Ethics Quiz: The Case Of The Reasonable Gun Nut

A voice of moderation in the gun control debate?

A voice of moderation in the gun control debate?

“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.

But…

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. ]

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Facts: Slate, Mediaite, Pagunblog

18 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: The Case Of The Reasonable Gun Nut

  1. First, something is causing this site to display funny on my phone. I suspect it is the new background.

    Second, good riddence to the idiot – his article was a kinder, gentler version of the “you don’t need that gun” stance of much of those seeking to make guns illegal.

    The 2nd Amendment was intended not for hunting, and not for “self defense”, but to ensure some parity between the citizen and the government (George Washington was clear on this point).

    When we give the government a monopoly on the use of force, we lose any ability to defend against tyranny.

  2. Isn’t that sort of like publishing a meat loaf recipe in a vegetarian cooking magazine?
    You’re right, Jack, it doesn’t belong there.
    It was fair to fire Metcalf.

  3. A person cannot blame readers, an audience or patrons who don’t like an editorial, concert, play, etc. ESPECIALLY when one knows what the readers or the audience wants and doesn’t deliver. I see no issue with him being fired. I would say that if he is a skilled and knowledgable writer then he could write for another organization but after I saw what he wrote in response to his firing….I think he might have done himself in.

  4. You made an intriguing point with your NARAL hypothetical. I am staunchly pro choice, but I also fully understand that abortion is a terrible thing, and ideally should be used only as an exception to common sense and healthy family planning. (Absent rape, incest.) The goal should be to have fewer abortions each and every year. Also, some restrictions obviously make sense. Should a woman about ready to give birth be able to get an abortion? Of course not. And, as technology continues to improve, we are seeing babies live at younger and younger gestational milestones. So yes, I think it is a conversation worth having and no, I wouldn’t ask the publication to fire a contributing editor over such a piece. I, however, would ask for an editor to be fired if he/she wrote a piece advocating that ALL abortions should be illegal.

    So, here, I do think it is unfortunate and sad that he was fired, but it obviously wasn’t unethical. This is a for-profit magazine correct? It needs to provide content that its readership wants.

    • The reason the ads against abortion restrictions use the term “20 weeks” when they try to gin up the base to fight new abortion restrictions is because people think that isn’t very long. If instead they said “5 months”, they would have a harder time selling the push back – who thinks 2/3 through the second trimester isn’t long enough to realize you want an abortion???

      • It’s not as simple as that of course — I know it’s hard to fully comprehend, but many women/girls don’t know they are pregnant or there are other serious issues interfering with their ability to see a doctor, like violence or drug addiction. But, in theory, I agree with you. Assuming you are in a normal, healthy place — a decision should be made as soon as possible.

  5. I am all against the alteration of the constitution or the forming of laws which therein forbid against any part of the constitutions enactment. Anyone with 1/2 a brain and only 0.01% of that functional can see that restricting gun ownership and registration does not impact those who never register them in the first place, which is where many of the “violations” occur. Even if I disagree or agree with the authors article, his opinions are his free will to speak and or write about — and any magazine would be found difficult to rush an editorial to publication without first having gone through editors, mastered, re-mastered, and then finally printed, rough read before mail out, and then mailed out. Essentially, I am saying that if the magazine editors, administrators, and such did not proof the article prior to publication and distribution, then they should (ethically speaking) also fire themselves for not doing what their job entails.

    On the other hand… if they did read it, then they accepted it and again should take the fall if they so strongly support the public, however the author being the low hanging fruit in a corrupt corporation — no surprise as to where the burden of “blame” falls.

    As far as the whole getting fired in the first place for speaking out, it may be that they legally have the right to do so given it is the company name under the gun (no pun intended), however, given the case of something going to publication without the preview of another person, is unheard of, and therefore there are others who should also take the fall if one is to be had.

    I personally think this was a bold move for the author to put in print what they (allegedly as it may have been dictated for them to write under their name) feel on the issue, or it was simply a testing the waters sort of deal by the big cheese(s) with a fallback on the “author” as plausible-deniability leaving the magazine company exempt from any reader-wrath with the quick stroke of a pen on a pink slip.

    A few words from the readers and those who complained without any intelligent counter to the ongoing argument/debate :

    “I has here um’ gun. Gun is mine. I can wat wer’ use em’ as I darn please’ums.”

    *** Enough said ***

  6. Jack, I’m sure that this guy pissed off the “slippery slope” guys in the magazine he wrote for and they have a right to fire him (excuse the pun!). I also believe that all this nonsense about “assault rifles” is being used to further an agenda. It’s not a good one and is probably unconstitutional. I don’t particularly like the title of this blog piece “The Case Of The Reasonable Gun Nut”. Most people that own guns, be they pistols or rifles legally use them responsibly for hunting or home defense.

    • No offense intended—but I do think the extremists on the gun issue can be a little nutty. And nut, meaning a fanatic, should not be taken as necessarily negative. I am a nut about many things, and proud of it. Ethics, for example.

      Charlton Heston was playing to his audience with his “cold dead hands” line, and that is per se nutty. I should also say that I was much more sympathetic to the idea additional gun controls before the Democrats used hysteria, lies, vilification, slander and child exploitation to ram them down our throats after Sandy Hook, and the more I thought about it, the less moderate my own gun control views got.

      • Yah, he was playin’ to his audience for sure. That being said, I met him once at a a book signing in “lala land” and he was an extremely gracious man, shook my hand and didn’t say one word about the NRA or gun control laws.

  7. In the past, Jack, you have pointed out that incompetence IS unethical (or words to the effect that it can be unethical). Metcalf apparently has as limited an understanding of the Second Amendment as he has of the First Amendment (as shown by his defenses after being fired).

    His article basically says that since the 2nd Amendment contains the word “regulated” that means that the authors believed in the regulation of the right itself. At the time it was written, it is understood to have meant that the use of arms should be by a militia that was properly trained and organized (militia also was not understood as a function of the government, but of free people). For someone in his line of work, a fundamental misunderstanding of this magnitude is emblematic of incompetence and should rise to the level of termination.

    His defense of himself post termination is that the 1st Amendment should protect him from censorship by his employer. We understand that the 1st does not protect you from the consequences of speech, but only protects the action of speaking against the interference of the government.

    • Yes, his regulation argument is muddled, and unfortunate regarding a messily written amendment that even includes the word “regulate.” My sympathy for his piece is in the general principle of not embracing absolutism regarding gun laws. His argument is full of holes—and a competent editor would have sent it back to the drafting table.

      • ? I think it’s a well worded amendment. The only reason people nowadays muddle it is because muddling it helps advance agendas based on ‘out of datedness’ or outright word twisting. I don’t think that anyone historically questioned the Amendment’s wording until questioning its wording helped out the virulent and robotic anti-gun activists.

        • Come on. Why begin an amendment with a subordinate clause, suggesting that it, rather than the guts, is the main objective? Why wasn’t the right just stated as an absolute, like the First? If you needed that opening, why not add “…and a good and true firearm being necessary for the hunting of game for human sustenance, as well as to provide citizens with a means to protect family, home and hearth…”

          It was a drafting botch, for guys who didn’t make many of them.

          • Come on. Why begin and amendment with a subordinate clause, suggesting that it, rather than the guts, is the objective? Why wasn’t the right just stated as an absolute, like the First? If you needed that opening, why not add “…and a good and true firearm being necessary for the hunting of game for human sustenance, as well as to provide citizens with a means to protect family, home and hearth…”

            Because protection and hunting were never the reason for the Second Amendment – it was so that the people (likely in some form of locally organized militia) could resist the government.

            People forget that one of the very first battles of the Revolution happened because the British had come to confiscate firearms the leaders of the revolution had been gathering. Knowing that without firearms they could never have won, the founders made certain such a thing couldn’t happen again.

            After the whiskey rebellion, no effort at all was made to limit the ownership of firearms.

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