The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 25, 2013

Collateral damage is assured

Daily Item

---- — The Eastern Sports Outdoors Show is one of the truly great events in Pennsylvania, annually drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from beyond the state's borders in February to the capitol region, generating nearly $75 million.

The event, promoted by Reed Exhibitions, involves everything, from camping equipment to hunting gear to taxidermy. Because of that, it attracts a wide mix of people, not just hunters, campers and vendors.

Last month, Reed Exhibitions, in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., decided to limit what vendors could sell or show when it came to firearms. Promoters did not want military-style rifles on hand with tents and fishing poles across the aisle.

The law of unintended consequences caught up with Reed Exhibitions. While their motives may have been pure and honorable, the move backfired. More than 300 vendors and nearly 50 guest speakers pulled out as a result of the move. That prompted Reed Exhibitions to pull the plug, at least temporarily, on the show last week.

What the move creates, on both sides, is a real test of convictions, a $75 million test.

There are very few battles in the United States today where the line in the sand is so clearly drawn -- not a lot of grey area. The battle over the 2nd Amendment, like that with abortion or free speech, does not reflect a lot middle ground. Instead, the conversation is held poles apart, on the far left and the far right, where some of the voices farthest from center are no doubt the loudest.

It is a battle, that comes down to money. On one side you have you have the NRA, which has spent nearly $29 million on lobbyists since 1998. On the other side is former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' new PAC, Americans for Responsible Solutions, the longer standing Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and a scattering of other groups including survivors of other previous mass shootings across the country.

Pennsylvania businesses, including those with little or nothing to do with the hot-button issue -- hotels, restaurants -- are among the first to be caught in the crossfire.

When the country is so polarized that we cannot unite following the murder of 20 children, collateral damage is assured.

There is a lesson here about the responsibilities of citizenship for those who believed the uninvolved middle was the safest place to be.