In the year since one of America's biggest outdoors shows shot itself in the foot, the National Rifle Association has retooled the event, attempting to recast its public image as a family-oriented advocate of the outdoors lifestyle.
The new NRA-sponsored Great American Outdoor Show debuts Feb. 1-9 in Harrisburg at the site of the former Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show.
Last January, weeks after the Newtown, Conn., shooting tragedy, the 65-year-old expo's British owners announced a ban on the sale of semi-automatic rifles. In an internationally publicized demonstration of pro-gun solidarity, hundreds of vendors boycotted the event including non-firearms firms such as Bass Pro Shops, ThermaCell and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association. The vendor boycott killed the expo, costing the Harrisburg business community some $80 million and many jobs.
The NRA is promoting the new expo as the world's biggest outdoors show with more family activities, country music concerts and, of course, more guns including the high-performance modern sporting rifles that had been at the center of the controversy.
Jeremy Greene, NRA director of general operations, said reviving the expo was good business.
"We had been a participant in that show in Harrisburg for over 35 years ... [and have] 900,000 members within 300 miles of Harrisburg," he said. "The media pick up on our Second Amendment stand, but in addition we advocate for firearm safety, marksmanship and education training. The NRA has always been very much in tune with the outdoors industry in general. This isn't a gun show, it's about the lifestyle."
Seminars and celebrity speakers will focus on fishing, hunting, cooking and other outdoor lifestyle activities -- not firearm advocacy. But there will be guns -- an entire "shooting sports hall" filled with them. Buyers, however, can't just walk out with a new toy. They'll be processed through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. The exchange will not take place at the venue. Approved buyers can pick up their guns at a federally licensed firearm dealer located near their homes.