• Hunters unite in effort to defend ‘black guns’
    By DARREN MARCY
    STAFF WRITER | January 27,2013
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    You hear it all the time.

    “We’re not after the guns you hunt with, we just want to get rid of those military assault weapons.”

    From what I’ve seen, most hunters aren’t buying that and Thursday, a major outdoor show found out the hard way.

    Today, what one group calls “assault weapons,” the firearm and hunting industry refers to as “modern sporting rifles” or “black guns,” owing to the fact that — at least in the beginning — they had a black finish. Today, they’re just as likely to have a camo pattern or another color.

    They are also sometimes simply referred to as an “AR,” after the original AR-15, which is what the original manufacturer ArmaLite used to name its firearms. It does not, as is often claimed, stand for “assault rifle.”

    The issue with these guns is that they look scary, which is about how much many of the people who want to ban “assault rifles” know about them.

    In reality, with the exception of cosmetic differences like a pistol grip and the ability to attach various accessories like flashlights, bayonet mounts, sights and more, these guns aren’t largely different from the hunting rifles gun-control advocates say they are OK with.

    After the Newtown, Conn., shooter used an “assault rifle” during his rampage at an elementary school, the pent-up rage against black guns was unleashed.

    But politicians and others are finding that despite the cry from the public to do something about gun violence, gun owners — including hunters and the hunting industry — are fighting back against the misperceptions that these semi-automatic rifles are not used by hunters and recreational target shooters.

    Vermont State Senator Philip Baruth learned this after he announced Senate Bill 62 that would ban “assault rifles” in Vermont. After a steady stream of polite but persistant opposition, Baruth withdrew the bill saying he was afraid the furor was overshadowing other bills that might have a chance of passing that dealt with closing the so-called “gunshow loophole,” limiting the capacity of firearm magazines and other proposed legislation.

    Last weekend during the Yankee Sportsman’s Classic, several booths were sporting signs in opposition to Baruth’s bill and other proposed legislation. Petitions were circulating and support was being mustered for the fight against what those in attendance know is going to be a session with many gun-control bills to contend with.

    But the biggest blow so far came Thursday, when Reed Exhibitions pulled the plug on its Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show.

    The biggest hunting and fishing show in the country was expected to kick off in Harrisburg, Pa., for a Feb. 2-10 run, but controversy bubbled over as Reed, a division of a British company, announced it had banned the display of black guns and extended magazines from its show.

    The Eastern Sports and Outdoors Show listed 1,200 exhibitors and an attendance of more than 1 million. But more than 170 exhibitors and celebrities pulled out of the show and the list of those who jumped ship reads like a who’s who of outdoor companies and celebrities.

    Among those who pulled out is one of the show’s main sponsors, Cabelas, the outdoor retailing giant.

    With every announcement of a boycott, the Internet lit up and word continued to spread.

    The impact that 1 million attendees would have had on hotels and restaurants for nine days will be a crushing blow to that area’s economy.

    What the show’s owners must not have known is that the black guns they banned are in fact important to hunters.

    While there aren’t many in the deer woods yet, a lot of varmint hunters and those pursuing feral hogs in much of the rest of the country have flocked to the AR-platform semi-autos.

    Bryce Towsley of North Clarendon could, without too much of an argument, be considered one of Vermont’s foremost experts on these guns with more than four decades of experience with them.

    Towsley is a highly decorated writer and photographer who has written for more than 32 years about hunting and shooting sports for just about every major national magazine that publishes such work and has more than 2,700 pieces in publication to go with seven books. He’s on the masthead for magazines like American Rifleman, American Hunter, and Shooting Illustrated and writes a regular column for Gun Digest Magazine and appears on The American Rifleman Television show.

    He has also worked as a consultant for firearms companies and helped write technical instruction manuals.

    If you were to put together a group of who’s who of gun and hunting writers, Towsley would be in the front row.

    And a he knows personally many of those people who have withdrawn from the show.

    “A lot of those are friends of mine,” Towsley said. “They feel very strongly about gun rights. They realize, too, that it doesn’t stop here. They could very well go after the guns hunters use next. I support them and I applaud them.”

    Towsley was on the phone from the Safari Club International convention, a weeklong international show focusing on hunting and firearms in Reno, Nev. He had just completed the weeklong Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas the previous week.

    Reed Expositions puts on the SHOT Show, an industry trade show open only to those in the business and media. SHOT Show is owned by the National Shooting Sports Federation, and Towsley said he believes the NSSF should have stepped up to fight Reed Exhibitions sooner.

    Towsley, speaking before Thursday’s announcement of the show’s cancellation, said Reed’s action were going to hurt them financially and could carry over, possibly having an impact on next year’s SHOT Show.

    While the jury is still out, Towsley pondered the questions a lot of hunters are asking themselves these days as they wonder why they should face the loss of black guns.

    “Why do I need to justify my needs to anybody,” Towsley said. “We’re trying to blame the guns here. One hundred million gun owners didn’t shoot anybody yesterday.”

    Contact Darren by email at darren@darrenmarcy.com or at www.DarrenMarcy.com.
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