Saturday, November 9, 2013

Firing Editors Is Almost as Much Fun as Firing Guns

Dick Metcalf: Insufficiently fanatic about guns.
One of the more intriguing stories of the last few days concerns now erstwhile Guns and Ammo Contributing Editor Dick Metcalf, who was sacked by that magazine for penning an editorial in which he suggested the utterly reasonable suggestion that some restrictions on gun ownership are not only constitutional but possibly even a good idea:
The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be. Freedom of speech is regulated. You cannot falsely and deliberately shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater. Freedom of religion is regulated. A church cannot practice human sacrifice. Freedom of assembly is regulated. People who don’t like you can’t gather an “anti-you” demonstration on your front lawn without your permission. And it is illegal for convicted felons or the clinically insane to keep and bear arms….

I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms, but I do not believe they have the right to use them irresponsibly….

I don’t think requiring 16 hours of training to qualify for a concealed carry license is an infringement in and of itself.
I mean, wow, right? This, like any manifestation of sanity or moderation, is tantamount to treason in the world of the echo chamber. This applies to the left and the right, of course, and the phenomenon doesn’t change based on whether or not I agree with the content of the material.

Naturally, the zealots called for blood, and, has become a depressingly familiar reaction of late, the less-crazy promptly capitulated. Editor Jim Bequette immediately (or nearly immediately) fired Metcalf, apologized profusely to the readership, and promptly resigned, himself. (He was planning to step down in another month or two, anyway.)

Let’s be clear: it is absolutely within Bequette’s rights to fire Metcalf. Guns and Ammo is a privately-owned enterprise. They’re under no obligation to provide a forum for views they don’t support. Nor can they be faulted for making a business decision to accommodate the collective will of their subscribers (barring some sort of discrimination, and there is no evidence of that). There’s nothing wrong, either, with those readers’ exercising their right to protest decisions they don’t like. And Metcalf’s response to the controversy—a column published on the Outdoor Wire website—comes perilously close to conflating the philosophical/ethical concept of freedom of speech with the constitutional/legal protection of freedom from governmental restrictions on free expression.

All that said, the story remains disappointing. First off, if Metcalf is to be believed—and I’ve seen no evidence to the contrary—he was asked to write the offending article on a page that was “intentionally designed to address controversial issues, and to invite reader response.” His intention in writing and, apparently, Bequette’s in publishing it, was to “provoke a debate” (Metcalf), or to “generate a healthy exchange” (Bequette). What they got was simply a shitstorm, which, to say the least, isn’t the same thing.

More disturbingly, Bequette apologized for what should have been a good thing: the attempt to apply a little nuance to the conversation, to assert that it is possible to be pro-gun without being doctrinaire about it. To be sure, there is nothing inherently positive about moderation, but Bequette’s servility is truly problematic:
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.
To call this craven display troubling is akin to saying it can get a little brisk in Duluth in January. After all, Bequette effectively begs forgiveness for over-estimating his audience, for daring to believe that the G&A readership came to their conclusions based on a thoughtful analysis rather than as articles of faith surpassing any rational analysis. What “our valued readers want” is red meat, not… you know… thinking. Bequette suggests that anyone, including a long-time gun proponent, who suggests that recognizing judicial precedent and political realities might not be a bad idea… well, such a person is to be treated like crazy Uncle Carl. If anyone was mistreated by Bequette, it wasn’t the readership whose tender sensibilities were sore offended by the ravings of someone who agrees with them only 98% of the time. No, it was Metcalf, who was sent as a lamb to the slaughter, and then unceremoniously dumped when Bequette’s decision to publish an editorial with even a whiff of moderation blew up.

Curmie’s netpal Jack Marshall asks “Was ‘Guns and Ammo’ unfair to fire Dick Metcalf for writing a moderate and thoughtful opinion piece advocating some gun controls?” My answer is equivocal. On the one hand, Metcalf bears responsibility for his own words, and he had to know that suggesting anything other than conventional NRA-like dogma might end badly. Moreover, the whole comparison of gun ownership to car ownership may appeal to the moderately-minded, but anyone with a lick of sense knows that to conflate those ideas in something to be published in Guns and Ammo is to pour every manner of flammable liquid on an already raging conflagration. And, as noted above, G&A can hire and fire whomever they choose for whatever (legal) reason they choose. Metcalf knew that when he signed on. But yes, it is unfair that Metcalf was asked to write a piece intended to engender discussion and was fired for then doing so. Note: “unfair” is not to be confused with “immoral” or “outrageous.”

More significantly, the increasing unwillingness to admit even the possibility of compromise or even consensus signals not merely the immaturity of both the editors and the readership, it portends a crisis in democracy itself. (I wrote about this in one of my last essays in the old blog.) Jack Marshall observes that “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.” I disagree. Refusing to consider alternate points of view runs counter to everything we in a democratic and deliberative society ought to hold dear. And the fact that moderate policies sometimes result from clashes of extreme ideologies (even then, only as the result of eventual compromise, which the G&As of the world hold as anathema) strikes me as merely consequentialism: puerile behavior cannot be legitimized by the off-chance of a positive result.

None of this, of course, means that the leadership at Guns and Ammo did anything wrong. Not unless they want to be taken seriously but anyone but True Believers, that is… and they pretty much gave up any claim to that a long time ago.

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