the "controversy surrounding its decision to limit the sale or display of modern sporting rifles (also called ARs) at the event."
The show was scheduled to take place Feb. 2 to 10 in Harrisburg.
“Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event’s historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families,” said Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas. “In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests. This was intended simply as a product decision, of the type event organizers need to make every day.
“It has become very clear to us after speaking with our customers that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year’s show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment,” Burchett continued. “It is unfortunate that in the current emotionally charged atmosphere this celebratory event has become overshadowed by a decision that directly affected a small percentage of more than 1,000 exhibits showcasing products and services for those interested in hunting and fishing.
“ESS has long been proud to participate in the preservation and promotion of hunting and fishing traditions, and we hope that as the national debate clarifies, we will have an opportunity to consider rescheduling the event when the time is right to focus on the themes it celebrates.”