By JOE NOCERA
New York Times News Service
It’s not as if Dick Metcalf was some kind of gun control fanatic.
On the contrary, he’s a gun guy through and through, such an unyielding defender of the Second Amendment that last year he led the charge to push through a law giving the residents of Pike County, Ill., where he lives, the right to carry concealed guns without a permit. He called the practice “constitutional carry” rather than “concealed carry.”
In the early 1980s, he and a handful of friends started a successful gun club, called the Pike Adams Sportsmen’s Alliance, which is on Metcalf’s farm in Barry, Ill. A few years later, he played an important role in lobbying for the federal Firearm Owners Protection Act, which loosened many of the gun restrictions that had become law after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. A friend of his told me Metcalf had even written some of the language in the bill.
Mostly, though, Metcalf, 67, was known as a writer for magazines owned by InterMedia Outdoors, a publisher of gun periodicals that include the industry bible, Guns & Ammo. He did videos on subjects like “Guns for Family Home Defense” and wrote articles with headlines like “Smith & Wesson’s 12 Most Important Guns.”
It is perfectly understandable, then, that the gun world might be a little taken aback by Metcalf’s opinion piece in the December issue of Guns & Ammo calling for some modest gun regulation. “I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms,” he wrote, “but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly.” The article went on to call for mandatory training for gun owners. That’s all. Such limited regulation, he argued, did not constitute an infringement on anyone’s constitutional rights.
When people like me read an article like that, it seems momentarily possible that gun advocates and gun control advocates might be able to find some common ground. Much in the way that many gun control activists have come to accept the legitimacy of the Second Amendment — something that hasn’t always been the case — here was a man on the other side of the divide saying that some sensible regulation didn’t necessarily lead down a “slippery slope” to confiscation. If we are ever to have a sane gun policy, we desperately need people from both camps to meet somewhere in the middle.
But when people like me see the reaction from gun advocates to Metcalf’s tame proposal, it all seems hopeless again. Robert Farago, who maintains a blog called The Truth About Guns, started the ball rolling by linking to — and denouncing — Metcalf’s “diatribe.” He went on to describe the article as a “bone-headed, uninformed, patently obvious misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.” Other bloggers piled on. On the Guns & Ammo Facebook page, subscribers demanded Metcalf’s head, even as they canceled their subscriptions.
Finally, according to a blog post Metcalf wrote, two major gun manufacturers told InterMedia Outdoors they would pull all their advertising if something wasn’t done. That’s all it took. Within 24 hours, Metcalf was permanently banned from the company’s publications. And the longtime editor of Guns & Ammo, Jim Bequette, who was planning to retire at the end of the year, was pushed out as well.
Before departing, however, Bequette wrote a groveling apology, which ran on the magazine’s website. He described his decision to publish Metcalf’s article as “a mistake” and took pains to remind readers that Guns & Ammo had always been the hardest of hard-liners. “It is no accident that when others in the gun culture counseled compromise in the past, hard-core thinkers … found a place and a voice in these pages,” he wrote. With that, capitulation was complete.
If you want to understand why so few gun owners are willing to stand up to the National Rifle Association, even though the majority disagree with the NRA’s most extreme positions, here was a vivid example. Straying from the party line leads to vilification and condemnation that would give anybody pause.
My guess is Dick Metcalf always knew what he was in for — all the more reason writing his article took guts. In the aftermath, he was the only one who could still hold his head up high. On a blog called The Outdoor Wire, he wrote a lengthy response to his critics. He didn’t back down one iota. Describing himself as “disappointed” at the reaction to his article, he added, “If a respected editor can be forced to resign and a controversial writer’s voice be shut down by a one-sided social-media and Internet outcry, virtually overnight, simply because they dared to open a discussion or ask questions about a politically sensitive issue … then I fear for the future of our industry, and for our Cause.”
Maybe there’s hope yet.