Rob Kaufhold's gut told him it would get "ugly" when the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show banned the presence of assault rifles and high-capacity magazine rounds. The explosiveness of the gun control issue, and the power of social media, he believed, would assure that.
His instincts were looking good Wednesday, as a growing list of vendors and celebrities announced they would boycott North America's largest outdoor show, which is set to begin Feb. 2 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg.
The owner of Lancaster Archery Supply said he quickly concluded outdoor enthusiasts would hold it against his business if he participated in the show. He said he further envisions an attendance drop that will cut into sales.
"I was looking at a lose-lose preposition," said Kaufhold, 51, whose business sells archery gear, not guns.
On Wednesday, a website promoting the boycott listed more than 200 vendors as having pulled out of the show. The show typically draws about 1,200 vendors.
As of late Wednesday afternoon, Reed Exhibitions, which runs the show, hadn't responded to repeated requests for comment on the situation.
Organizations publicly stating their intention to boycott included retail giant and show sponsor Cabela's, the NRA, the Chambersburg-based Sportsmens Liquidation and the Marysville-based Pennsylvania Taxidermist Association. Sportmens Liquidation said it had booked 130 booths.
Jamie Gray of Lebanon, the Olympic air rifle gold medalist, said on her Facebook page she will boycott the event.
The sole remaining sponsor listed on the show's website, Progressive, was "evaluating" its role as a sponsor. In an email, a spokesman said: "Progressive's sponsorship strategy is not designed to make a political or social statement or to endorse or advance any political agenda or lifestyle; it's simply to sell insurance... We are evaluating our sponsorship with the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show and will let you know if we will make any changes in the coming days."
Members of several Harrisburg-area organizations who plan to boycott said they are taking a stand against a show organizer they perceive as caving in to parties that would limit Second Amendment rights to own guns.
"This show is based on guns and weapons and the outdoors. They are supposed to be promoting those kinds of things. That's what the show is for," said Steve Kepner of North Mountain Pepper Works, which is boycotting the event. The Lycoming County-based business produces a line of food products, including relishes and preserved peppers.
Dave Houser, the president of the taxidermist association, said: "Without guns, there is not much taxidermy to be done. It's not good for the association or its members to be associated with an event that's against parts of the Second Amendment."
His organization planned to run a taxidermy competition at the show, with about 125 of its members participating. Now there will be no competition, and Houser predicted few of of the association's 500 members will attend the show.
Houser further noted that Cabela's hosts his association's main annual competition, and its board doesn't want to risk jeopardizing its relationship with the retailer.
Kepner said he planned to spend nearly $1,400 for a small booth at the show, plus more on items including parking permits.
"You need to hit [Reed Exhibitions] where it hurts, and that's in the pocketbook," said Kepner, 48. "They are going to lose over $3,000 or $4,000 on me alone."
Doug Dietrich of American Whitetails of Pennsylvania said that on one level the decision to boycott was painful.
The West Hanover Township-based hunting guide service is a part-time business. Because of their full-time jobs, the three proprietors are unable to travel to other shows.
"That's really where we get all of our business, other than return customers," he said of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show. "We hoped to pick up at least 20 people for our guided hunts."
Dietrich, who shoes horses for a living, says he's normally against boycotts, protests and generally mixing business with politics.
But he said he was propelled to action by "misinformation put out by the media" and some politicians regarding the Second Amendment, which he believes is intended to give Americans the ability to protect themselves, and which he believes extends to so-called assault rifles such as the AR-15.
"The objective is to draw attention to the fact that we're about to lose a right, a human right to protect yourself," said Dietrich, 44.
While Comcast's logo was on the show's website earlier this week, a spokesman said the cable TV giant was not a sponsor and had never been a sponsor. The logo was removed Wednesday.
Several vendors interviewed Wednesday predicted attendance will be down substantially, and further said Reed Exhibitions will be unable to rebuild credibility with outdoor enthusiasts, who will forever view the organization as weak on gun rights.
However, Mark Finnegan, owner of Shamrock Holsters of Craig, Colo., said the boycott won't stop him from attending the show.
He further said he knows many venders from the western United States who plan to attend. "Everybody I know is coming," he said.
Tom Conlan, the founder of Aid Our Veterans, hadn't heard of the boycott as of Wednesday afternoon.
The Maryland-based nonprofit, which exists to help struggling veterans, mans a booth at the show to raise money and to meet families that can refer it to veterans who need help. It will attend the show, and the boycott and surrounding issues have no bearing on the organization's mission, Conlan said.
PennLive.com reporter Julianne Mattera contributed to this report.
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