Last updated: February 20. 2013 3:30AM - 357 Views

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State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Nanticoke, had planned on attending this year's Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg next month, not as a state legislator but as a father.

Mullery, intended to take his four children and spend the day at the show, but something made him change his mind.

The show's organizers, Reed Exhibitions, decided to ban the sale and display of modern sporting rifles, or ARs, and high capacity ammunition magazines at the event.

Mullery, who also sits on the House Game and Fisheries Committee, said the move made him change his mind.

I felt what the exhibitioner was attempting to do was put a limit on our Second Amendment right, and I didn't like it, he said.

On Thursday Reed Exhibitions announced that the show, which was scheduled to run from Feb. 2-10, would be postponed. A new date has not been announced.

Reed Exhibitions has decided to postpone, for now, 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, according to a statement from the show's website.

Mullery wasn't the only sportsmen who decided not to attend this year's show.

According to a mynortheastoutdoors.com, more than 300 vendors planned to boycott the event, as well as 44 speakers and celebrities, and 66 organizations. The website claims all boycotters were originally scheduled to be at the expo.

A Facebook page created Jan. 15 called Boycott the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show has more than 18,000 likes in just nine days.

Paul Scavone, who owns J&S Sporting Goods in Wilkes-Barre Twp., said many customers in his store have gone to the show for years but were now fully supportive of the boycott. Scavone said he knows many local outdoor enthusiasts who take a day off work so they could bring their families to the show, which was entering its 58th year.

Many people I talked to felt if they're going to limit something that's part of our industry and our sport, then they support the boycott, Scavone said. I'm really confused as to why they did this. It's an outdoors show and they basically slapped the hands of the people who support it year after year.

In a statement, Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions' regional president, said the decision not to include certain firearms and magazines was made to preserve the show's focus on hunting and fishing traditions.

In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs (modern sporting rifles) 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, Burchett said.

The show was expected to draw the usually tens of thousands of outdoors enthusiasts and had more than 1,000 exhibits lined up over it's week-plus run in Harrisburg.

The postponement will be costly for Pennsylvania businesses that rely on the show for revenue, Mullery said. He said he received countless emails from constituents supporting the boycott of the show.

I'm really torn on this because something I intended on participating in with my family is gone, yet I have a sense of pride in those who stood up for what was right, Mullery said. There are Pennsylvania businesses that rely on the revenue they generate at the show to sustain them for the year, and that's just been taken away.

Among the more than 300 vendors who have pulled out of the show were main sponsors such as Cabelas, Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, National Wild Turkey Federation, The Outdoors Channel and Unified Sportsmen of PA.

Bob Makaravage, owner of RJ Marine Sales in Wilkes-Barre, said he used to rent space at the show and was shocked by decision to postpone it. He said the move is going to cost vendors thousands of dollars in space rentals alone, not to mention sales that will be lost.

It's a shame (the organizers) took the stand that they did. That's something our government is supposed to deal with, not the promoter of a show, Makaravage said. This is going to have a big ripple effect on dealers, businesses and even sportsmen who rely on the show to book their hunting and fishing trips. Millions of dollars will be lost over this decision.

The opening of the statement from Reed Exhibitions does give hope for the show to go on -- saying it is off for now -- but with more than 25 percent of expected exhibitors fighting for their right to present certain arms, the conclusion of the statement leaves a more dire view for next month's event.

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.

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