The Web is jangling today in that special way it does when gobsmacking stupidity crosses wires with schadenfreude. Guns & Ammo magazine has banished columnist Dick Metcalf for writing that "all constitutional rights are regulated," and editor Jim Bequette has resigned in disgrace.
Presumably, the December issue of the magazine, which contains the source of shame, will be pulled from newsstands and ritually burned in the parking lot at the NRA headquarters in Virginia.
Metcalf's column has been described as "supporting gun regulation." This is technically true, but only in the sense that someone who writes that an apple falls downward from a tree branch can be said to be "supporting physics."
"I firmly believe that all U.S. citizens have a right to keep and bear arms," Metcalf wrote, "but I do not believe that they have a right to use them irresponsibly. And I do believe their fellow citizens, by the specific language of the Second Amendment, have an equal right to enact regulatory laws requiring them to undergo adequate training and preparation for the responsibility of bearing arms."
Here Metcalf joined liberal gun grabbers such as Antonin Scalia who, in the most sweeping gun rights ruling in Supreme Court history, wrote that, "of course" the Second Amendment is "not unlimited.”
Scalia's Heller ruling was embraced by the gun fringe, but his constitutional lesson is persistently ignored. At Breitbart, AWR Hawkins wrote that Metcalf (channeling Scalia) "misses the point. The 2nd Amendment protects a natural right; that's why it is not to be infringed."
Metcalf wrote a column called "Firearms Law" for 15 years and worked with the NRA's legislative shop drafting gun rights legislation. The combination of knowledge, reason and experience seems to have doomed him with Guns & Ammo readers, who deluged the magazine with angry complaints.
“I made a mistake by publishing the column,” Bequette wrote in a mea culpa worthy of the People's Daily circa 1966. “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.”
A "healthy exchange of ideas" is an extraordinary phrase in this context. Metcalf was arguing that people who possess lethal firepower ought to know some basics about how to use it and not behave "irresponsibly." The other side of that argument, I presume, is that gun ownership is a "natural right" that shouldn't be infringed by training, knowledge or a rudimentary social contract holding that I shouldn't leave my loaded gun where your toddler might find it.
That discussion never took place because Metcalf's modest sanity was beyond the pale of the gun cult. It's anything but healthy out there.
(Francis Wilkinson is a member of the Bloomberg View editorial board. Follow him on Twitter.)