Last November Dick Metcalf was fired from his position as contributing editor of Guns & Ammo for penning a column in which he argued that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was not absolute, that reasonable regulations imposed by federal and state governments are not tantamount to infringements.
“Way too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement,” Metcalf wrote in the editorial titled “Let’s Talk Limits.” “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”
The veteran gun journalist and historian went on to say that mandatory training requirements for concealed carry permits were not an infringement on one’s right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
“I don’t think requiring 16 hours of training to qualify for a concealed carry permit is infringement in and of itself,” Metcalf wrote. “But that’s just me.”
For many gun owners the idea that a contributing editor to a flagship publication was publicly advocating for tougher gun laws at a time when the Second Amendment was being heavily scrutinized — in the aftermath of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut — was unbearable, so they expressed their ire, shock and dismay on social media, on gun community forums and in letters to Intermedia, the corporation that owns Guns & Ammo.
The ensuing backlash forced the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Jim Bequette, to not only issue an apology but let Metcalf go.
“I made a mistake by publishing the column. I thought it would generate a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights,” explained Bequette. “I miscalculated, pure and simple. I was wrong, and ask your forgiveness. … Guns & Ammo will never fail to vigorously lead in the struggle for our Second Amendment rights.”
Yet, while many agreed that Guns & Ammo was correct in it’s attempt to right an alleged wrong, many others saw Metcalf’s piece as a way to bridge the gap between the two sides, a way to acknowledge that “reasonable limitations” and “common sense measures” do exist and can be enacted without the heated exchanges and invectives that typically accompany debates over gun control.
Some folks view Metcalf as a dividing force within the gun community because he openly endorsed rather stringent concealed carry requirements (16 hours is a bit much). On the other hand, his defenders still view him as a uniting force within the gun community because of his ability to appeal to the mainstream, non-gun owning public, which perhaps, in turn, leads to winning over more hearts and minds.
The question then becomes, which is it? Is Metcalf a uniter or a divider?
Well, before one answers this question it might be helpful to consider Metcalf’s recent comments at the Aspen Ideas Festival where he was joined by Ronald Brownstein, the Atlantic Media editorial director.
During the discussion before a small crowd, Metcalf had the opportunity to unpack his position on the Second Amendment and reflect upon his departure for Guns & Ammo.
After explaining that the Second Amendment says “shall not be infringed,” as opposed to “shall not be regulated,” and that the first words of the amendment read “a well regulated militia” not only allow but mandate regulation, Metcalf said, “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?”
One should pause to point out that legal scholars — UCLA law professor Eugene Volokh and Denver University law professor David Kopel — have argued that when put in historical context “a well regulated militia” more closely translates to a “well trained militia” as opposed to to laws or ordinances governing the militia.
Additionally, one can argue that a series of restrictions, e.g. excessive fees (it costs $150 to obtain a CCW in Illinois), reams of paperwork, mandated training, etc., when taken in the aggregate can amount to an infringement. No one knows this better than Emily Miller, who chronicled the many hoops one has to jump through to merely possess a firearm in the nation’s capital.
Lastly, one has a Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms for self-defense, there is no such enumerated right to drive a car, let alone, drive in excess of 55 miles per hour so the whole right-to-drive, speed-limit metaphor doesn’t hold water.
All that said, the heart of what Metcalf is saying is true. Regulations are not the same as infringements. But do we really want to further regulate a right that is already, by Metcalf’s own admission, heavily burdened?
“We have over 75,000 firearms rules and regulations on the books, and approximately three of them are ever enforced,” said Metcalf to the audience.
“As for federal laws, there are eight, and only two have been enforced in any significant way, ever,” he continued. “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?”
Here, one can argue that Metcalf arrives at the correction conclusion but for the wrong reasons. It’s not that we shouldn’t enact more laws because the government can’t enforce the ones already on the books, it’s that we shouldn’t enact more laws because as a free society we need to stop and think about what the Second Amendment will look like if/when the government starts to actively and aggressively enforce those 75,000 extant firearm rules and regulations.
It goes without saying, but it may not look so pretty in that one’s right to keep and bear arms may be significantly curtailed.
As it relates to the Aspen discussion, Metcalf’s philosophizing on the Second Amendment was not all that infuriating. Sure, it’s misguided and underdeveloped at times, but overall the point Metcalf makes is that all rights are subject to regulation. Is Metcalf’s continued theorizing his way of defending gun rights? That seems open to debate when one considers the context and timing of the discussion.
However, there is arguably a point during the exchange in which Metcalf goes too far and acts as a divider. It’s when he recounts his putative conversations with gun companies concerning a portion of their customer base.
“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.'”
That last line is really hard to stomach. It’s hard to believe that any rational CEO or executive would dismiss a third of their customers so flippantly. By the numbers, there are 80-100 million gun owners in this country. Is it even fair to suggest that 27-30 million are delinquents or wastrels that shouldn’t exercise their Second Amendment rights?
Maybe those execs were embellishing the old adage that there are a few bad apples in every bunch. But then again when examining the gun community, particularly the portion of the community with valid concealed carry permits, there are fewer bad apples in this bunch when compared to the general population. To put it another way, the vast majority of folks in the market to purchase firearms are indeed law-abiding and responsible citizens. To suggest otherwise is not only divisive, it’s intellectually dishonest, to say nothing of the fact that it’s music to the ears of those who want to enact tougher gun laws.
Metcalf should know better than to iterate such claptrap.