Howard Thompson has gone to the annual Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show a dozen times at least.

But he won't go this year.

The nine-day show - scheduled to start Feb. 2 at the Farm Show Complex in Harrisburg - was postponed indefinitely Thursday after its organizers' ban on assault weapons triggered a backlash and a growing vendor boycott.

"I was shocked they made the (ban) decision," said Thompson, 47, of Stewartstown. "The Second Amendment is not a selective item. You can't decide to back some parts of it and not all of it."

The show's organizers made a "political knee-jerk reaction" to a national gun debate heightened by recent school shootings, said Thompson, a competition shooter and match director with the York Izaak Walton League of America pistol committee.

"The school shootings are horrendous, but it's not the competition shooters or hunters or legal gun owners doing this stuff," he said. "It's people who are evil and some who are mentally disturbed."

Reed Exhibitions posted a notice on the website of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show that said an "emotionally charged atmosphere" had been created that would make it impossible to hold an event "designed to provide family enjoyment."

Reed's statement said the show was being postponed "for now" but did not elaborate, and a Reed spokeswoman declined an interview request or to provide details beyond that posting.


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"Our original decision not to include certain products in the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show this year was made in order to preserve the event's historical focus on the hunting and fishing traditions enjoyed by American families," Chet Burchett, Reed Exhibitions' regional president, said in a statement.

He said that the presence of "modern sporting rifles" would have distracted from the show's focus on hunting and fishing, "a product decision ... of the type event organizers need to make every day."

The ban, Burchett said, would have affected a small percentage of the show's 1,000 exhibits.

"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," he said.

Like Thompson, Wade Bennett of Stewartstown said he does not like the show's assault-rifle ban nor its postponement decision. Bennett said he has been to the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show.

"People are concerned their legal rights are being taken away," said Bennett, 54, of Stewartstown. "People kill with hammers and kitchen knives, but we don't take those away."

There is more to the show besides firearm exhibits, said John Highfill, 60, a Hanover hunter and fisherman.

"It's all about the outfitters to book trips and hunt any place in the world," he said. "I like to see the exhibitors, the new things they have. You go every year and start to establish a rapport with (vendors). It's not all about guns for me."

It's also about making plans over the last three years to hunt elk in Colorado in October. Highfill said he has been working with one of the show's exhibitors to navigate the complicated process of getting a license from the Colorado wildlife division.

"I go to the show, go to my outfitter, and they work though the numbers, the data for me," Highfill said. "Without the show, I'll have to do it all myself. There's so much more this show does for people."

-Reach Eyana Adah McMillan at emcmillan@yorkdispatch.com.