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Guns_Ammo_December_2013_CoverIn 2007, Jim Zumbo, a long time gun and outdoor writer, made a fundamental mistake.  He never learned that the line between “traditional” hunters and gun enthusiasts and younger and more contemporary hunters and enthusiasts is surely blurred, if not non-existent.  That blurring has been caused, in large part, by the fact that anti-freedom, anti-gun advocates–like the Chinese–take the long view.  They never give up on their goals of disarming the law abiding because they know it as a necessary prerequisite for their imposition of a Progressive utopia.

To be sure, perhaps 20 years ago, an earlier generation believed that only wooden stocked and deeply blued firearms were appropriate for hunting.  They were unfamiliar with “black rifles” like the AR-15 family, and despite the fact that such weapons were designed for field conditions, thought them alien and not worthy of the protection of the Second Amendment.  But eventually, they began to shoot them and liked them for their inherent accuracy, excellent ergonomics, and ruggedness.  They also came to understand that those that would eliminate the Second Amendment were using them.  Banning any class of firearm stuck a large foot in the door of banning them all.  When anti-gunners began to talk about banning “sniper rifles”–any rifle with a telescopic sight–traditionalists that were paying attention saw their beloved classic Winchester Model 70’s going into Progressive smelters and gained a new appreciation for defending the rights of all shooters.  It took Zumbo a bit longer.  The New York Times reported:

Last February, Jim Zumbo, a burly, 66-year-old outdoors writer, got a phone call at his home near Cody, Wyo., from the rock star — and outspoken Second Amendment champion — Ted Nugent. ‘You messed up, man,’ Mr. Zumbo says Mr. Nugent told him. ‘Big time.’

Two days earlier, Mr. Zumbo, a leading hunting journalist, outraged Mr. Nugent and many other gun owners when he suggested in a blog post that increasingly popular semiautomatic guns known as ‘black rifles’ be banned from hunting. Mr. Zumbo, stunned that hunters were using the rifles for sport, also suggested giving the guns, prized for their matte black metal finishes, molded plastic parts and combat-ready looks, a new name: ‘terrorist rifles.’

Gun enthusiasts’ backlash against Mr. Zumbo was swift. He parted company with his employer, Outdoor Life magazine. Mr. Zumbo says on his Web site that he was ‘terminated’; the magazine says that it and Mr. Zumbo agreed that he would resign.

But a week after hearing from Mr. Nugent, who has a devoted following among gun owners, Mr. Zumbo visited him in Waco, Tex., to make amends. For his part, Mr. Nugent was prepared to give Mr. Zumbo a lesson on the utility and ubiquity of black rifles.

Since 2007, and particularly with the depredations of the Obama Administration, public appreciation of the AR-15 and its variants has exploded.  Rifles, ammunition and accessories have become immensely popular and the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America.  Zumbo learned his lesson:

Mr. Zumbo, chastened by the outcry that his black-rifle comments set off, says he hopes to resume writing about hunting and to revive his popular cable television show, which was put on hiatus when it lost sponsors after the blog post. He says his time at Mr. Nugent’s ranch reminded him that gun owners have to reject banning any firearm, lest it open the door to banning them all. He also says that, like it or not, black rifles are now mainstream.

‘Having met the people who shoot these things, they were regular folks; they weren’t sinister people who were bent on causing harm, they weren’t hostile people,’ he says. ‘They were interested in the guns because they were fun to shoot.

But Jim Zumbo was hardly the last shooting luminary to fail to learn essential lessons.  Guns and Ammo magazine has long been one of the leaders in firearm journalism.  Dick Metcalf was long a columnist, until the December, 2013 edition.  In an article titled “Let’s Talk Limits: Do certain firearms regulations really constitute infringement?”  Metcalf raised the question implied by the title.  He began:

The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of the free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.  Note carefully: Those last four words say “shall not be infringed.”  They do not say “shall not be regulated.”  “Well regulated” is, in fact, the initial criterion of the Amendment itself.

I bring this up because way too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement.  The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be…

While Metcalf is technically correct about the notion that there is no such thing as an unlimited right, he committed four fundamental errors: one of history, one of tone, one of language and one of tactics.  But more on this shortly; let’s return to Metcalf’s argument:

But many argue that any regulation at all is, by definition, an infringement.  If that were true, then the authors of the Second Amendment themselves should not have specified ‘well regulated.” The question is, when does regulation become infringement?

Metcalf went on to choose some rather unfortunate examples, explaining how he worked with Congress and the NRA on pro-gun legislation:

I also received bags of mail every year, much of it from readers who were upset that I advocated the passage of additional state concealed carry laws.  There readers typically argued (I’m paraphrasing) that ‘The Second Amendment is all the authority we need to carry anywhere we want to’ or ‘The government doesn’t have the right to tell me whether I’m qualified to carry a gun.’  I wondered whether those same people believed that just anybody should be able to buy a vehicle and take it out on public roadways without any kind of driver’s training, test or license.

I understand that driving a car is not a right protected by the Constitution, but to me the basic principle is the same…

By all means, take the link to read a PDF of the entire article.  I’ll warn readers that it’s a bit unclear, but ultimately, readable.

Can you see the problem, gentle readers?  The outcry against the article–and Metcalf–was immediate, passionate, and unrelenting.  Here’s why:

History: In the language of the times, a ‘well-regulated militia” was nothing more than an organized military force, prepared to drill and fight as a unit under the orders of officers, rather than a disorganized groups of citizens operating independently of each other while being in close proximity.  Perhaps the most contemporary parallel would be a National Guard unit, though the Second Amendment was never intended to speak to corporate rights, but to the rights of individuals who would, as necessary, band together in a common military cause.

Tone:  In his phrasing and syntax, Metcalf invoked the verbatim language of gun banners.  There are few anti-gun activists and politicians that have not written or spoken the words Metcalf wrote, exactly in the way that he wrote them.  Even if a reader could not put into words what I’ve just written, he or she would surely recognize Metcalf’s unfortunate choice of words and arguments as wrong and dangerous to the very Second Amendment he professes to defend.

Perhaps he did it in an attempt to appear to be even-handed, to “reach out” to anti-gun forces, forgetting that such gestures are always taken as a sign of weakness and motivation for ever more extreme anti-freedom demands.  In defense of a fundamental right, what is there to compromise, to give?  The right exists or it is a mere privilege.  And what would anti-freedom advocates give up in any compromise?  It’s hard to imagine what Metcalf was thinking.

Language: The first 13 words of the Second Amendment are a prefatory clause.  Webster’s identifies such as an adjective clause “included at the beginning of a book, speech, etc., as an introduction.”  Such clauses are common in the writing of the later 1700s, and not uncommon today.

The words “well regulated” absolutely do not imply that the Founders intended that all manner of regulations be imposed on the right to keep and bear arms.  All of this was dispassionately examined and rejected in the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision, which found that the Second Amendment does indeed speak to a fundamental, individual right, though a right, like all others, that is subject to some regulation.  However, as a fundamental right, the burden on the state to prove a compelling public need for such regulations is significant, nothing at all like the privilege of driving.  Again, it’s hard to imagine what Metcalf was thinking.

In addition, the Second Amendment is a complex sentence–a sentence comprised of one independent clause and a subordinate or dependent clause.  In any such sentence it is the independent clause–the group of words that, removed from the sentence, can stand alone as an independent sentence–that matters.  In other words, it is the point of the sentence.  It is the operative clause, the reason for the existence of the sentence, the message it conveys.  In this case, that clause is: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”  The dependent clause–the prefatory clause–cannot stand as an independent sentence, and removed from the Second Amendment, does not in any way detract from it’s essence.

Tactics:  The arguments Metcalf made are precisely those employed by anti-gun activists and politicians.  Arguments for “common sense” restrictions; arguments for “reasonable” bans; arguments that possession and carrying of firearms should be licensed in the manner of motor vehicles; arguments that the Second Amendment does anything but make explicit the fundamental individual right to keep and bear arms.  Their internal writings have revealed that they will employ any tactic, tell any lie, make any misrepresentation and warp language in such a way that enables the banning of any accessory or firearm as a means of allowing the banning of more in the future.  Again, Metcalf mirrored their language, their intent, and their tactics.

Jim Bequette, the chief editor of Guns & Ammo, responded to the outrage of readers–many of who quickly became former readers–on November 6, 2013:

As editor of ‘Guns & Ammo,’ I owe each and every reader a personal apology.

No excuses, no backtracking.

Dick Metcalf’s ‘Backstop’ column in the December issue has aroused unprecedented controversy. Readers are hopping mad about it, and some are questioning ‘Guns & Ammo’s commitment to the Second Amendment. I understand why.

Let me be clear: Our commitment to the Second Amendment is unwavering. It has been so since the beginning. Historically, our tradition in supporting the Second Amendment has been unflinching. No strings attached. It is no accident that when others in the gun culture counseled compromise in the past, hard-core thinkers such as Harlon Carter, Don Kates and Neal Knox found a place and a voice in these pages. When large firearms advocacy groups were going soft in the 1970s, they were prodded in the right direction, away from the pages of ‘Guns & Ammo.

In publishing Metcalf’s column, I was untrue to that tradition, and for that I apologize. His views do not represent mine — nor, most important, “Guns & Ammo’’s. It is very clear to me that they don’t reflect the views of our readership either.

Dick Metcalf has had a long and distinguished career as a gunwriter, but his association with ‘Guns & Ammo’ has officially ended.

I once again offer my personal apology. I understand what our valued readers want. I understand what you believe in when it comes to gun rights, and I believe the same thing.

I made a mistake by publishing the column. I thought it would generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights. I miscalculated, pure and simple. I was wrong, and I ask your forgiveness.

Plans were already in place for a new editor to take the reins of ‘Guns & Ammo’ on January 1. However, these recent events have convinced me that I should advance that schedule immediately.

Your new ‘Guns & Ammo’ editor will be Eric R. Poole, who has so effectively been running our special interest publications, such as “Book of the AR-15’ and ‘TRIGGER.’ You will be hearing much more about this talented editor soon.

‘Guns & Ammo’ will never fail to vigorously lead the struggle for our Second Amendment rights, and with vigorous young editorial leadership such as Eric’s, it will be done even better in the future.

Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, told FoxNews.com that Metcalf should not have been fired, but added that the termination was not shocking:

The central thesis of the piece — that all constitutional rights are subject to reasonable regulation, including the Second Amendment — is so point-of-fact and obvious that even grade school kids know it,’ Everitt wrote FoxNews.com in an email. ‘But his termination is not surprising. The modern pro-gun movement is dominated by radical voices and brooks no dissent whatsoever. Dick Metcalf is certainly not the first moderate pro-gun commentator to have his career upended by absolutists.’

Everitt’s email continued: ‘Jim Bequette had hoped Metcalf’s column would ‘generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights.’ He forgot that no such thing exists within that community. You either embrace far right orthodoxy 100 percent or you are an enemy to be silenced and destroyed.

Fox tried to get a comment from the NRA, but their request was not returned by the time they published.  They included another anti-gun voice, however:

Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told FoxNews.com that Metcalf ‘absolutely did not’ deserve to lose his post.

‘If he suggested a ban on all guns, then I would understand that reaction,’ Watts said. ‘But to say a fair exchange of ideas on how to stem the deaths and murders in this country because of gun violence is an act of heresy just reeks of no tolerance.’

Watts, a 42-year-old mother of five from Zionsville, Ind., launched her organization in the days after the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. She said she was so outraged by the ‘slaughter of 26 innocent people’ that she had to act.

‘I just felt as a mother that I would be culpable the next time this happened if I didn’t do something to stop it,’ she said. ‘We need to look at background checks for every purchase. That’s not violating the Second Amendment, that’s common sense. And ultimately common sense will prevail.

Of course Everitt and Watts agree with Metcalf.  He sounds just like them and advocates the intermediate steps they advocate along the inevitable–they believe–path to total bans.  Note their language: anyone opposing Metcalf is an “absolutist,” and they want only “common sense” measures.

There are indeed arguments about interpretation and tactics on the pro-freedom side, but on certain issues, such as the sanctity of the Constitution, how far can one afford to bend before fundamental rights become mere suggestions or privileges like that that allows driver’s licenses?  The absolutists are on the side that disregard the plain language of the Constitution, seeing it as a “living document” to be bent or ignored as contemporary Progressives pursue the ultimate aims of “social justice,” none of which include the kind of individual freedom made explicit in the Bill of Rights.

Metcalf Responds:  Jim Shepherd at the Outdoor Wire.Com, published a response from Metcalf on November 8.

I’m not including it all.  Anyone wishing to read the entire thing, please take the link.  You might also want to take the link Metcalf includes within his comments.

When the present controversy erupted a week ago, I was asked by Guns & Ammo/InterMedia management to write the following ‘clarification and elaboration’ on the December Backstop column for use on the G&A website. I did so, but the decision was made to wait and see how the situation developed. I was also asked to hold off on making any comments in any other forum, and no other response appeared in any G&A/IMO forum at all. Then, after Paul Erhardt’s column appeared in the Shooting Wire yesterday, IMO was contacted by two major firearms industry manufacturers, stating that they would do no further business with IMO if it continued with its present personnel structure. Within hours, Jim Bequette resigned as Editor of Guns & Ammo, and my relationship with all IMO publications and TV shows was terminated.

How do I feel about that? Disappointed. 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. Do not 2nd Amendment adherents also believe in Freedom of Speech? Do Americans now fear open and honest discussion of different opinions about important Constitutional issues? Do voices from cyberspace now control how and why business decisions are made?…

In today’s political climate within the community of firearms owners, even to open a discussion about whether 2nd Amendment rights can be regulated at all, is to be immediately and aggressively branded as anti-gun and anti-American by outspoken hard-corps pro-gunners who believe the answer is an absolute “NO!” And yes, I am fully aware of the many and varied historical/legal definitions of the term “well-regulated,” and how they are used and misused…

Let me make myself clear (again): I believe without question that all U.S. citizens have an absolute Constitutional right to acquire, keep, and bear arms.

Notice, gentle readers, that Metcalf immediately waters down the meaning of “absolute”:

At the same time, how can anyone deny that the 2nd Amendment is already regulated by innumerable federal, state, and local statutes, and always has been? Even the Supreme Court’s widely applauded Heller and McDonald decisions affirming an individual right to keep and bear arms, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals’ Moore ruling overturning the Illinois ban on concealed carry, specifically held that other firearms laws and regulations do pass constitutional muster…

All 50 states now have individual statutes or constitutional provisions regulating concealed firearms carry. The vast majority require state-issued permits, and most require some type of training to qualify. Are all those laws unconstitutional infringements of the 2nd Amendment? Should we entirely oppose their existence? Should we obtain concealed-carry licenses anyway? Are we violating the Constitution ourselves if we do? On these issues reasonable gun-owners may reasonably differ (although you wouldn’t know it from what erupted on the Guns & Ammo website, G&A Facebook pages, and many other firearms forums following the appearance of the December Backstop column).

Final Thoughts:

I’ve seen some suggest that Metcalf’s First Amendment rights were somehow violated, as were Bequette’s.  This view reveals nearly as little appreciation for the history and meaning of the First Amendment as Metcalf’s new-found anti-freedom supporters show for the Second, though as I’ve noted, they surely sound alike.

The Bill of Rights is fundamentally a check on the power of government.  One can argue that it is also empowerment of the individual, but in a very real sense, it only puts into writing unalienable rights that pre-existed before pen was first put to paper.  It does not establish those rights; it recognizes and acknowledges them.  It does, however, limit the power of government to infringe upon them.

Dick Metcalf does not have a right to work for anyone.  He has no right to be a columnist in perpetuity for Guns and Ammo or any other outlet.  When those that own that magazine decide that Metcalf’s work no longer well serves their business goals and readership, they have every power to end his employment.  This is not censorship, which is something imposed by government and substantially prohibited by the First Amendment.

Notice too that at Guns & Ammo, there is actual responsibility, the responsibility of the real world, not the faux responsibility of the Obama World where people at the top of organization charts claim to accept responsibility, knowing there will be no consequences whatever for misbehavior and even outright crimes.  It’s an interesting coincidence that those that support the Constitution tend to believe in actual responsibility while those that want to ignore and abolish it do not.

At this scruffy little blog, I write as long as the good folks at WordPress that provide bandwidth, storage space, and servers, decide to keep providing those services.  I have, however, no right to those services as an expression of my First Amendment right.  I allow opposing voices–so long as they’re rational and polite–but I have no obligation to allow anyone to comment.  No one has a right to publish their comments here.  My right does not force anyone else to give me their services or assets to express that right.

If Barack Obama has taught us anything–and by us, I do not refer only to those interested in Second Amendment issues–he has taught us that Progressives will use language in any way that serves their needs at the moment.  Today’s truth is tomorrow’s spin is the next day’s lie is the following day’s “I never said that.”  Just as the Progressive movement has waited a century to force government health care on an unwilling nation, so they patiently wait to take away the firearms that stand as the last bulwark against despotism.

Dick Metcalf made the fundamental mistake of playing directly into the hands of those he claims to oppose.  He adopted their view of history, their tone, their language and their tactics.  In a free society, free men may choose those with whom they associate.  Those who love liberty and recognize the indispensable role of the Second Amendment in its preservation have made their choice–a choice they have the right to make.  Dick Metcalf remains free to convince them, through his actions, not his words, that he is once again worthy of their company.