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'Guns & Ammo' Columnist Was Right — and Paid the Price

By Ben L. Kaufman · February 5th, 2014 · On Second Thought

When a magazine’s troubles make it to the front page of the New York Times business section, it’s officially a media story. 

By then, however, I already was writing this column. 

Guns & Ammo is a slick monthly that I flip through while I’m waiting for prescriptions to be filled. Conceal/carry pistols and assault-style rifles are popular features. 

The magazine shares the National Rifle Association’s take-no-prisoners approach in the firefight over gun control, and that helps explain why the December issue left Guns & Ammo badly bruised by a nasty recoil.

The affair also recalls the maxim, “Those whom the gods would punish, they first make mad.” 

Mad as in nutty, not angry. 

For Guns & Ammo readers, it’s nutty and angry. 

Trouble began when columnist Dick Metcalf uttered this heresy: “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated.” Worse, he said reasonable regulation doesn’t violate the Second Amendment guarantee that the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” 

Metcalf might as well have played Russian Roulette with a single shot pistol. 

Readers cried betrayal. If he weren’t fired, they’d cancel subscriptions and boycott advertisers.    

That’s sticky for glossy monthlies catering to shooters, drivers, anglers, boaters; they’re filled with relentlessly upbeat features and writers and editors go to great lengths to avoid offending anyone.  

Especially advertisers. That’s why so many product reviews read like endorsements rather than critiques. 

A dirty secret reinforces this relationship: There aren’t enough new buyers to support the gun industry.

So manufacturers depend on magazines like Guns & Ammo to persuade firearms owners to buy more new weapons and ammunition.

To calm the storm, editor Jim Bequette fired Metcalf. 

Then Bequette accelerated what he said was his planned retirement after a groveling apology for publishing the column. 

In his Times interview, Metcalf charged that Guns & Ammo acted under pressure from two unnamed major gun manufacturers. 

No surprise, the Times added.

“Gun magazines reportedly bend over backwards for their advertisers. … When writers stray from the party line promoting an absolutist view of an unfettered right to bear arms, their publications — often under pressure from advertisers — excommunicate them.” 

Then there is the not-so-secret truth: Massacres in American theaters and schools bring new calls for gun control, and that’s good for gun makers and magazines’ advertising and circulation.

“Traditionally, these magazines do better when gun owners feel their rights are being threatened,” said Steve Cohn, editor-in-chief of Media Industry Newsletter, told the Times.

A year after the Sandy Hook grade school killings, the firearms industry predicted that its revenues would grow more than 20 percent in 2013 to almost $15 billion.  

And a lot of those buyers would be turning to magazines like Guns & Ammo for features and ads to guide their additions to their armories.  

That helps explain why departing editor Bequette wasn’t content with sending Metcalf to the wall. Here’s what contrite Bequette told readers:

“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. . . 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 gun writer, 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 ... Guns & Ammo will never fail to vigorously lead the struggle for our Second Amendment rights, and with vigorous young editorial leadership … it will be done even better in the future.”

All of this follows the August 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that individuals may own guns for lawful purposes. 

Guns & Ammo’s reactions to reader fury suggests there is little hope for what Bequette called “a healthy exchange of ideas on gun rights.” Even considering alternatives proved toxic.

So what did Metcalf say beyond the obvious, that every constitutional right brings with it regulations? He repeated the Second Amendment, adding, “those last four words say ‘shall not be infringed.’ They do not say, ‘shall not be regulated’ … All constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be … The question is, when does regulation become infringement?”

Let me get personal. Along with other First Amendment defenders, I accept some regulation of assembly, speech, press, religion, etc. As Metcalf said, regulation must be fought when it becomes infringement. 

So it is with most Second Amendment advocates whom I’ve read and heard. They accept firearms/law instruction before getting a state handgun conceal/carry license. They accept bans on gun sales to children, dangerously mentally ill individuals and convicted felons. And I guess that most people who want a legal and fully automatic machine gun, submachine gun or assault rifle pay the required $200 federal tax.  

In short, even people who believe themselves to be Second Amendment absolutists often accept some regulation. 

So Metcalf was right and he paid the price.

CONTACT BEN L. KAUFMAN: letters@citybeat.com



02.06.2014 at 11:46 Reply

So Ben thinks that a columinist at Vegetarian Times who writes that he thinks it is in the best interest of the readers to eat a Big Mac once a week should get a free pass?


Or that an editor for the PETA magazine that writes about the joys of hunting deer on the weekend is going to add new readers to the rag?


Metcalf was channeling the exact, same, tired arguments of the Brady bunch and other anti-gun control groups. He was historically wrong in his understanding of the 2nd Amendment and over the months that this happened has dug his hole even deeper -- proving that the original reaction from the readers was correct. 


02.06.2014 at 12:30 Reply

When is enough enough ? He was wrong and this article is wrong. I think Dick was absorbed in acacemia and valued their acceptance more than the rank and file gun owners and subscribers.

In other words, he moved left of center, not the majority of subscribers or even the citizens. His fall was due to Ego. Prose is powerful but Civil Rights are deep rooted.


02.06.2014 at 01:05 Reply

I actually pity you, Ben, for your entirely devoid sense of Freedom. The words of the 2nd Amendment could not be more clear; SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED MEANS SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.

By its' very definition, regulation IS infringement.


02.06.2014 at 03:37

If you read what the founders intended with the 2nd Amendment and why it was placed there in the Constitution it makes no sense that a government can regulate it. Our founders intended for the govt not to have any say whatsoever in whatever weaponry the citizens owned. The 2nd Amendment is not about hunting, it's not even about self-defense. It is about making sure Americans would never have to fear tyranny.

The time has come ladies and gentlement. Better get your selves mentally and physically (and spiritually) prepared.



02.06.2014 at 03:26 Reply

If you "got" it, it would be a miracle in itself. Here's how it goes. The "acceptance" you speak of is......at the point of the govts. gun. If we don't obey the laws, we get more trouble than we want. So in order to even slightly, abeit, with great restrictions exercise, our rights, we have to submit to the govts. threat of violence, and do it their way, or else. I don't know anyone who wants a lot of regulations on what are supposed to be rights, because, sooner or later, as in the present, govts. view those restrictions by law as means of abolishing them altogether. Choked like that, a little at a time (remember the boiled frog story?), they look like priviledges to govt., to be withheld at the whim of the next dictator/puppet. With tens of thousands of anti-gun regulations and laws on the books, with antis dancing in the blood of victims of madmen before the bodies are even cold, and Presidents and Legislatures chomping at the bit to enact even more ornerous anti-gun laws, who wouldn't react like they did, when one of their own(supposedly their own), comes down on the side of the statists who work tirelessly to read the 2A out of the Constitution, one law, one regulation at a time. Go look at how hard it is to even buy a gun in Chicago, or Mass. Most of the people of this country are harried and restricted and regulated every minute of their lives, and we're sick of it, and people like yourself, who think a little more regulation will do the trick. So the answer is NO. We've got our guns, and we're keeping them, so stop trying to turn us into criminals and then slaves of the state. I call you a statist, because even if all we do is shout about what we percieve to be injustice, you'd like us all to shut up. Guess what, we're not going to shut up, and we're not knuckling under to your whip. You're not so upset about what happened, you're upset that we said something about it. Report to Nancy Pelosi that the peasants are revolting, yes, we stink on ice, and not liable to stop soon. Tell you what else. Get yourself a hundred American cigarettes, then get yourself a new face.


02.06.2014 at 04:58 Reply

It is not that Dick Metcalf was wrong when he stated that all rights are regulated to some extent.  He was wrong in stating that a free people should accept even more infringements on the second amendment than the mountain of infringements that already exist.

Why can't you walk down to the corner hardware store and buy a gun muffler for your pistol or rifle, like they do in Finland?  A gun ban passed in 1934.   Why can't you order military surplus rifles mail order, and have them delivered to your door, even though they are almost never used in crime?  A gun ban passed in 1968.  Why can't you pay the $200 tax, jump through the ridiculous hoops and interminable wait the BATFE requires to buy a newly made MP5, just like the police often carry, for the police price of $1,000, instead of the current U.S. legal price of $26,000?   A gun ban in 1986.     Why can't a Vietnam Vet, who 45 years ago signed a plea bargain about an argument with his wife, buy a shotgun to go hunting with his grandson?  A gun ban passed in 1996.  All of these laws are effective gun bans through the use of taxes, regulations, and the expansion of the classes of "prohibited possessors". 

American citizens who have studied the issue and know what already exists know that Dick Metcalf was completely off base in his assertion that more "compromise" was required.  That is why he was fired.



02.10.2014 at 10:45

Jesus  just shoot me