When an Atlantic piece came out profiling the former gun writing guru Dick Metcalf, we reached out to PASA Park gun range to see if Mr. Metcalf was still the President there.
As we wrote in “Dick Metcalf Responds, Part I“, none other than Dick Metcalf responded. “Yep . . . still Founder, President, and Chairman of the Board. I also cut the grass . . .” he wrote.
In an exchange of email, we received more than we could have ever hoped to get and frankly, we felt that we might have been a little too one-sided castigating Metcalf about his appearance at the Aspen Ideas Festival – as reported by The Atlantic.
Actually, we savaged him pretty vigorously.
In the interests of fairness, thought it reasonable that we also publicize his side of things. We began this in Part I, and now we bring you an article he wrote following his termination from InterMedia, the people who own a family of gun-related publications Metcalf wrote for.
Note: The conversion from Word to WordPress isn’t without flaws. If there are spacing errors, they are conversion related, not original.
CONFESSIONS OF A GUN GUY
By Dick Metcalf
I have always considered myself a Second Amendment fundamentalist. I believe every American citizen has an absolute right to keep and bear arms. Moreover, I believe every American citizen should keep and bear arms, and needs to keep and bear arms. The only thing that sets me apart from Second Amendment extremists, in fact, is that I also believe the clear language of the Constitution allows the enactment of training requirements for citizens wishing to carry concealed firearms in public.
I started shooting at age five. My parents gave me an NRA Life Membership for my 12th birthday. I’ve studied, written and taught about firearms law and the Bill of Rights since the 1960s. I’ve helped enact concealed carry laws in states across the country, have authored and consulted on numerous pieces of pro-firearms legislation, and testified before Congress and various State Legislatures. I’ve been a competitive shooter since I was a teen and have hunted on five continents.I founded a 150-acre shooting sports park in Illinois that has 22 different ranges and has hosted national and international shooting championships every year since 1986. I’ve written more than 1,700 articles for firearms publications, and have been the host and producer of several firearms television programs.I likely own more firearms than the average person. Yettoday I am labeled a “gun control collaborator,” a “Bloomberg supporter” and a “modern-day Benedict Arnold”—not to mention a “decrepit, mentally defunct self-important old fart.”And on November 6, 2013, my 37-year career as a firearms journalist came to an abrupt end.
Why? Because I wrote a brief 800-word column for Guns & Ammo magazine dealing with the legal distinction between regulation and infringement.As Second Amendment discussions go, the column was innocuous.I did not call for any new regulations whatsoever. But I did note the Second Amendment was already regulated,and such regulations have been validated even by recent “pro-firearms” Supreme Court and federal Appeals Court rulings affirming an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, extending that right to the states, and overturning Illinois’ concealed-carry prohibition.And I observed that supporters of the Second Amendment should recognize those facts:“Way too many gun owners seem to believe any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement,” I wrote. “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”
I also wrote I personally had no problem with state laws requiring training for those seeking concealed carry licenses and I did not consider training requirements in and of themselves to be an infringement of my rights (although I’d like it to be good training). I specifically mentioned the 16-hour training mandate in Illinois’ recently-enacted concealed carry statute, and said in spite of the time it required, I much preferred to carry a firearm for defense legally than carry one illegally and risk prison.What I did not go so far as to say (although I now wish I had), was that compared to the previous Illinois law completely banning concealed carry, I viewed the new law not as an infringement but as a liberation. A first step.
The backlash was immediate.Outraged emails and web posts poured into Guns &Ammo’s website as well as many independent firearms forums—all demanding my head.Firearms manufacturers received threats of boycotts if they continued to advertise in Guns & Ammo or sponsor TV shows with which I was associated.I was lambasted for my “patently absurd misreading of the Constitution” and my ignorance of what the language of the Second Amendment really meant.The most succinct such messages took the form of “You’re a bad person and you should die and go to Hell,” and the concise“Someone should regulate your mouth!”
Someone did.Under pressure from advertisers, it took Guns & Ammo’s parent company Intermedia Outdoors—a conglomerate that owns more than 40 shooting and hunting magazines and produces nearly 20 television programs—just three business days to inform me my association with all InterMedia publications and the Sportsman Channel TV programs I was producing and co-hosting was terminated.At the same time, IMO’s Vice President/Editorial Director Jim Bequette was removed from his ancillary position as editor of Guns & Ammo, where he had assigned and approved the column.He retains his larger role in the company.
For some commenters, the axe wasn’t enough. “He got off lucky,” wrote one.“Tar, feathers, a fence rail, and a long, bumpy ride out of town would have been a much more appropriate way to effect his exit from the gun enthusiast community!” A more common theme was that anything less than fierce, absolute opposition to any regulation amounted to treason. “Anyone who says ‘I believe in the Second Amendment,but–’ does not believe in the Second Amendment,” one commenter posted. Or, as another wrote: “Compromise is what the Jews tried with Hitler.”
Such extremist responses cause me concern for the future of this right I have spent my adult life fighting to defend.At present, defenders of the Second Amendment have the American mainstream on their side. Nearly two-thirds of the 109 new state firearms laws enacted in the year following the Newtown shooting actually eased gun restrictions and expanded gun-owners’ rights. During that same period there was no significant federal firearms legislation at all.But when we voice extremist rhetoric rejecting all firearms regulation whatsoever, or refuse to acknowledge the plain fact that constitutionally-validated regulations and statutes already exist, we alienate the same American mainstream. If we lose that mainstream—the vast majority of voters, the ones who will actually determine the future of gun laws and the Second Amendment itself—we will lose this battle.
I grew up on a small-town Illinois family farm, where guns were simply tools to be respected, no different from my mother’s hot kitchen skillet or my dad’s power saw. My father and uncle first let me shoot a .22 rifle when I was five. As a nine-year-old, I would often take the .22 from behind the kitchen door and go out alone to shoot squirrels or rabbits for Sunday dinner. The thing that fascinated me about firearms from earliest memory was how they could allow you to hold something here that could precisely place tiny projectiles way out there—time after time. Understanding the mechanics of that became a lifelong hobby, and eventually a livelihood.
By anyone’s definition I’m a Gun Guy, but I don’t “love” guns. Guns are tools. I value them as such, and I appreciate the finest examples as mechanical works of art. But “love?” Does a carpenter ”love” hammers? (Okay, maybe he loves his favorite hammer. I know I love my Jeep Rubicon and my Winchester big-loop Model 94 lever-action rifle.) I do, however, love the firearms community at large. The shooters, hunters and gun-owners I’ve met during the past 50 years are as a group the most honorable, upright and common-sense people I’ve ever known. The same goes for the people who work in the firearms industry and in outdoor journalism. They represent a true cross-section of American society, and I’ve always felt honored to count myself among them.
Since my column ran, I’ve received supportive messages (emails, voice mails, phone calls, even actual letters) from literally thousands of individual gun owners and people who work in the firearms industry.They continue to stream in.The number astounds me.For a while it was running over 100 a day.But only a tiny handful of those people dared to express their views publicly, and those who did were attacked as vituperatively as was I.
I’ve been told by a former colleague at IMO that just 40 of Guns &Ammo’s 400,000-plus readers actually canceled their subscriptions.That’s less than one one-hundredth of one percent.I can’t verify this figure, but I have no reason to doubt it.Likewise, there’s no way to know the exact number of messages the gun makers who pressured IMO received from individual people threatening never to buy their products again. But even if every single individual who posted “ban Metcalf” messages to G&A and other internet firearms forums also contacted these same manufacturers, the number is proportionally even more miniscule.These companies are the largest firearms manufacturers in the United States, each selling nearly two million guns a year to consumers.The number of people who actually threatened to stop buying their guns merely because of my apostasy can’t amount to more than a rounding error. Any company that makes business decisions based on what fewer than one one-hundredth of one percent of its customers say is sailing toward the rocks.Extend this phenomenon to Congress (where it is equally as real), and you’ll understand why I tremble for our country.
The task of calling me with IMO’s termination notice fell to Jim Bequette. Jim and I had worked as a team for 35 years, beginning with Shooting Times in Peoria in 1977.With consolidations, mergers, and acquisitions, we eventually wound up titled as “Vice President/Editorial Director” and “Executive Technical Editor” for InterMedia Outdoors, working on additional publications—magazines like Guns & Ammo, Rifle Shooter, Game & Fish, Petersen’s Hunting, Handguns,North American Whitetail, Crossbow Revolution, and dozens of others—as well as various television productions. For many years we didn’t even use a written contract, merely a handshake agreement based on our ongoing relationship. This was not previously unusual within the firearms industry, which has always prided itself on its “traditional American values.” But even within that industry, our partnership was renowned for its successful longevity—“Mr. Inside & Mr. Outside” we were called, and “The Odd Couple,” because he’s aloof and reserved and I’m outgoing and exuberant—enduring longer than the vast majority of marriages.He was best man at my wedding.
When Jim called to break the news, our conversation was somber. He had approved the column topic months in advance, and I had submitted my draft six weeks before press date. It was edited, reviewed, vetted and approved by the Guns &Ammo editorial staff and publisher before it went to the printer. It was bannered on the top of the magazine’s cover. The column’s title, “Let’s Talk Limits,” was written by an associate editor. (The incendiary word “limits” actually appeared nowhere in the column itself.)I therefore thought sending me to the guillotine might be a bit—inappropriate.I was not really surprised, though, because the company’s silence over the previous few days had already signaled its intention. Jim regretted he was powerless to prevent it.A sad end to a decades-long relationship. We haven’t spoken since.
Why did I write it in the first place? Jim and I had discussed the topic as one for the list of subjects “Backstop” would cover when he first gave me the column five months earlier. We had addressed the same topic many times before in a variety of articles and columns for other magazines over the years, and we both felt the subject was something Guns & Ammo readers should be thinking about.I still believe that.The existing body of literature and legal precedent on the Second Amendment is much like the Bible: One can find something to support nearly any agenda. Even the Founders themselves wrote many different things at different times (with commas in different places) about what they meant by a Right to Keep and Bear Arms. Or by “well regulated.” Or by “militia.” I wish more people would actually read those writings.
My own interest in Second Amendment law goes back to themid-1960s,whenI was an undergraduate at Northwestern University.I’d arrived on campus carrying an attaché case with a “Goldwater for President” sticker, but I nonetheless volunteered as a research aide for the Committee on Illinois Government—an off-shoot of the Illinois Democratic Party oriented toward developing “reform” policies. If you were a political science student interested in real politics in Chicago in those days, the Democrats were the biggest game in town.(Still are, come to think of it.)
The project was to create a comprehensive proposal for revising Illinois’ gun control laws.I researched existing laws and crime statistics in all 50 states with a view toward seeing what worked.I came to an inescapable conclusion: Gun control had essentially zero effect on reducing crime—for the simple reason that criminals by definition didn’t obey those laws.Mostly, gun control laws merely created a new class of criminals: ordinary citizens who ran afoul of them.That’s not a political statement, just a reflection of fact.I also noted a correlation between states and localities with lower crime rates and states and locales that allowed citizens to carry firearms for personal defense, which Illinois of course did not.(At that time, fewer than half the states allowed concealed carry.)As a consequence, I also developed an interest in the intricacies of Second Amendment case law and interpretation, and became an advocate for state-level concealed-carry legislation. Even then this put me apart from Second Amendment advocates from “the Constitution speaks for itself and is all we need” wing.
My findings weren’t attached to the committee’s final proposal.
I continued to study the legal history of the Second Amendment while in graduate school at Yale and then while a member of the history faculty there and at Cornell, where I taught elective seminars on the History of Constitutional Law focusing primarily on the evolution of the Bill of Rights.It was during my time at Cornell that I began writing for Shooting Times. I handed what would become the very first “Firearms Law” column to then-editor Alex Bartimoover dinner at the Cornell Faculty Club. The column led to my working with NRA-ILA Executive Director Neal Knox to help draft the 1986 Volkmer-McClure Firearm Owners Protection Act—which eased or eliminated many of the restrictions and statutory confusions that had been created by the federal Gun Control Act of 1968.
I left Cornell in 1979 to become a full-time firearms writer and moved back to the family farm in Illinois—where I have remained active in the fight to protect our Second Amendment rights.In 2007 I authored a resolution adopted by the Board of Pike County, Ill., objecting to passage of any further state firearms laws.During the next six months it was enacted verbatim by 89 percent of all other Illinois counties, and since that date not a single item of restrictive firearms legislation has passed the Illinois State Legislature.In 2012 I co-authored an Ordinance for Pike County which established “Constitutional Carry” in direct contravention of Illinois law and was placed on the 2012 county election ballot by petition.It passed with 87 percent of the vote.And, of course, last year I was up to my eyeballs in the effort to enact Illinois’ new concealed-carry law.
None of which made any difference when my Guns & Ammo column ran afoul of the social-media Piranha swarm.
It’s an interesting thing.When I wrote about Second Amendment issues or concealed-carry licenses for Shooting Times back in the 1970s and 1980s,we got similarly angry mail from readers outraged I’d dare to suggest the Constitution wasn’t the only law we needed.But those were letters, things that had to be hand-written/typed, folded, put in an envelope, licked, stamped and taken to the mailbox.Took some effort.And, the only people who received these letters were the magazine editors/writer to whom they were addressed. Those letters also tended to be a bit less strident, because the process provided time for the correspondent to actually think a bit about what he was writing. Back then, a “heavy reader response” to an article in a monthly magazine like Shooting Times was maybe 8 or 10 letters.Today, when somebody reads (or sees) something that rubs a raw spot, they can grab their “device,” thumb off an instant “This jerk must be silenced” message, and post it to the entire world in less than 30 seconds without getting up from the couch. And everybody who gets it can forward it on. The term, I believe, is “going viral.”
So I don’t think the nature of the fundamentalist Second Amendment outlook has really changed at all.It’s the form of expression permitted by the modern social-media/instant-communication revolution that’s changed, combined with a growing American intolerance for divergent opinions.
Among the supportive emails I’ve received, a substantial number have been from within the firearms industry asking, “When all this noise settles down, would you consider . . ?” But I’m not sure I want to write about firearms anymore.Not having to deal with deadlines is refreshing, and I’ve soured somewhat on the present environment.I’d more likely be interested in doing the occasional op-ed piece, or perhaps writing a book titled The Second Amendment in Modern America, aimed at the literate American mainstream—you know, people who actually read, vote and decide elections.
For the record: I believe the Second Amendment means exactly what it says. Just as I believe all other Amendments in the Bill of Rights mean exactly what they say. All of them affirm absolute rights. But unlike freedom of speech, or freedom of religion, or freedom of the press, the Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms is today the focus of an increasingly bitter battle between those of us who believe deeply in that particular right, and those who believe the Second Amendment is an obsolete 18th Century artifact that should be severely curtailed or even repealed.
Both sides in this battle believe they have the true American mainstream on their side. Mainstream voters will decide the future of the Second Amendment. The federal and state legislators who enact (or don’t enact) restrictive firearms laws are elected by those voters.Presidents, who appoint Federal Court Judges who rule on the constitutionality of those laws, are elected by those voters.Senators who approve the appointments of those judges are elected by those voters.If the Second Amendment itself is ever amended, it will be mainstream voters who make that determination.To ignore the sensibilities of those voters is to concede victory to the opposite extreme. 2014 will be pivotal.Opponents of the Second Amendment promise to pour unprecedented energy and money into coming elections to change that course.Second Amendment supporters vow to fight those efforts to their last breath.
Neither side can benefit from extremism.
When Second Amendment extremists argue it is unconstitutional to bar convicted felons from acquiring guns, the American mainstream stops listening.When Second Amendment extremists argue it is unconstitutional to require any training whatsoever before carrying a concealed firearm in public, the American mainstream stops listening.Likewise, when anti-gunners call for the repeal of the Second Amendment and the prohibition of citizen firearms ownership, the American mainstream stops listening.When extremist anti-gun and anti-hunting voices aim death threats at the children of those who would bid on a license to legally cull an African game animal and donate the proceeds to endangered-species conservation, the American mainstream cringes.
All Americans want to find ways to keep horrors like Newtown from happening.But Americans need solutions, not political placebos or public relations gestures like Vice President Biden’s lunatic advice to fire a shotgun through the door or into the air to deter attackers.And Americans do NOT need more hate speech.
Not since the Civil War has there been a greater need in this country for reasoned, civil discourse instead of extremist rhetoric.Never has it been more important for our public officials and our corporate leaders to make rational decisions instead of bowing down to the strident voices of a radical few.