On Jan. 16, Reed Exhibitions, a UK-based event planner, announced that it would disallow the sale or display of assault rifles at its upcoming Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show, which last year drew more than 1,200 vendors to Harrisburg, Penn. In response, the National Rifle Association called for a boycott. By Jan. 23, Missoula-based Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, along with some 200 other exhibitors, joined the boycott. The event, which touts itself as the "largest of its kind in North America," was canceled on Jan. 24.
In its original announcement, Reed Exhibitions explained, "...we strongly support the 2nd Amendment ... [however] we have made the decision not to include certain products ... that would distract from the strong focus on hunting and fishing at this family oriented event."
RMEF, which was founded in 1984 by four Montana hunters who "wanted to ensure a future for North America's grandest game animal," primarily operates as a conservation group. In its 2011 income tax exemption form, RMEF reported $38,102,697 in contributions and grants, most of which came from the value of donated conversation easements. On the tax form, RMEF says its mission includes "... conserving habitat, promoting elk management, and educating members on conservation and hunting."
According to spokesperson Mark Holyoak, it is on behalf of those members that RMEF joined the NRA-sparked boycott. "Our members support the Second Amendment, and we represent them," he says, adding that "Reed Exhibitions is banning legal firearms."
In the Jan. 24 announcement of the event's cancellation, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas Chett Burchett wrote, "It has become very clear to us...that the event could not be held because the atmosphere of this year's show would not be conducive ... to family enjoyment ... [A]s 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."
Even if the "national debate clarifies," it's uncertain how many of the boycotting organizations would agree to attend. The damage is potentially already done.
"We're the same as we always have been" says Holyoak. "They decided to change things up."