A Gun Activist on the Firing Line

You might not have read this news item unless you are a gun enthusiast but this may bode well for our gun control debate. Dick Metcalf, a pre-eminent gun journalist, was recently removed from Guns & Ammo magazine and taken off the roster of star speakers reviewing new firearms for gun companies.

Why? Metcalf wrote a column for Guns and Ammo called “Let’s Talk Limits?in which he suggested there was a difference between infringement and regulation, writing that, “way too many gun owners still believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is that all Constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.” He concluded saying that requiring 16 hours of training to qualify for a concealed carry license was not an infringement.

Within days this self-proclaimed “Second Amendment Fundamentalist” went from hero to villain. Why is this hopeful? As extremes become more extreme and banish anyone who questions any position – even their own leading card-carrying members -?these groups become smaller and less powerful, but also those banished can become important bridges in creating new conversations. Polarization that paralyzes is caused less by extremes, as there are always extremes on important issues, and rather more by a center that can’t hold – a center that can’t insure that extremes stay where they belong and are needed – on the periphery sharpening but never controlling the debate. The key to easing polarization is widening the center by including the best ideas of extremes.

Metcalf is a voice that needs to be taken seriously by those who care about sensible gun legislation and who just a couple of months ago would have considered him a gun purist and never have read him. Metcalf may be similar to David Frum who was one of the 50 most influential conservatives when he was fired from AEI, a leading conservative think tank and became persona non grata in conservative circles for criticizing the Republican strategy on health care and Fox News. No longer welcome in the conservative echo chamber, he has become an important voice bringing wise conservative ideas through more mainstream platforms to people who otherwise would not hear conservative thinking.?Could Metcalf become such a voice in the gun debate? Will some platform for which he may indeed be “too” conservative hire him in hopes of broadening the conversation? I sure hope so.

What difference does this all make to us if we don’t really care about gun control? Well, all of us have issues around which we are passionate and whether we are engaged in advocacy or just talking with people with whom we disagree at a cocktail party it is so easy in a polarized environment to become polarizing.

Metcalf has paid a price for questioning his own community’s absolutism and in doing so he invites us all to remember three critical pieces of wisdom:

  1. Compromise is not a dirty word
  2. Principles should not be mistaken for interests
  3. No one is so smart that they can be 100% right, which means there is always some partial truth on the other side

Imagine if we got really good at embodying this wisdom.

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