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Writer fired after column on gun laws

By Ravi Somaiya
New York Times

BARRY, Ill. The byline of Dick Metcalf, one of the country’s pre-eminent gun journalists, has gone missing. It has been removed from Guns & Ammo magazine, where his widely read column once ran on the back page. He no longer stars on a popular television show about firearms. Gun companies have stopped flying him around the world and sending him the latest weapons to review.

In late October, Metcalf wrote a column that the magazine titled “Let’s Talk Limits,” which debated gun laws.

“The fact is,” wrote Metcalf, who has taught history at Cornell and Yale, “all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.”

The backlash was swift, and fierce. Readers threatened to cancel their subscriptions. Death threats poured in by email. His television program was pulled from the air.

Just days after the column appeared, Metcalf said, his editor called to tell him that two major gun manufacturers had said that they could no longer do business with InterMedia Outdoors, the company that publishes Guns & Ammo and co-produces his TV show, if he continued to work there. He was let go immediately.

“I’ve been vanished, disappeared,” Metcalf, 67, said in an interview in December on his gun range here, about 100 miles north of St. Louis, surrounded by snow-blanketed fields and towering grain elevators. “Now you see him. Now you don’t.”

His experience sheds light on the close-knit world of gun journalism, where editors and reporters say there is little room for nuance in the debate over gun laws. Moderate voices that might broaden the discussion from within are silenced. When writers stray from the party line promoting an absolutist view of an unfettered right to bear arms, their publications – often under pressure from advertisers – excommunicate them.

“We are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment,” said Richard Venola, a former editor of Guns & Ammo. “The time for ceding some rational points is gone.”

Not the first

There have been other cases like Metcalf’s.

In 2012, Jerry Tsai, the editor of Recoil magazine, wrote that the Heckler & Koch MP7A1 gun, designed for law enforcement, was “unavailable to civilians and for good reason.”

He was pressured to step down, and despite apologizing, has not written since.

In 2007, Jim Zumbo, by then the author of 23 hunting books, wrote a blog post for Outdoor Life’s website suggesting that military-style rifles were “terrorist” weapons, best avoided by hunters. His writing, television and endorsement deals were quickly put on hiatus.

Garry James, a senior editor at Guns & Ammo, said in a phone interview several weeks ago that its readers were the magazine’s main concern and its editorial independence was not at risk. But, he added, “advertisers obviously always have power, and you always feel some pressure.”

Metcalf said he was told that advertisers feared customers would boycott their products if they continued to advertise on TV shows and magazines featuring his work.

Extreme voices

Metcalf said he invited a reporter to his home because he despairs that the debate over gun policy in America is so bitterly polarized and dominated by extreme voices. He says he is still contemplating how a self-described “Second Amendment fundamentalist” who keeps a .38 snub-nose Smith & Wesson revolver within easy reach has been ostracized from his community.

“Compromise is a bad word these days,” he said. “People think it means giving up your principles.”

Metcalf says his only regret is that the column was too short.

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