HARRISBURG - Two sides of the political debate over guns brought their case to the Pennsylvania Capitol on Wednesday, pressing for support among state lawmakers in the issue, always present in Harrisburg but more prominent since last month's Connecticut school massacre.
The first event, in the bitter cold of the Capitol steps, was organized by a self-described grassroots group, Pennsylvania Responsible Citizens, and focused on gun protections in the state and national constitutions.
The Second Amendment, said freshman Rep. Tommy Sankey, R-Clearfield, was designed "to keep politicians in their place."
"If they want our guns, come and try to get them, because it's not going to happen," Sankey told the cheering crowd of about 100.
Inside the building about an hour later, some of them were among several hundred who heard people speak about how they have lost loved ones to gun violence, and many of them invoked the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 first-graders and six educators.
"Our country needs to use this tragedy, this anguish as our driving force to a better union, a more perfect union," said Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin, who recounted how his father was slain in front of him on a city street in 1979, when Negrin was 13 years old.
The rallies were held amid calls for a boycott of the nine-day Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show in Harrisburg next month because organizers banned the sale and display of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
A growing number of businesses and organizations have pulled out of the massive sportsmen's show at the Farm Show Complex. Chet Burchett, regional president for Norwalk, Conn.-based Reed Exhibitions, declined an interview request Wednesday.
Among others, the show has lost Cabela's Inc., the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the National Wild Turkey Federation and, on Wednesday, the National Rifle Association.
The NRA said it had asked Reed to reconsider but the company "steadfastly refused to do so."
"We are disappointed that Reed Exhibitions has ignored the concerns expressed by attendees, the outdoor industry and the NRA in not reconsidering their position to ban the display of modern sporting rifles," the NRA said in announcing its decision.
Joe Trobaugh, co-owner of a Greencastle company that markets sauces and other items for cooking wild game, got wind of Reed's policy on Saturday, and a day later he was drafting an announcement that Gutntag LLC would not be a participant.
Between the fee of about $2,000 for a 10-by-10 space and the lost business from the show, he estimates the decision cost Gutntag about $20,000.
"We feel strongly that the integrity of our business isn't based on the financial gain we could have made, but the stance of the Second Amendment," Trobaugh said. "We didn't make this decision because we want to jump on some bandwagon. We made the decision because we are outdoorsmen and we are hunters."
A Reed spokeswoman was not able to confirm an online posting that purports to list more than 200 vendors and dozens of other exhibitors that have canceled in protest, and could not say whether the movement has affected ticket sales.