November 08, 2013

A Cramp In Your Metcalf

Dick Metcalf, longtime gun-writer, decided to pen what has been perceived as a column condoning gun control (to some degree). That got him fired and an editor, Jim Bequette, assumed responsibility and resigned.

What was so bad about his column? Robert Farago over at The Truth About Guns has a link to a .pdf of the column, as well as commentary on its defects.

Metcalf released a statement about his column and firing that was not well received either. Bitter over at Shall Not Be Questioned did a partial fisking of it, and Michael Bane wasn't impressed by Metcalf's tone or sentiment.

This article from The Bang Switch lists previous examples of gun writers who've been fired for expressing views sympathetic to some forms of gun control. While having accurate ideas about why previous gun writers erred, they claim to have little idea how Metcalf could have made such a mistake.

I think I know how, and some of y'all ain't gonna like it.

To start things off, Metcalf claims to have helped write the FOPA of '86. He is listed as helping to push and write the Pike County, Illinois ballot measure where Constitutional Carry was approved in March of 2012 (although it was a non-binding measure). So how could someone who spent his career writing for gun magazines and helping to push pro-gun legislation write something anti-gun?

Because he wasn't 100% pro-gun. Not many people are, including some of his critics. What he expressed in his column and his statement isn't much different than the "pragmatic" view of the Right to arms that a lot of very prominent and popular folks and institutions have.

Let's examine some of his points, shall we? In the interest of conserving time, I'll just use his statement after his firing that can be found here.

"In today's political climate within the community of firearms owners, even to open a discussion about whether 2nd Amendment rights can be regulated at all, is to be immediately and aggressively branded as anti-gun and anti-American by outspoken hard-corps pro-gunners who believe the answer is an absolute 'NO!"

It's a bs point on Metcalf's part, but not fundamentally different than folks who claim that Constitutional Carry, or some other pro-gun move would be pragmatically impossible, or that such does not constitute a "serious" argument, usually coupled with derisive invective about how "shouting "ShallNotBeInfringed!!1!!!1shiftplusone!!1!!1!!" won't get anyone anywhere with the low-information voters, or it'd scare the white people.

In other words, I've seen more discussions shut down because someone was trying to be too pro-gun than what Metcalf is lamenting. Same mechanism though - someone declares someone else's opinion too extreme in some fashion or another.

"I am also fully aware that the different rights enumerated in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and following amendments are different, and are regulated differently. But they are all regulated in some form or fashion, hopefully appropriate to their particular provisions."

I will give it to Bitter on calling Metcalf out on the 3rd amendment thing. But in essence, except for the 3rd, Metcalf is correct. They are currently regulated to varying degrees, and not just post action. Those regulations are in almost every instance wrong (and I assume that by "regulation" he means any legislative or regulatory action, not just an actual regulation as opposed to a statute) but they exist and a lot of folks you'd think are pro-gun support some of them.

The National Firearms Act was nothing more than regulation under the guise of taxation (which in itself is unconstitutional). How many pro-gun folk do you know that support a repeal of the NFA? How many pro-gun folk do you know that claim there's not enough support and it's "not a hill worth dying on" to repeal? How many pro-gun folks do you know that actually think automatic weapons, or short barreled rifles and shotguns should be regulated? In my experience a minority want repeal, while the majority are either in favor of it or just don't think it's important enough to spend "political capital on right now".

"I further clearly understand that owning or driving a vehicle is not a constitutional right, and that keeping and bearing arms is. But both involve issues of public safety, which is why both are of great and immediate interest to a great number of Americans for much the same reasons. Should we not speak of both in the same sentence?"

Ah, public safety. The greater good. The best interests of the people. The best interest of the proletariat. Phrase it however you want, but it's nothing more than a declaration that the collective is more important than the individual. When phrased like that a lot of pro-gunners would shun such an idea.

How many pro-gunners do you know that support "shall issue" because it mandates training? I know more than a few. I also know a bunch that oppose Constitutional Carry because it doesn't mandate training, and that would make the public unsafe. In Colorado, the state NRA affiliate has for years opposed efforts to enact a Constitutional Carry law. Part of that is because they prefer to have a training standard. Whether it's because they think it's valuable to the proletariat's public's safety or just cause it puts cash in their licensed instructors pockets is debatable.

Metcalf errs on that point, just as pro-gunners who oppose Constitutional Carry replacing a permit or licensing system err.

"Let me make myself clear (again): I believe without question that all U.S. citizens have an absolute Constitutional right to acquire, keep, and bear arms." (emphasis in original)

That's bullshit. If Metcalf believed, without question, then his column and this statement he released wouldn't spend so much time questioning how much it can be questioned. Further, if he believed the Right was absolute then he wouldn't have spoken favorably of regulations. Again I call bullshit as last I checked, the only non-citizens on the federal prohibited persons list were those that had renounced their u.S. citizenship. Metcalf doesn't like the idea of arming felons, so his statement contradicts other statements that he's made.

How many pro-guners do you know that mention "no Right is absolute"? I recall years back when a big argument was ongoing betwixt the Absolutists and the Pragmatists. As self-contradictory as Metcalf's statements seem, I found the same disconnect in many of the Pragmatists arguments, yet they were and are considered pro-gun.

"At the same time, how can anyone deny that the 2nd Amendment is already regulated by innumerable federal, state, and local statutes, and always has been? Even the Supreme Court's widely applauded Heller and McDonald decisions affirming an individual right to keep and bear arms, and the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals' Moore ruling overturning the Illinois ban on concealed carry, specifically held that other firearms laws and regulations do pass constitutional muster.

Do we all agree with every part of those rulings? Of course not. I personally do not. But these are laws; now part of the organic fabric of the Constitution, and we ignore them at our peril. Should we now hold that those rulings themselves are unconstitutional?"

Actually no - there haven't always been federal restrictions on the Right to own and carry weapons. There are likely to be some local governments that have never enacted any restrictions on the Right to own and carry weapons. There may even be a state or more that didn't start off by imposing on that Right.

And to get technical, the 2nd amendment isn't regulated - it's us that are regulated. Individuals. Me. Remember, it's not gun control, it's gun owner control. The 2nd amendment is merely ignored. But I won't bother too much with that at the moment as it's a common semantic error.

Heller occurred during my hiatus, but at the time I was not happy with Scalia's opinion. It ceded too much ground and set up a lot of potentially disastrous cases in the future. Perhaps one day I'll sit down and critique it for the helluvit, but Heller wasn't as big a victory as it should have been in the long run. That it and other decisions have opined that there are limits to Rights is currently good case law. Metcalf points that out and even claims to not agree with all of those decisions in whole. Where he errs is by saying they're the law of the land and must be heeded.

How many pro-gunners do you know that approve of armed marches into "gun-free" zones to purposefully break unconstitutional laws as an act of disobedience? How many gun owners do you know that deride other gun owners for carrying contrary to some unconstitutional law - a law they themselves admit is unconstitutional while putting down those that break it? How many pro-gun people have you heard caution to "wait until the NRA brings up a good test case" and to grit your teeth and obey the law until then?

And yes, for the record, a court is bound by the constitution the same as the legislature, so we should regard any rulings that impose upon our constitutionally enumerated Rights as unconstitutional and thus null. How many pro-gunners do you know that would disagree with me over that statement?

"All 50 states now have individual statutes or constitutional provisions regulating concealed firearms carry. The vast majority require state-issued permits, and most require some type of training to qualify. Are all those laws unconstitutional infringements of the 2nd Amendment? Should we entirely oppose their existence? Should we obtain concealed-carry licenses anyway? Are we violating the Constitution ourselves if we do? On these issues reasonable gun-owners may reasonably differ (although you wouldn't know it from what erupted on the Guns & Ammo website, G&A Facebook pages, and many other firearms forums following the appearance of the December Backstop column)."

Yes, those laws are an imposition on the Right to own and carry weapons. That makes them unconstitutional. And yes, we should oppose their existence (although no constitution that I know of imposes restrictions on the Right - a few toss concealed carry under the bus, but they do that by saying concealed carry isn't applicable, not by actually regulating it).

How many gun owners do you know that opposed a Constitutional Carry effort in any state? How many thought "Shall Issue" was a better path than just eliminating the prohibition on carry?

I never begrudged anyone for getting a license, and although I understand not everyone wants to be a martyr I have written before about the dangers of complacency with any licensing system - that in a few generations folks will confuse obtaining a permit with a Right.

As Bitter points out, it's bizarre to ask if an individual violates the constitution by obtaining a license. The constitution only restricts government action (in theory at least). But go to any message board and if you stay there long enough you'll see some pro gun commenter mention how a private business is violating the constitution by a "no guns for employees" policy.

Which reminds me, how many pro-gun folks do you know who support "parking lot" bills? Where they claim it's their Right according to the 2nd amendment to carry, and their employer interferes with that Right by forbidding their possession of a weapon in their car in the company parking lot?

In a sense, Metcalf errs again by stating that reasonable gun owners can differ. We can't. Unless you define "reasonable gun owner" as a moderate. If you support the Right to carry, the actual Right, then there can't be any concession to prior restraint based gun owner control laws. It's all or nothing. There's simply nothing to differ about - you either oppose prior restraint based gun laws, or you don't.

Ol' Barry summed it up best:

"Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice; moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue"

There are a lot of pro-gunners that subscribe to the view that some difference of opinion is acceptable, as long as there's enough agreement to further a coalition. I'm not one of them, but they exist, and odds are you read them. Hell odds are you're one of them.

"Myself, I would rather carry legally, than carry illegally and risk prison. Given the fact an Illinois concealed carry law now does exist, I have no problem spending 16 hours of my life under its training requirement. And I will. I am glad Illinois finally passed a concealed carry law. Do I believe training is a good thing? Of course I do. Do I believe the onerous fees and procedures imposed by Illinois' anti-gun legislators to reduce the number of applicants are an 'infringement?' Of course I do. I'm applying for a license anyway. But that's just me."

How many gun owners do you know that have said a burdensome permit system is better than not being able to legally carry at all? How many gun owners do you know that have denounced other people who said they'd carry illegally rather than bend their knee to the state in order to exercise what should be respected as a Right?

Now, here comes the real fun part:

"Difficult as it may be for some to believe, To those who have expressed their vigorous opposition to the content of the December column (and to my continued existence on this planet), I would pose these questions:

1. If you believe the 2nd Amendment should be subject to no regulation at all, do you therefore believe all laws prohibiting convicted violent repeat criminals from having guns are unconstitutional? Should all such laws be repealed?

2. Do you also believe all laws establishing concealed-carry licenses are unconstitutional?

3. Do you have a concealed-carry license anyway?

4. Are you thereby violating the Constitution yourself?

I would hope this discussion could continue."

1: Ayup. And ya damn skippy. If someone cannot be trusted with a device as mechanically and morally simple as a firearm, then they should not be roaming freely in society without direct adult supervision. A failure to reform the criminal justice system is simply not a good enough excuse to impose upon my Rights (Besides, the prohibited persons lists encompasses more than violent offenders and heroin junkies).

2: Yeppers. Any prior restraint based law affecting the individual exercise of a Right is prima facie unconstitutional and should be repealed. Right damn now.

3: Nope. I'm not a law abiding gun owner - I'm an American.

4: An individual cannot violate the constitution unless under the direct employ of a government at the time of the act. The question is moot.

Now, how many gun owners do you know that would disagree with my answers to 1, 2 and/or 3? How many would disagree with all of them?

As for continuing the discussion, I'm with Michael Bane on this one:

"you want some healthy give-and-take, go back to your academic lounges. The arena is for fighters."

My point in this isn't to justify Metcalf's column - he should have been fired for it, as should have the editor in question. But what Metcalf wrote isn't any different from what I've heard from allegedly respectable voices in the gun owner community.

Hell, aside from Lapierre talking about absolutism in a speech within the last year, Metcalf's position isn't all that different from the NRA's. The NRA is talking a good game as of late, and I hope it means there's been some changes, but they support tons of gun owner control laws. That's why I'm still not a member. I wouldn't even join when it would have helped me in competitions. And I recall one of the Gresham's not approving of the anti-NRA tone on a G&A forum some years back. That anti-NRA tone was coming from a few folks tired of their appeasement and support of gun owner control laws. There was a house cleaning of sorts, and it was clear that a more moderate view was preferred to put it mildly. Metcalfian views were welcome, absolutist views were not.

The reason Metcalf penned what he penned was that he believes that certain restrictions are acceptable. A lot of people believe that. Even I think some restrictions are okay. The difference is the ones I'm cool with come after an imminently dangerous action has been performed, whereas Metcalf, and a lot of other pro-gun folks, think some forms of prior restraint are okay.

To illustrate, I'm alright with laws punishing folks for walking down a crowded city street and indiscriminately shooting at street signs. I'm not okay with laws that proscribe carrying weapons, concealed or openly, or that require a permit or license to do so.

Whether due to pragmatism or ignorance of what a Right really is versus what constitutes a privilege ("Right to Carry" laws that include a permit or licensing system come to mind - they're about a privilege, not a Right) a lot of otherwise pro-gun folks are okay with some restrictions, or regulations.

I'd like to think that some good will come out of this. The specific good I'm hoping for would be for a lot of folks who consider themselves pro-gun to abandon support or acceptance of prior restraint based gun owner control laws. Metcalf spelled out some of his positions (albeit simplistically) and they were distasteful. I've seen his views, sometimes in part, sometimes as a whole, expressed by pro gun people and pro gun organizations. Maybe this little peek into the mirror will cause a re-examination of those views, of that acceptance of mediocrity that threatens us so much and so often. I won't hold my breath, but one can hope.

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