Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bill Cochran's Outdoors: Turkey federation says hunters have a role in gun debate

Bill Cochran Bill Cochran is a Roanoke Times outdoors columnist.

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How involved should hunters be in the raging controversy over AR-style guns and ammo magazines that are as long as your arm?

Should those of us who hunt deer with rifles of bolt-action and polished walnut stocks even care what happens to the menacing-looking ARs?  Do we have a dog in this fight?

An answer to that comes from the National Wild Turkey Federation. The federation bailed out of the Eastern Sports and Outdoor Show, a nine-day event scheduled to begin Saturday and expected to attract 200,000 people to Harrisonburg, Pa. For more than 20 years, the show has been one of the biggest of its kind in the country. It puts an estimated $44 million into the region’s economy.

More than 1,000 exhibitors signed up for the event, including the turkey federation, which was set to sponsor a calling contest. But the federation dropped out when the promoter, British-owned Reed Outdoor Exhibitors, announced that vendors could not exhibit, sell or even show pictures of AR-style guns and high-capacity ammo magazines.

Before long, more than 200 would-be exhibitors and featured celebrities had backed away from the show, many of them with no plans to display AR-type guns. They saw the ban as a slap in the face of the Second Amendment.

The first to make the jump was Cabela’s. Others included the NRA, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Benelli, Sportsman’s Liquidation, Mossberg, “Just Killing Time,” Ruger, Hevi-Shot, Trijicon, Crimson Trace, Ten Pont, Lee and Tiffany Lakosky, Weatherby and Smith and Wesson.

“We support the Second Amendment and the rights of our law-abiding customers to purchase these and all legal firearms,” said James Debney, CEO of Smith & Wesson.

The promoter decided to postpone the show when the exodus of exhibitors reached the 20-percent mark.

You could expect this kind of strong response from the NRA and from gun manufacturers, but what about the National Wild Turkey Federation and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation? Aren’t they more about hunting and conservation than guns? You aren’t likely to see an AR-type gun on a turkey hunt, nor do you need one to take an elk.

Which brings us back to our original question: Do hunters have a stake in the AR battle?

 The turkey federation thinks so.

“We feel strongly about the importance of the Second Amendment in pursuit of our mission of preserving our hunting heritage,” said Skip Motts, president of the Pennsylvania State Chapter.

The federation is saying that you can’t separate hunting, guns and conservation without serious consequences. The right to bear arms is a pillar of our hunting tradition and our hunting tradition is the major source of support for wildlife conservation.

What we don’t need are new barriers to hunting. There are enough already, said George Thornton, CEO of the federation.

One way you protect the right to hunt is to protect the Second Amendment, Thornton said. “It is critical that we not lose sight of this as the gun control debate takes place,” he said.

No telling how big of a financial loss postponing the show was for the promoter, but it also put the hurt on small exhibitors who depend on the event for a large percentage of their annual profit. They were willing to put their business at risk for a greater cause.

The turkey federation is working to add booths to its sold out Feb. 15-17 National Convention and Sport Show in Nashville to accommodate exhibitors who exited the Harrisonburg show.

The NRA said it wouldn’t just boycott the Harrisonburg show, but also any other sponsored by Reed Exhibitors. That didn’t sound so threatening until someone remembered that the Reed group is a longtime management partner of the SHOT Show, the biggest of them all, which just finished a run in Las Vegas.

This brings a final question: How could Reed Exhibitors sabotage its own show and jeopardize its future by doing something as stupid as putting restrictions on a legal and very popular sporting rifle?

Chet Burchett, a spokesman, said it was done out of fear that the high-profile fight over AR guns would distract from the show’s theme of hunting, fishing and family enjoyment.

It seems that Reed Exhibitions wants to enjoy the benefits of the hunting tradition without being involved in the fight to preserve the right of gun ownership. The turkey federation says that can’t be done.

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