There has been a lot of talk recently about the cowardice of American politicians to take up the issue of guns in American society. There are just a handful, sadly, willing to go into the broad public arena and discuss this, despite widespread public support for sensible restrictions, according to polls.
So how much guts does it take, instead, to have a column in one of this country's leading gun magazines, and rationally discuss this topic? More than 99 percent of our political leaders, I'd argue, and more than a hell of a lot of Americans too.
Dick Metcalf wrote for Guns & Ammo. First published in 1958, the publication has a circulation of 137,648, making it one of the most popular firearms publications in America.
Most of the magazine is devoted to discussing, well, guns and ammo. Politics comes in, but does not dominate. Responsive to its membership, it is adamantly pro Second Amendment. Charlton Heston authored a gun rights column for the magazine titled "From the Capitol" until 2007.
One of their long term writers was Dick Metcalf. Metcalf is a hunter, outdoorsman, and all around gun guy, with sterling credentials in every one of these fields. He also wrote a column "Firearms Law" from 1976 to 1990, and worked with legislators and the National Rifle Association to draft the 1986 Vollmer-McClure Firearm Owners Protection Act.
A little while ago, however, he was given a special task. The last page of the magazine is called "The Back Stop," kind of an extended column for a member of their editorial staff to hold forth on anything they want. A couple of months ago Metcalf got this plumb assignment, and became the last name as you finished reading the periodical.
But then, in the December issue, he broke ranks with his piece, "Let's Talk Limits". Not that he challenged the right of Americans to keep firearms, he simply added some common sense observations.
He started with the Second Amendment itself, of course, but offered powerful, dead on analysis: noting that the amendment reads, "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed," he commented, "Note carefully, these 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."
What a revelation! Are gun limits constitutionally permitted? Of course they are; it says so in the firearms amendment itself! Any use of guns, whether by civilians or by the militia, must be "well regulated". I must sheepishly admit that despite the innumerable times I've read the Constitution, I missed that.
Metcalf didn't stop with that bombshell. He then pointed out that no amendment is unrestricted in its application, bringing out the old chestnut that freedom of speech does not permit one to yell "Fire" in a crowded theatre, as well as examples using other amendments.
It turns out Metcalf is also a strong advocate of enhanced concealed carry laws on the state level. While this is anathema to the left, it has also led to vehement attacks from the right, who feel that no such law is necessary, that "the Second Amendment is all the authority we need to carry anywhere we want to", that, "the government doesn't have the right to tell me whether I'm qualified to carry a gun". To the folks who feel this way, carry laws are just a distraction from standing up for a more fundamental right.
As if he was a character out of a Norman Rockwell painting, Metcalf has no truck with this nonsense. The gun writer observed, "I wondered whether these 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 license, test or license."
Anticipating the counterargument, he explained that while driving a car is not a right protected by a constitutional amendment, "to me the basic principle is the same.. I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly. And I do believe their fellow citizens, by the specific language of the Second Amendment, have an equal right to enact regulatory laws requiring them to undergo adequate training and preparation for the responsibility of bearing arms."
A couple of weeks after his piece hit the stands two major firearms manufacturers told the magazine, in Metcalf's words, that they would place no more ads under the publication's "present personnel structure". Management fired the columnist, and editor Jim Bequette left as well. Metcalf wrote in reply, "If a respected editor can be forced to resign and a controversial writer's voice be shut down...simply because they dared to open a discussion or ask questions...then I fear for the future of our industry, and for our Cause. Do not 2nd Amendment adherents also believe in Freedom of Speech?"
Politicians refuse to speak out even when they have more than three quarters of the population supporting them. Dick Metcalf went into the lion's den, risking his employment at a top gun magazine, to stand up for a rational view of firearms. That took enormous courage, and far more guts than I've got.