Back in the day, Dick Metcalf penned an article for Guns & Ammo advocating infringements on the Second Amendment. The Powers That Be fired Metcalf and the magazine’s editor. Anti-gun activists immediately leaped to Metcalf’s defense. They used his dismissal to try to prove that the supporters of firearms freedom are intolerant hypocrites that will not tolerate “dialogue” or the slightest dissent within their own ranks. Where hypocrisy is concerned, such people have no peers, for they demand that in any “dialogue” or discussion of Second Amendment issues, those that support liberty must accept their premises and goals as a starting point . . .
Metcalf wasn’t fired for presenting a contrary point of view. His employment was terminated because he made fundamental errors of history, tone, language and tactics. He badly misstated the history of the Second Amendment and its purpose. In his phrasing and syntax, he mirrored the arguments of anti-gun politicians and activists; his language demonstrated a sloppiness and lack of understanding of the construction of the Second Amendment. He used the precise, deceptive tactics of the gun-banners, arguing for their goals much as they do.
Predictably, it wasn’t long before the New York Times and others used Metcalf to attack Second Amendment supporters. He expressed sorrow and concern that he was excommunicated from the firearms community. Rather than making amends, though, he continued to denigrate those he purports to wish to serve. Now he’s done again in “Why We Can’t Talk About Gun Control.” Interviewed in The Atlantic, Metcalf remains unrepentant, and apparently, clueless.
I pose this question, ‘Mr. Metcalf, as a hunter of birds. I have a concealed carry permit for a pistol. And I think the gun laws that are on the books today are ineffective because they’re not enforced.’
Dick Metcalf, the historian and long-time individual-gun-rights supporter agreed, nodding from the stage.
‘When I got my concealed-carry permit,’ the man in the audience continued, ‘one of the questions I had to answer was, ‘Are you a fugitive from justice?’
The rest of the crowd laughed.
‘I asked the sheriff, does anyone ever answer yes to that? And he said, ‘You’d be surprised.’ But I think we need more regulation. And if I were your boss [said the man in the audience], and you’d written that column, I wouldn’t have terminated you. I’d have given you a promotion.
Note the article’s premise: gun laws aren’t being enforced so more gun “regulations” are necessary. Metcalf should have been lauded, not fired, for so suggesting.
The writer provides anecdotes that purport to validate his ideas. The people appearing in these anecdotes – drawn from Metcalf’s recent appearance at the notoriously progressive Aspen Ideas Festival – remain anonymous. Commenting on his firing, Metcalf said:
What struck me most about what happened to me was that this huge media corporation [Intermedia, the owner of Guns & Ammo] was absolutely unprepared for the onslaught of social-media negativity,’ Metcalf said, ‘when we went over that line and dared ask the question, whether people might think about whether or not regulation is by definition infringement.’
The Second Amendment says the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, Metcalf noted, ‘not that it shall not be regulated.’ Rather the first four words of the amendment, ‘a well regulated militia,’ not only allow but mandate regulation.
‘Everything is regulated, but everything is not infringed. Not all regulation is infringement. Is your right to drive a car being infringed by a speed limit?
Maddeningly, Metcalf continues to err in the history of American gun rights and the language they used to protect those individual rights in the Bill of Rights. As you do doubt know, and as the Heller case affirmed, “A well-regulated militia…” is part of the Second Amendment’s prefatory clause. It is a dependent adjective clause, not the independent clause. In other words “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” stands on its own.
In terms of history, Metcalf is equally off-base. “A well-regulated militia,” in the language of the time, meant a well-drilled, a well-organized, a well-run militia. In other words, it was a prepared, effective unit. Metcalf’s interpretation of “regulate” clearly invokes the contemporary, bureaucratic sense of regulation: rules that limit or mandate behavior or actions.
Like so many Americans who would limit or eliminate Americans’ right to keep and bear arms, Metcalf, the “historian” claims that his wildly incorrect interpretation of “regulate” not only allows all manner of regulation of the Second Amendment, but that such regulations do not constitute infringement.
Metcalf went on to become a competitive shooter who has hunted on five continents, as well as a historian. He has been studying and writing about the Bill of Rights and firearms for 37 years. He has taught at Yale and Cornell, enacted concealed-carry laws across the country, and authored pro-firearms legislation.
But he is not opposed to mandatory training for gun owners, and tighter regulation of firearms.
‘We have over 75,000 firearms rules and regulations on the books, and approximately three of them are ever enforced,’ Metcalf explained, to some nervous laughter in the audience.
‘As for federal laws, there are eight, and only two have been enforced in any significant way, ever. We can’t afford and we don’t have the personnel to enforce the laws that we have on the books right now. What good is it going to do to enact any others?’
‘Do you think universal background checks make sense,’ [Atlantic Media editorial director Ron] Brownstein asked, ‘particularly that they be extended to gun shows?’
“This is an interesting one. What defines a background check? How far do you go with it?
How far indeed? He mentioned the recent Illinois law to that effect, suggesting that the NRA agreed with it in a spirit of compromise. What Metcalf failed to mention is that the Illinois laws–including concealed carry– were forced on an unwilling state by federal courts. Without that mandate, the Illinois legislature would never have allowed concealed carry and would have continued to violate the Constitution, just as Chicago continues to do, writing abusively restrictive laws even in the face of court orders, laws that will be struck down yet again and again, as Chicago continues to drag its feet and deny the basic right of self-defense to its citizens.
Compromise is a bad word these days,’ Metcalf said. ‘Say conciliation. That’s how you sit down with someone who has different principles, and you get something positive done.
Metcalf plays at words, failing to explain that anti-gunners are absolutely unwilling to compromise. And that when one is speaking of an unalienable right – a right intended to give the average man or woman the ability not only to preserve their life but to deter and resist tyranny – compromising any part of that right puts society on a path to rendering it meaningless.
And what do anti-gunners have to give? What will they surrender in exchange for essential and irreplaceable liberty? They enter any negotiation knowing they have nothing to exchange and that they will give nothing; they speak the language of compromise knowing in advance they will compromise nothing at all.
A critical roll in Metcalf’s termination, Brownstein noted, was that of pressure from the advertisers in Guns & Ammo.
‘I believe that everyone I knew, even the people who worked for the companies responsible for the advertising pressure—because they are hearing [from customers], ‘We’ll never buy another one of your products if you continue to advertise in this magazine that has this anti-American traitor in it—but they all believe it,’ Metcalf said. ‘I can’t tell you how many senior executives at firearms companies, over a beer when no one’s watching, will say, ‘You do know we realize that, of course, at least a third of our customers shouldn’t be let within five miles of a gun.
Really? It would surely be interesting for Mr. Metcalf to name those “senior executives,” so that they have the opportunity to comment on his assertion.
There are consumer publications for gun fans,’ Metcalf said. “There are consumer publications for motorcycle fans. [What would happen if you] start writing about whether or not there should be helmet laws in those magazines? Special interest publications are all over the place, and there is a certain set of limits where discussion is allowed.’
Homogenous media communities with very different understandings of reality, where challenging prevailing assumptions is out of bounds, may be growing in popularity. ‘People are looking to media now to be a cheerleader for their point of view,’ Brownstein said. ‘There’s less interest in dialogue over competing points of view than there is for affirmation of [the reader’s] own point of view.
For people who have worked in the publishing industry for many years, Metcalf and Brownstein seem amazingly uninformed of its inner workings. Metcalf has no right to write for Guns & Ammo. He has no right to write for any publication; no one does. Writers sell their writings to publications interested in their point of view for very specific reasons. In fact, Metcalf’s views are being featured in Hamblin’s article, and in The Atlantic, because of their general editorial stance, which serves the needs and interests of their readers.
No one reads Guns & Ammo in the expectation of finding writing that advocates additional regulations on the right to keep and bear arms, or the abolition of the Second Amendment. People know where to find such advocacy–The Atlantic, for example. This does not mean that Guns & Ammo, indeed, even NRA publications, exclude the arguments of gun-banners. But their general editorial stance does not advocate limitations on liberty. Which is what Metcalf did and continues to do.
Were advertisers upset with Metcalf? Almost certainly, but not primarily because of what he said. Advertisers support publications because those publications produce an expected minimum number of people interested in buying their products. When publications do anything that would diminish that level of interest, advertisers either take steps to remedy the problem or find publications that are more productive in meeting their expectations.
But even if advertisers were primarily upset with Metcalf’s arguments, Metcalf had ultimate control over his fate. He knew, from long experience, precisely what the readers, editors and publisher of Guns & Ammo expected of him. He knew the editorial limitations of his writing yet chose to not only exceed them, but to oppose them. Metcalf made a choice, and in the private sector, choices that cost one’s employer money usually result in firing. Metcalf’s editor also erred in publishing the piece, and he too paid for costing his employer money.
For a man that seeks to return to the embrace of the firearm community, Metcalf engages in egregious insults. There are few firearm owners that don’t at least suspect that gun-grabbers consider them inferior beings, as does President Obama, who once committed a gaffe–accidently said what he really believes–noting that every day Americans are
…bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them, to anti-immigrant sentiment, or anti-trade sentiment, as a way to explain their frustrations.
Add to Mr. Obama’s beliefs, those of Metcalf, who apparently believes that supporters of liberty that do not appreciate his ideas are literacy challenged:
In the 1970s and 80s when I wrote things that generated a substantial response, that would be about 10 letters,’ Metcalf said. ‘Generally speaking they weren’t quite so outrageous [as the responses writers receive today]. My wife was reading some of the responses and said, ‘I didn’t know you could send emails written in crayon.’
I’m sure Metcalf’s Aspen audience found that most amusing. And what does Metcalf think reasonable?
Metcalf said it seems logical that if we can require people to get training before the operate a car, we can require them to get training before operating a firearm.
Again, notice that Metcalf adopts gun-banner language, tone and tactics. Motor vehicle operation is a state-regulated privilege. The Second Amendment is an unalienable, fundament right. While Metcalf’s comparison might sound clever and insightful to the uninformed or to those willing to ignore fact and law, he’s comparing apples to elephants. One would think a man of Metcalf’s experience would know better.
Metcalf is equally dismissive of the NRA and its contributions to America:
Metcalf noted that the NRA claims 5 million members. ‘I think that’s inflated, but even if you take them at their word, around 80 million Americans own firearms. To say that it represents the firearm-owning public [is inaccurate]. The NRA is one of the most effective lobbying organizations that the United States has ever produced.
The NRA’s claim of more than five million dues-paying members is entirely credible. No one in Congress doubts that number because they know the NRA can prove it, and that when those members are incensed, they produce sufficient correspondence to Congress that convinces them that five million members is likely on the low side.
The NRA’s effectiveness comes from several factors. It is the most effective, truly grass-roots organization in America, not because it somehow wields unaccountable, evil lobbying power, but because it defends the Second Amendment, and represents more than five million Americans determined to defend the Second Amendment and the rest of the Constitution.
It is also the most effective source of firearm safety information and training in American history. “To say that it represents the firearm-owning public [is inaccurate]”? To say otherwise is deceptive. The NRA doesn’t represent the precise views of every American that owns a gun, no organization can. But it represents the fundamental views of more Americans than any other lobbying organization, and by an enormous margin.
And of course, Metcalf was fired, and gun owners are evil and wrong because they are racists and evangelical Christians and because they don’t live in urban areas:
To what extent is the gun debate actually about guns? Brownstein asked, citing that only 28 percent of people in urban areas live in a home with a gun, but 59 percent in rural areas do. White people are twice as likely as black people to live in a home with a gun. Evangelical Christians are much more likely to own guns than are secular people.
‘We know that gun ownership tracks a lot of other cultural divides that shape the partisan and ideological standoff in America,’ Brownstein said. ‘Is all the passion about guns a broader statement about who defines what America values?
There is little question that the gun debate is fueled in part by differing cultural beliefs, and that people that live on the east and west coasts are more likely–regardless of race, color, gender or national origin–to reflect an anti-gun outlook. However, such “gaps” are “bridged” every day, and during the age of Obama, an unprecedented number of Americans have become first-time gun owners, and NRA members, Yet Metcalf holds out no hope for such crayon-scribbling rubes:
I think it’s an unbridgeable gap, because neither side will trust the other. I’m afraid I’m not optimistic in the aftermath of what happened to me.
Dick Metcalf is not entirely anti-gun. But he remains willing to surrender much moral and legal ground that the NRA and gun owners have fought long and hard to gain. Gun owners know that gun-banners will say and do anything to obtain their goals. They know that they promise “dialogue” and claim to want only “reasonable, common sense regulations,” but their definitions of dialogue and reason and common sense are very different from those reasonable, common sense Americans use every day.
For a man that wants to rejoin their ranks, Metcalf continues to say and do precisely the wrong things. Understanding all too well that everyone makes mistakes, gun owners tend to be forgiving people. However, forgiveness and acceptance require honest, demonstrated contrition, something Metcalf seems unwilling to provide.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.