The mayor of Harrisburg recently announced that he won't be providing city police to one of the nation's largest sporting and gun shows because it is sponsored by the National Rifle Association.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse, a Democrat, claimed that he decided to pull city police from the Great American Outdoors Show because of gun violence in Harrisburg -- and because the National Rifle Association (NRA) cost the city money by supporting gun-ordinance lawsuits filed against cities like Harrisburg and Philadelphia.
"We have an epidemic of gun violence," Papenfuse told ABC 27. "It's no secret that the NRA has worked against the city’s interests repeatedly over the past year causing us to spend tens of thousands of dollars to defend common sense gun ordinances. We don’t need to be doing them any favors."
His spokeswoman Joyce Davis backed up those statements Monday, and did not deny that the city was using this move to put political pressure on the NRA.
"There is public pressure being brought to bear on the NRA," Davis said. "In our area, where we're dealing with losing people as young as 16 years old and younger to gun violence, there's definitely pressure from our mothers, our religious leaders, and our activists who care about youth for the NRA to work with law enforcement and not make it more difficult to protect our children."
NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide bristled at the implication of Davis' words.
"To suggest we're encouraging gun violence is both insulting and wrong," he said.
According to Dalseide, the real disagreement was over the NRA's unwillingness to cough up more cash for the privilege of having Harrisburg police earn extra cash staffing the event.
"Would they be holding the same stance about 'protecting our children' if we had met their financial demands? Would those concerns have still existed?" he asked.
Specifically, Dalseide said in December Papenfuse requested the NRA increase the pay to police officers from $30 to $50 an hour, guarantee a $50,000 donation to the Harrisburg police department for the next five years, and doubled a "police coordination fee" to the city to 10 percent from the previous five percent of all pay for officers staffing the event.
The NRA paid $653,675 to Harrisburg over the past two years for police security, city taxes, and one $50,000 donated car to the police department, he said.
The Great American Outdoor Show is a sporting convention that runs from Feb. 6 to 14 in Harrisburg and includes sales of items ranging from fishing boats and clothes to RVs and guns. It also features a "Wall of Guns" where for $10, visitors can enter a raffle to win their choice of firearm off the wall. The NRA took over running the event two years ago, Dalseide said.
Davis acknowledged that the dispute was partly over a disagreement about funding from the NRA to the city government.
"Two years ago when the mayor took office, he met with representatives of the NRA who made several proposals to support the city, in particular the police department, in return for the city's support and police services at that show," she said.
Davis said one $50,000 police vehicle was donated to the city police department, but "this year, instead of giving or donating to the city or police department, they decided to donate to several non-profits. Some of this is not even in the city."
Dalseide denied that the NRA violated the agreement they had with the city of Harrisburg, and said they offered to step up hourly wages for police over the next three years to $40, but that offer was not accepted.
Davis also acknowledged that the city was irked by lawsuits related to Act 192 -- a controversial, NRA-backed law that passed under Gov. Tom Corbett, which made it illegal for specific municipalities to have gun ordinances that were not part of state law.
Firearms Owners Against Crime (FOAC) sued Harrisburg over its laws requiring people to report stolen guns or possess guns in city parks under the law, which was declared invalid by a state court in June. The constitutionality of the law is in limbo pending a ruling by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
"The NRA supported what we believed to be frivolous lawsuits that challenged existing gun regulations," Davis said.
But FOAC president Kim Stolfer said the NRA had nothing to do with the Act 192 lawsuits in Harrisburg -- his group, which helped develop the legislation, filed them.
"Mayor Eric Papenfuse is lying," Stolfer said. "The NRA had nothing to do with these lawsuits. ... To put it bluntly, he's committing extortion and tarring and feathering the NRA for something they had nothing to do with. ... If he's going to criticize an organization for costing the city money, he should be focusing on us and on the illegality of the city's actions."
Dalseide said the event, which attracted 200,000 visitors in 2014 and has gotten security staffing from the Harrisburg Police Department for the past two years, would continue as planned with security inside the show provided by police officers from other townships within Dauphin County.
This story was amended to include comments from Kim Stolfer and corrected to show FOAC, not private citizens of Harrisburg, filed suit against the city under Act 192.