“Guns and Ammo Magazine,” a stalwart of gun rights advocacy, fired contributing editor Dick Metcalf after he penned, and the magazine published, an editorial advocating moderate gun control.
In his opinion piece titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” Metcalf wrote in part,
“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….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.”
The Horror. You would have thought he had come out for legalized cannibalism. Readers attacked the editor and the magazine on social media, and threatened to cancel subscriptions. “Guns and Ammo” editor Jim Bequette posted an apology to readers on the magazine’s website, saying he should never have run the column:
“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. I made a mistake by publishing the column,” he continued. “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.”
Bequette not only announced that “Guns & Ammo” had fired the author, but also that he was leaving as well.
Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz for today is…
Was “Guns and Ammo” unfair to fire Dick Metcalf for writing a moderate and thoughtful opinion piece advocating some gun controls?
How could it be fair? This is a magazine about guns (and gun magazines). Gun control is a constant, live, contentious issue of great interest to the magazine’s readers. Metcalf’s point of view was obviously published to provoke thought and debate.
I think that while the magazine could have kept Metcalf, it was not unfair to fire him. This is an advocacy magazine. It exists to stake out the extreme end of the absolutist Second Amendment rights territory, as a necessary counter-balance to the extreme on the other side of the spectrum advocating the banning of all privately-owned firearms. What do you think would happen to a NARAL editor who wrote a signed editorial suggesting that certain restrictions on abortion made logical and ethical sense? Advocacy organizations cannot afford to let moderate positions weaken their absolute missions and credibility as champions for them, no matter how reasonable those moderate suggestions may be to objective parties. Indeed, properly used, extreme and absolute positions lead to more moderate policies. That editorial by Metcalf will be used by a gun control advocate testifying before a legislative committee, as evidence that even the pro-gun groups know that some controls are needed and make sense. Such a scenario is, justifiably, anathema to the publishers and subscribers to “Guns & Ammo.”
Both the magazine and Metcalf were let down by Bequette, who as editor was responsible for knowing the magazine’s readership and also protecting his colleague, Metcalf, from walking into a firing squad. He had no choice but to fire Metcalf and apologize to win back the trust of the publication’s readers, and he showed himself to be ethical by kicking himself off the staff as well. He made a bad error in judgment, held himself accountable, and did the right thing.
I liked Metcalf’s column, but this was not the place to publish it.
[A warning: Any commenter who says that Metcalf’s firing violated the First Amendment will be mocked unkindly, and will deserve it. Unfortunately, Metcalf himself has taken this ignorant path, which only shows that the champions of the Second Amendment, like their adversaries, will often interpret the Constitution to fit their needs. ]