By David A. Keene, President
Last year, I was invited to cut the ribbon at the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., the largest of its kind in the country. This year, the show was cancelled when hundreds of vendors dropped out to protest the organizers’ decision to ban the display of the sorts of semi-automatic firearms that are vilified by President Obama and Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
It all happened within just a few days in late January when Reed Exhibitions, the British-owned company that had run the show for years, announced the ban and, within hours, exhibitors began dropping out. Within a few days, a Reed spokesman announced that the show was being “indefinitely postponed.” As the Pittsburgh papers reported at the time, the revolt against the show organizers involved “hundreds of companies, many of which do not sell guns.”
The papers were right, and that’s why what happened in Harrisburg was so important. The collapse of the show destroyed the mythical narrative the president and others are trying to sell the media and legislators: that it would be safe to vote for their ideologically driven anti-firearm agenda this time because, after the Newtown tragedy, the “world has changed.” The NRA, they assured legislators, no longer really matters because we no longer represent gun owners and hunters, but simply shill for the gun companies who “finance the NRA.” They even came up with bogus polls to “prove” that NRA members and shooters were solid supporters of the Obama administration’s anti-gun agenda, and they claimed that NRA members were quitting in droves because of our refusal to support what the president likes to call his “common sense” restrictions on firearm ownership.
To set the record straight, the NRA polled members and published the results. We let the media know that our financial support from the firearm industry amounts to about 1 percent of our revenues, and that most of our financial support comes as it always has, from our members—the very people the president insists are on his side on Second Amendment issues.
Gun owners are continuing to express their true feelings by joining the NRA—in droves. On the day the president delivered his televised anti-gun diatribe, more than 58,000 Americans picked up their phones and joined the organization. Total NRA membership is now nearing 5 million.
At the same time, Congress was deluged with hundreds of thousands of calls from gun owners and Second Amendment supporters protesting this latest assault on our constitutional rights, and tens of thousands of men and women were showing up at state capitols around the country to let their elected officials know where they stand on firearm freedom.
All of this has been critically important, but the collapse of the Harrisburg show demonstrated something that the president and his supporters were hoping wouldn’t happen. They had been trying desperately to divide Americans on firearm policy; to isolate those they are going after this time and persuade others that their rights would remain intact. Harrisburg proved that gun owners and millions of others weren’t falling for this “divide and conquer” strategy.
The first people to walk out when the decision to ban modern semi-automatic rifles was announced were the bow hunters, followed by Cabela’s, Bass Pro Shops and other retailers. Within days, more than 320 exhibitors announced they were abandoning the show and it was over. The unity of the outdoor community shocked everyone. This was a show that attracts as many as 1 million people each year and generates about $80 million in business for the city hosting it.
Fortunately for Harrisburg and the sportsmen and women who look forward to the show each year, in late April NRA Director of General Operations Kyle Weaver announced that NRA has reached an agreement with the state of Pennsylvania to operate the show. The newly named Great American Outdoor Show is going to become a national show with implications way beyond the borders of Pennsylvania and Harrisburg. It’s going to attract people from all over the country—not just next year, but for years to come.