Comedian Jay Leno cancelled his participation in hosting a gun event next year, less than 24 hours after three reform groups created a petition asking the former "Tonight Show" host to think twice about associating himself with the organization.
Leno was scheduled to moderate the 2015 Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, an annual event backed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). The trade association is a pro-gun lobbying group based in Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 people, including 20 first-graders, were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.
"When it came to his attention that this was actually a pro-gun lobby show, he immediately cancelled his appearance," Bruce Bobbins, spokesman for Leno, told msnbc. The gig was presented to the comedian as a sportsman show, which he assumed focused on hunting, Bobbins added.
"He found out that it was not what he was originally told it was, and he decided to cancel," he said.
Members of the Newtown Action Alliance said Leno called the chairman of their group Wednesday night to inform her of his decision and to reveal that he wasn't aware NSSF is based about three miles from the site of the shooting rampage.
NSSF issued a statement on its website, declaring "disappointment" in Leno.
"He unilaterally cancelled his promised appearance due to pressure from the anti-gun lobby, which included false statements about our industry and its commitment to genuine firearms safety, which we attempted to personally correct with him, but to no avail. We are not deterred by their publicity seeking nor are we unfamiliar with the bullying political tactics of the gun control groups that seem to have as little respect for the First Amendment as they continually demonstrate with regard to the Second Amendment," the group wrote Wednesday on its blog.
Members continued in the post, saying they will find a performer who "respects the contributions of our industry."
NSSF publicly opposes gun-reform legislation, including bills that would close the loophole in the federal background checks system. Under the law, buyers can purchase firearms at gun shows and on the Internet without passing background checks.
In the past, Leno has been criticized for appearing publicly at events interpreted as political. The comedian, for example, introduced former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the then-candidate's victory party in October 2003. Although Leno's spokesman denied his appearance was an endorsement, some people remained skeptical.
"I'm not conservative. I've never voted that way in my life," Leno told LA Weekly in 2004.
In May, Lenoparticipated in a rally along Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles to protest the punishment of gay individuals and women. The demonstrators called for a widespread boycott of two hotels owned by the Brunei government. A penal code enacted in the Asian country earlier this year allows death by stoning for "crimes" including gay sex.
Manufacturers market their products at the annual NSSF event, the largest firearms trade show in the world. The upcoming gathering is set for Jan. 20 through Jan. 23 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
Leno's decision came just hours before a gunman opened fire inside a library at Florida State University early Thursday morning, wounding three individuals. Police killed the suspected shooter after he refused to drop his weapon and fired at the officers. One of the victims was listed in critical condition, and another remained in stable condition. The third wounded individual was treated at the scene.
Three of Leno's peers — Sarah Silverman, Tim Heidecker, and Kurt Braunohler — performed Tuesday night at a benefit in Los Angeles for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. With "Fun Lovers Unite!," the groups aimed to raise awareness about common-sense laws and elected officials who have taken a stand against gun violence.
Campaign to Unload and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence joined the Newtown Action Alliance in creating the petition on Wednesday morning, and accumulated more than 6,500 signatures. Moms Demand Action took to Twitter to commend Leno on his decision, using "#MomsThankJay" to spread the news.