HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – An ongoing dispute involving Harrisburg’s mayor and the National Civil War Museum, and another between the top city leader and the National Rifle Association, came together this week.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who has no love for the NRA, wants to close the museum. Now, the gun rights group is helping fund it.
There’s no denying history lives at the Civil War Museum; just ask CEO Wayne Motts. He gave ABC27 News a first look at their newest exhibition Monday, called Guns and Lace, courtesy of a $25,000 grant from the NRA.
“Obviously, these weapons and the apparel that’s worn during the Civil War fits right in with our educational mission,” Motts said.
Now some in the city government say the mayor’s office is not happy about the grant.
He’s been trying to shut down the museum since 2014, saying it wastes money and calling it a “failed experiment” from former mayor Steve Reed.
“The Civil War Museum, in many respects, is simply siphoning money away from really fixing the problems that plague our city,” Papenfuse said in an interview in November 2014.
Beginning last year, the mayor also went head to head with the NRA over gun laws.
“We’re not going to simply repeal something that we feel is protecting the public safety,” he said in January 2015 in response to potential legal action by the group.
Last year, after taking over the Great American Outdoor Show, the NRA donated $50,000 to the city to deliver on a commitment to fundraising, “where a portion of the funds raised each year would support the Central Pennsylvania area,” NRA marketing director Jeremy Greene wrote in an email.
This year, following collapsed negotiations with the city, the money went instead to local charities as well as the Civil War Museum, Greene said.
Funding from a group the mayor is fighting is going to a museum the mayor wants to close.
“After talks broke down with Mayor Papenfuse,” NRA spokesman Kyle Jillson said in an email, “the National Civil War Museum was one of several organizations that came to us with excellent plans on promoting firearm education and safety and were ultimately awarded grants.”
Without the donation to the city, Papenfuse banned off-duty city police officers from working security at the show, as they’ve done in past years.
“We’re in no position to do any favors for the NRA,” Papenfuse said in January.
What’s more, Capital Area Transit buses will provide free transportation from the show to the museum on Wednesday afternoon.
Motts said the NRA sponsored exhibit is not a dig at Papenfuse.
“The museum is continuing with what it does, which is its mission to present topics related to the American Civil War,” he said, “and we’re going to continue to do that here.”
Papenfuse was not available to comment Monday.
[Note: This story has been updated to clarify that the NRA’s donation was not directly tied to a promise of police presence at the show.]
On the Web: National Civil War Museum