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“When A Gun Advocate Dissents”: In The Gun World, Straying From The Party Line Leads To Vilification And Condemnation

It’s not as if Dick Metcalf was some kind of gun control fanatic.

On the contrary, he’s a gun guy through and through, such an unyielding defender of the Second Amendment that last year he led the charge to push through a law giving the residents of Pike County, Ill., where he lives, the right to carry concealed guns without a permit. He called the practice “constitutional carry” rather than “concealed carry.”

In the early 1980s, he and a handful of friends started a successful gun club, called the Pike Adams Sportsmen’s Alliance, which is located on Metcalf’s farm in Barry, Ill. A few years later, he played an important role in lobbying for the federal Firearm Owners Protection Act, which loosened many of the gun restrictions that had become law after the assassination of Robert Kennedy. A friend of his told me that Metcalf had even written some of the language in the bill.

Mostly, though, Metcalf, 67, was known as a writer for magazines owned by InterMedia Outdoors, a publisher of gun periodicals that include the industry bible, Guns & Ammo. He did videos on subjects like “Guns for Family Home Defense” and wrote articles with headlines like “Smith & Wesson’s 12 Most Important Guns.”

It is perfectly understandable, then, that the gun world might be a little taken aback by Metcalf’s opinion piece in the December issue of Guns & Ammo calling for some modest gun regulation. “I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms,” he wrote, “but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly.” The article went on to call for mandatory training for gun owners. That’s all. Such limited regulation, he argued, did not constitute an infringement on anyone’s constitutional rights.

When people like me read an article like that, it seems momentarily possible that gun advocates and gun control advocates might be able to find some common ground. Much in the way that many gun control activists have come to accept the legitimacy of the Second Amendment — something that hasn’t always been the case — here was a man on the other side of the divide saying that some sensible regulation didn’t necessarily lead down a “slippery slope” to confiscation. If we are ever to have a sane gun policy, we desperately need people from both camps to meet somewhere in the middle.

But when people like me see the reaction from gun advocates to Metcalf’s tame proposal, it all seems hopeless again. Robert Farago, who maintains a blog called The Truth About Guns, started the ball rolling by linking to — and denouncing — Metcalf’s “diatribe.” He went on to describe the article as a “bone-headed, uninformed, patently obvious misinterpretation of the Second Amendment.” Other bloggers piled on. On the Guns & Ammo Facebook page, subscribers demanded Metcalf’s head, even as they canceled their subscriptions.

Finally, according to a blog post Metcalf wrote, two major gun manufacturers told InterMedia Outdoors that they would pull all their advertising if something wasn’t done. That’s all it took. Within 24 hours, Metcalf was permanently banned from the company’s publications. And the longtime editor of Guns & Ammo, Jim Bequette, who was planning to retire at the end of the year, was pushed out as well.

Before departing, however, Bequette wrote a groveling apology, which ran on the magazine’s website. He described his decision to publish Metcalf’s article as “a mistake” and took pains to remind readers that Guns & Ammo had always been the hardest of hard-liners. “It is no accident that when others in the gun culture counseled compromise in the past, hard-core thinkers…found a place and a voice in these pages,” he wrote. With that, capitulation was complete.

If you want to understand why so few gun owners are willing to stand up to the National Rifle Association, even though the majority disagree with the N.R.A.’s most extreme positions, here was a vivid example. Straying from the party line leads to vilification and condemnation that would give anybody pause.

My guess is that Dick Metcalf always knew what he was in for — all the more reason writing his article took guts. In the aftermath, he was the only one who could still hold his head up high. On a blog called The Outdoor Wire, he wrote a lengthy response to his critics. He didn’t back down one iota. Describing himself as “disappointed” at the reaction to his article, he added, “If a respected editor can be forced to resign and a controversial writer’s voice be shut down by a one-sided social-media and Internet outcry, virtually overnight, simply because they dared to open a discussion or ask questions about a politically sensitive issue…then I fear for the future of our industry, and for our Cause.”

Maybe there’s hope yet.


By: Joe Nocera, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, November 8, 2013

November 10, 2013 Posted by | Gun Control, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“There Are No ‘Absolute’ Rights”: Limitations Are Both Possible And Necessary

Every time I write a column on guns, the howl arises that I am talking about a right that is enshrined in the Constitution, buddy, and I better watch myself. The howl then transmutes into an extended harangue that this right is absolute, and no libtard fascist, whether me or the Satanesque Dianne Feinstein, is going to limit the right in any way. The first soldier to charge across this rhetorical veld is followed by hundreds harrumphing their assent. The only problem is that it’s an ahistorical, afactual, and barbaric argument. No right is absolute. In fact, the Second Amendment arguably has fewer restrictions on it these days than many of the other first ten, and there is and should be no guarantee that things are going to stay that way. In fact, if we’re ever going to be serious about trying to stop this mass butchery that we endure every few months, they cannot.

Let’s begin by going down the list and reviewing various limits placed on nearly all the amendments of the Bill of Rights (I thank Doug Kendall of the Constitutional Accountability Center for helping me out here). The First Amendment, of course, guarantees the right to free speech and assembly, and to worship as one pleases. There haven’t been that many restrictions placed on the freedom to worship in the United States, although there is a steady stream of cases involving some local government or school board preventing someone from wearing religious clothing or facial hair or what have you. Sometimes a Christian school or church is denied a zoning permit; but more often it’s the freedom to worship of a minority (Muslim, Sikh, etc) that is threatened.

As for free speech, of course it is restricted. Over the past 50 or so years in a series of cases, courts have placed a number of “time, place, and manner” restrictions on free speech. To restrict speech in general, the government must meet four tests. But this is always being revised and negotiated. Here’s one restriction on the Bill of Rights that I’d wager most conservatives would happily approve of. In 1988, the HHS under Reagan promulgated rules prohibiting a family-planning professional at a clinic that received federal dollars from “promoting” (i.e. telling a woman about) abortion. This was challenged partially on free-speech grounds. In Rust v. Sullivan (1991), the Supreme Court held that these rules did not violate the clinicians’ free-speech rights. So far as I can see, this is still law. It’s just one example from many free-speech restrictions that have been imposed over the years, as you can see here.

Let’s skip the Second Amendment for now. The Third Amendment—my personal favorite—proscribes the private quartering of troops. Not so relevant to life today—in fact, the Supreme Court has apparently never considered a Third Amendment challenge. Onward.

The Fourth Amendment protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and of course there are loads of exceptions to this right, the most notable being that whenever an officer of the law has reason to think an imminently dangerous situation exists, s/he may invade a citizen’s privacy. Then there’s the question of the “exclusionary rule,” by which evidence deemed to have been improperly obtained can be excluded as evidence. Jurisprudence on this question goes back a hundred years, and this very interesting paper notes that it has been two decades since the Court upheld the application of the exclusionary rule in a search-and-seizure case. Since then, the Rehnquist and Roberts courts have ruled six times—every time for the government, i.e., limiting the constitutional protection. (Funny, isn’t it, how many of these other, non-gun limitations on the Bill of Rights are championed by conservatives?)

The Fifth Amendment most famously protects against self-incrimination. Kendall notes that there have indeed been almost no restrictions placed on this right—inside the trial courtroom. Outside the courtroom, however, limitations are rife, having to do mostly with circumstances of interrogations and confessions made within them. This amendment also provides for due process, and that means Miranda rights, and again here, we know from recent news stories that not everyone is immediately read them, and we also know that it’s conservatives who have always despised Miranda in the first place and seek to limit or overturn it today.

The Sixth Amendment provides the right to counsel and a speedy trial, and here again, our time is witness to a slow watering down of these rights by the Court’s conservative majority, as in 2009’s Montejo v. Louisiana. The Seventh Amendment guarantees the right to a trial by jury in civil cases, and this contains a blatant restriction: the Court has never “incorporated” this right to apply to states, where the majority of civil cases are tried, so most civil cases don’t include this right. And the Eighth Amendment, against cruel and unusual punishment, has been much contested with respect to issues like juvenile crime. The Ninth and Tenth Amendments don’t enumerate specific rights as such and so aren’t relevant.

Now, back to the Second Amendment. I’m sure that pro-gun extremists know very well about Scalia’s famous opinion in Heller (2008), which dramatically expanded gun rights. But even in that decision, Scalia himself said that Second Amendment protections could apply only to weapons “in common use at the time.” Chris Wallace asked Scalia in 2012 about semiautomatic weapons and extended magazines, and he said: “What the opinion Heller said is that it will have to be decided in future cases. What limitations upon the right to bear arms are permissible. Some undoubtedly are, because there were some that were acknowledged at the time. For example, there was a tort called affrighting, which if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something, that was I believe a misdemeanor. So yes, there are some limitations that can be imposed.”

Now I don’t trust him to rule that way as far as I could throw him, but if even Scalia is saying that, then yes, limitations are both possible and reasonable.

Imagine what conservatives would think of a group of liberals who insisted, while threatening an insurrection, on a pure and absolute interpretation of the Fourth or Sixth Amendment—and imagine how ridiculous they would look to average Americans. Hunters, sportsmen, collectors, and even defenders of their homes (misguided as they may be, according to the statistics certainly do have rights to keep and bear arms that are reasonable and should not be trampled. But the idea that any right is unrestricted is totally at odds with history, the law, and reality. And the idea that a group of Americans possesses an absolute “right” to own and keep weapons that can—and in practice do—kill numerous innocent people in seconds, destroying families and communities and tearing at the nation’s collective soul, is barbaric and psychotic. As the old saying goes: if you want to shoot an assault weapon, go enlist.

For civilians, meanwhile, we’re one Supreme Court justice away from getting some sanity and balance to interpretations of the Second Amendment, and the only thing I can’t decide is whether it would be more delicious for Barack Obama to appoint that judge or for Hillary Clinton to do it.


By: Michael Tomasky, The Daily Beast, May 5, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Bill of Rights, Constitution | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Cherry Picking The Constitution”: Conservative Constitutional Hypocrisy On Gun Control And The 4th Amendment

The Second Amendment and the Fourth Amendment. They’re like kissing cousins, separated in the Constitution by a mere 32 words. And lately they’ve been all over the news.

Now, I don’t know how you feel about the amendments; maybe you have no opinion of them at all. But ask some conservatives and it’s like they don’t even appear in the same document. And when you think about it, that’s a pretty strange thing. Pretty revealing, too. Here’s why:

If you read the Second and the Fourth Amendments without knowing anything about the surrounding politics and then were asked which one conservatives like better, you might well pick the latter. If ever there was an amendment written to appeal to people who are skeptical of big government, this is it. There’s the big bad government, it wants to take your property and your freedom, but the Fourth Amendment says “no way, not on my watch.” It’s a Tea Partier’s dream.

But conservative courts have spent the past few decades carving one exception after another out of the Fourth Amendment and, if the reaction to the Boston Marathon bombing is any indication, a loud contingent on the right is intent on finding even more.

No, it’s the Second Amendment that most conservatives love. Try to pass even the most benign measure aimed at reducing gun violence, as the Senate did just days ago, and they’ll marshal their every resource to defeat it. The reason: They say it’s because they’re strict constructionists and any restraint on guns would violate the plain meaning of the Second Amendment.

One approach to one amendment, a very different approach to another. How to reconcile? There’s one thing that can help make sense of this mess: a marked lack of intestinal fortitude.

Let’s say your thinking about criminal justice is principally governed by being afraid. In that context, if you think guns are an effective way to protect yourself, you’ll want your right to have guns interpreted as expansively as possible, because you’re afraid of what will happen to you if it isn’t. And you’ll want the rights of people who have been accused of committing crimes to be interpreted as narrowly as possible so they are taken off the streets.

As it happens, that’s a pretty good summation of conservative doctrine when it comes to these amendments.

All of which reveals something else about how conservatives think when they look at the Constitution:

It matters who its provisions are perceived to be protecting. Conservatives think the Second Amendment protects them, so they want it as unfettered as possible; but they think the Fourth Amendment protects someone who they find threatening, so they want it to be as weak as possible.

You can take this approach to constitutional interpretation, of course, but if you do, please stop suggesting it has anything to do with fidelity to profound constitutional principles.

There can be no doubt that the Fourth Amendment makes it harder on law enforcement to solve some crimes, but it does so in the service of a larger goal: protecting the accused from the unfettered predations of an overreaching state or the passions of the mob. And, as has been roundly discussed, the idea that the Second Amendment was designed to allow every citizen to be a weapons armory all their own reflects a willful misreading of history.

Both amendments reflect trade-offs that the framers consciously made. We may not like them, but they’re there. And respect for the Constitution requires that we recognize them. If you call yourself a strict constructionist, you can’t pick and choose which provisions of the Constitution you are going to strictly construe. If that’s your approach, there’s another word that may provide a more apt description: hypocrite.

In a lot of cases, fear is a good thing. It’s a warning system that keeps us out of trouble, guides us away from danger, and, in some cases, keeps us alive. But when we allow fear to be the guiding principle of our public policy that gives rise to dangers all its own.

Many conservatives spend a lot of time portraying themselves as tough guys, straight shooters who don’t let emotion get in the way of what has to be done. In the same breath they are likely to portray liberals as weak and craven. But this is just one example of how the reverse is true.

Setting aside something that makes you feel secure on a personal level in the advent of reforms that will actually make many others safer and sticking to the principles upon which our country was founded even in times of crisis — that’s what takes guts. And it’s time for conservatives to show some.


By: Anson Kaye, U. S. News and World Report, April 25, 2013

April 26, 2013 Posted by | Conservatives, Constitution | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Guns, But Not Trials, For Terror Suspects”: The Land Of Liberty According To Lindsey Graham

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham is not pleased that the Obama administration decided to prosecute Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev in civilian court, even though it would probably be illegal and counterproductive to treat the U.S. citizen as an enemy combatant.

The senator, a lawyer and reserve Air Force JAG officer himself, called for stripping Tsarnaev of his constitutional rights to due process even before the 19-year-old was captured Friday evening. “The accused perpetrators of these acts were not common criminals attempting to profit from a criminal enterprise,” Graham said on Twitter on Friday. “Under the Law of War we can hold #Boston suspect as a potential enemy combatant not entitled to Miranda warnings or appointment of counsel.”

But Graham seems to hold the opposite view when it comes to different constitutional rights for those accused or suspected of terrorism. At a press conference he set up this afternoon to slam the White House on the enemy combatant decision, he was asked about legislation that would stop people on the Terrorist Watch List from buying guns. Here’s his response:

GRAHAM: “I think, anyone who’s on the Terrorist Watch List should not lose their Second Amendment right without the ability to challenge that determination. I think, Senator Kennedy was on the Terrorist Watch List. There’ve been people come up on the watch list. I did not want to make that a — the basis to take someone’s Second Amendment rights away. What I would suggest, is that if you come up on the Terrorist Watch List, you have the ability to say, “No, I’m not a terrorist.” And that would be the proper way to do that.

Currently, the federal government can only prevent a firearm sale for 11 reasons — suspected ties to terrorism, or even suspicion that a gun would be used in an attack, are not one of them. Between February 2004 and December 2010, 1,453 people on the terror watch list tried to buy a gun and over 90 percent were not stopped.

Democratic Sen. Frank Lautenberg’s bill to close what he calls the “terror gap” would not automatically strip anyone’s Second Amendment rights, as Graham suggests. It would, in fact, allow “any individual whose firearms or explosives license application has been denied to bring legal action to challenge the denial.” In Graham’s world, Tsarnaev would have no such clear recourse to challenge his status as an enemy combatant.

The Terrorist Watch List is imperfect and there are plenty of legitimate civil libertarian arguments to be made against restricting firearms access to people on the list, since people on it haven’t been convicted of any crimes and they’re not even allowed to know whether they’re on the list. For instance, Ted Kennedy was, indeed, briefly and erroneously placed on the no fly list in 2004, though that’s a different list. But Graham’s opposition to limiting the Second Amendment rights of people suspected of being terrorists is wholly inconsistent with his support for completely stripping away their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights to a fair trial in court.

Contrast his opposition to closing the “terror gap” with this, from a 2011 New York Times article:

Citizens who are suspected of joining Al Qaeda are opening themselves up “to imprisonment and death,” Mr. Graham said, adding, “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda.’ ”

So the only right that Graham seems interested in preserving for people suspected of being affiliated with al-Qaida is their right to purchase firearms.

The NRA also opposes closing the “terror gap,” fearing that it would be used to strip the Second Amendment rights of “Americans who disagree with the policies of the Obama Administration,” “who believe in federalism,” or “who post their political opinions on the Internet.”


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, April 22, 2013

April 24, 2013 Posted by | Constitution, Terrorism | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Soft On Crime”: The NRA And Republicans Protecting The “Second Amendment Rights” Of Thugs And Terrorists

What can Americans learn from the bitter debate over the gun reform bill? Perhaps the most obvious lesson is that the leadership of the National Rifle Association, the Gun Owners of America, and their tame Republican politicians have all earned an epithet of derision they used to hurl regularly at liberals.

Yes, the gun lobby and its legislative servants are “soft on crime” — although they routinely pretend to be tough on criminals.

During the Clinton presidency, NRA president-for-life Wayne LaPierre raised vast amounts of money with direct-mail campaigns against both Bill and Hillary Clinton for supposedly coddling criminals. Dubbed “Crimestrike,” the NRA crusade pushed prison construction, mandatory minimum sentencing, and sundry other panaceas designed to position the NRA as the bane of muggers, rapists, and murderers. Those themes echoed traditional Republican propaganda messages dating back to the Nixon era, when the presidential crook himself often derided judicial concerns about civil liberties and promised to restore “law and order.” (When Nixon henchmen like the late Chuck Colson went to prison themselves, they often emerged as prison reformers and civil libertarians, of course.)

But in the aftermath of the Newtown massacre, with the NRA angrily opposing any measure designed to hinder criminals from acquiring firearms, the public is learning who is really soft on crime.

Police officials across the country want universal background checks, magazine limits, and stronger enforcement against illegal weapons sales, but the NRA and its Republican allies insist that such changes will penalize legitimate gun owners. Or they complain that criminals mainly obtain weapons by stealing them, so restrictions on sales won’t make any difference.

Even a cursory examination of the facts demonstrates those claims are false. Gun trafficking experts at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have long known that less than 15 percent of all crime guns are stolen from their original owners. Much more common sources of guns used by criminals are so-called “straw purchases,” where a person with a clean record buys a gun on behalf of a criminal, and corrupt purchases, where a licensed gun dealer knowingly sells to a criminal. Bipartisan gun legislation now before the Senate would crack down on these sales, by increasing penalties for straw purchasers who willfully help criminals buy guns. The NRA has offered tepid support for that provision — but it is virtually meaningless without universal background checks, which the gun lobby opposes.

As Will Saletan pointed out in Slate last January, the NRA has consistently (and successfully) sought to kill the most basic efforts to keep guns away from convicted criminals and other dangerous characters — including abusive spouses under court protection orders, drug dealers, and even individuals listed on the Justice Department’s terrorist watch list.

In the wake of the Boston bombing, as the nation ponders how to bolster its security, the gun lobby’s tender concern for the Second Amendment “rights” of terrorists and thugs ought to permanently discredit them and their political servants. Instead they have achieved another bloody victory in Washington.

By: Joe Conason, The National Memo, April 18, 2013

April 18, 2013 Posted by | National Rifle Association, Republicans | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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