At Guns & Ammo, the Second Amendment Comes First

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An editor from Guns & Ammo resigned from the publication and fired the author of an editorial advocating for regulation on gun ownership after reader outcry. The two will hereafter be expressing their First Amendment rights non-professionally.

The editorial doesn't appear to be online, except in a scanned version from the group The Truth About Guns. The author, Dick Metcalf, explores the language of the Second Amendment — "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" — in his argument that some limits can and should be applied to owning guns. The limit he advocates is perhaps the most demure imaginable: mandatory training for gun ownership. Other amendments have restrictions, he notes — the ability to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, prohibitions against human sacrifice in religious worship.

But it didn't go over well. Readers flooded unrelated Facebook stories, and a search on Twitter for Metcalf's name shows a number of angry response like the one at right. At the conservative blog Breitbart, which helped whip the issue into a lather, the editorial is described as "missing the point," since owning a gun, unlike driving a car, is a "natural right." "oldwhiteguy" comments on that article: "everything I have read today shows that the country and the freedom it used to stand for is gone."

In its walkback, Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette, who moved up his transition out of his position, offers his abject apology. "In publishing Metcalf’s column," Bequette says he was untrue" to the magazine's tradition of advocacy for gun rights. "[A]nd 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."

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There's a temptation to find irony in Bequette and Metcalf having restrictions imposed by the community on their speech. Though tempting, the analogy doesn't work: one of the key lessons in the internet world is that companies may restrict speech on their properties if they want. I, as a writer for The Atlantic Wire, can certainly be punished for saying certain things on this website; you, as a reader, could have comments removed. What is somewhat ironic, though, is that Metcalf essentially foreshadows his ouster under that condition. "People who don't like you can't gather an 'anti-you' demonstration on your front lawn without your permission," he wrote — nor does Guns and Ammo have to save space in its pages for Metcalf if people who don't like him gather on Facebook and Twitter to call for his ouster.

The better question, one that's in part answered in the responses to the magazine's apology on Facebook, is who hosts the debate over gun control in the gun activist community. If Guns and Ammo can't run an undeniably cautious and limited defense of legal applications to the Second Amendment, where does that debate happen in a way that includes staunch opponents? Again: The Facebook comments do offer some back and forth; Guns & Ammo's ability to regulate that conversation on Facebook is more limited. Facebook, in that way, is a bit more democratic — until such time as it asks you to get off of its lawn.

Photo: A wedding at the "Guns and Ammo Garage" in Las Vegas — no relation to the magazine.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.