The recent firing of a prominent gun journalist for publishing a column arguing that gun ownership is subject to at least some regulation is representative of a firearm publication industry norm where gun makers exercise editorial control over publications, The New York Times reports.
In a January 4 article, Times reporter Ravi Somaiya reports on the circumstances surrounding Dick Metcalf's firing from Guns & Ammo magazine. Metcalf authored a column for the December 2013 edition of Guns & Ammo that stated, "[W]ay too many gun owners still seem to believe that any regulation of the right to keep and bear arms is an infringement. The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be." Following outrage from the gun rights community, Metcalf was fired and Guns & Ammo editor Jim Bequette, who had approved the column for publication, apologized to readers and announced his own resignation.
According to the Times, Metcalf -- who also faced death threats and had his television show cancelled -- lost his job after "two major gun manufacturers" told his editor "in no uncertain terms" that they would no longer do business with Guns & Ammo publisher InterMedia Outdoors (IMO) if Metcalf continued to work at the publication. IMO is the publisher of 15 sportsman themed magazines and owns The Sportsman Channel which is known for its Ted Nugent hunting specials and airing of the National Rifle Association's daily news show.
In his Times article, Somaiya also interviewed several former and current editors of Guns & Ammo who explained that gun publications will often cede editorial control to gun manufacturers who buy advertisements. While claiming Guns & Ammo has editorial independence, Garry James, a current senior editor, nonetheless told the Times, "advertisers obviously always have power, and you always feel some pressure."
Former editors offered a blunter assessment. According to Jan Libourel, a former Guns & Ammo editor, at some firearm publications, "the editors only want editorial content for some key advertisers." Another former Guns & Ammo editor, Richard Venola, acknowledged that, "You have to be in cahoots with the manufacturer, in order to make the publication appeal to the readership," and added, "Say you write about boats. At some point you're going to end up on the sun deck of a boat, downing sundowners after testing one, with the guy who makes it. It's just how it happens."
Somaiya also reported that gun publications decline to publish negative reviews of firearms made by advertisers:
Reporters and editors say that reviews are often written in close consultation with manufacturers. If a gun is judged to be of poor quality, magazines will quietly send it back for improvements rather than writing a negative review. The system is broadly accepted at these publications, gun writers say.
The Times also explained how the shunning of Metcalf is nothing new for the gun journalism industry:
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.
As Venola told the Times, Second Amendment absolutism in gun publications stems from the a belief in the gun rights community that its adherents "are locked in a struggle with powerful forces in this country who will do anything to destroy the Second Amendment" meaning that "[t]he time for ceding some rational points is gone."
Indeed, in recent years gun writers have lost their jobs for suggesting that a concealable machinegun should be sold to law enforcement but not to civilians and for writing that military-style assault weapons should not be used for hunting. However, when toeing the gun manufacturer's line, the latitude for controversial commentary is limitless. Guns & Ammo published for decades a column by NRA board member Jeff Cooper while Cooper simultaneously authored a racial-slur-heavy newsletter that defended slavery as "the normal condition of mankind" and suggested that it was a "mistake" to abolish the practice in the United States.