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Pennsylvania hunting show postponed after backlash to organizer's assault weapons ban

A large hunting and fishing show in Pennsylvania was postponed indefinitely Thursday, amid controversy over organizers' decision to ban the sale or display of "modern sporting rifles" -- often referred to as assault rifles.

The Eastern Sports & Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pa., was scheduled for Feb. 2-10. But in a statement on its website Thursday, Reed Exhibitions President for the Americas Chet Burchett said "the atmosphere of this year’s show would not be conducive to an event that is designed to provide family enjoyment."

Some customers and vendors became angered that the show decided to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. According to The Associated Press, online listings indicated that more than 200 sellers had pulled out of the show.

Guns shows across America are under scrutiny after last month's shooting rampage at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. Twenty children and six adult staffers were killed during the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Modern sporting rifles are semiautomatic weapons that include the Bushmaster XM-15 used by the Newtown gunman and other such guns similar to the Colt AR-15. These weapons are often referred to as ARs or assault weapons. This type of rifle is among the most popular firearms in America.

Burchett said the ban would have only directly affected "a small percentage" of the show's more than 1,000 exhibits. He said the move was simply "a product decision" that event organizers have to make.

"In the current climate, we felt that the presence of MSRs (modern sporting rifles) would distract from the theme of hunting and fishing, disrupting the broader experience of our guests," Burchett said.

Ticket-buyers to the show have been promised refunds, the AP reported. Burchett said that "as the national debate clarifies," they will consider rescheduling the event.

But the National Shooting Sports Foundation slammed the postponement, calling the decision "unacceptable." Reed Exhibitions managed a recent Las Vegas gun show for the foundation, an industry trade association, and the NSSF said in a statement on its website that it was reconsidering the management of future shows. The NSSF is based in Newtown.  

The AP reported earlier this month that several gun shows near Newtown were called off or the venues had backed out, including in White Plains, N.Y., and Danbury, Conn. Last Saturday, five people were wounded in accidents at three separate gun shows in North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana.

The Newtown tragedy sparked a new debate over gun control and pushed legislators, including President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, to pursue proposals to reduce violence.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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