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‘Zumbo’ed’: The Word for What Happens When a Gun Journalist Steps Out of Line

"Next thing you know,” says an ex-writer for an NRA magazine, “you’re a communist, socialist, anti-American who hates the Constitution.”

In gun media, there is a constant tension between the First and Second Amendments.

If you are a columnist at a magazine like, say, Guns and Ammo, the mere suggestion of nuance on the subject of firearms restrictions — specifically, the idea that there should be any at all — can result in excommunication, regardless of your stature. “It’s called the ‘slippery slope’ argument,” David Stalling, a prominent hunter, outdoor writer, and former special-operations soldier, tells The Trace. “The NRA has been pushing it for years.”

The thinking, according to Stalling, goes as follows: Ceding any ground on regulation, or diverting from the message that all regulation is bad regulation, will lead to the wholesale banishment and confiscation of guns in America. Anyone who strays from the party line must then be cast out, no matter how minor the infraction. “Next thing you know,” says Stalling, “you’re a communist, socialist, anti-American who hates the constitution.” He should know. Stalling’s been blackballed from most gun-related publications, including the NRA’s American Rifleman, where he was once a regular contributor.

There is a word for this kind of public shaming: “Zumbo’ed.” It entered the lexicon in early 2007, after Jim Zumbo — a longtime editor at Outdoor Life, star of a hit TV show on the Outdoor Channel, and one of the most celebrated hunters in the United States — wrote in a since-removed blog post on his magazine’s website that he thought hunters should not use military-style assault rifles for killing game. “Excuse me,” he said, “maybe I’m a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our fraternity.” For good measure, he added, “As hunters, we don’t need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. … I’ll go so far as to call them ‘terrorist’ rifles.”

At that point, Zumbo had been a member of the NRA for four decades and made frequent appearances with organization officials at various events. Yet he was almost immediately exiled from the firearms community and forced to undergo the virtual equivalent of a public stoning. Thousands of Outdoor Life readers called for his dismissal, which led Zumbo to resign his post. His corporate ties to major gun manufacturers, like Remington, were severed. His TV show was put on hiatus. In a statement, the NRA said, “Our folks fully understand that their rights are at stake,” and that, when tested, they will “resist with an immense singular political will any attempts to create a new ban on semiautomatic firearms.”

In online discussion forums, there was a collective sense of betrayal among gun enthusiasts. Zumbo apologized profusely for his transgression, but forgiveness was not forthcoming. As one commenter put it on the popular forum The Firing Line, “Words are cheap. So far all we have from Mr. Zumbo are words, words that don’t really convince me of the level or nature of his [sic] ‘contritition.’”

On the same thread, another participant flagged a new word he’d seen circulating on other gun forums and offered a definition: “Zumbo’ed (Zum-bo-d) V. To put your foot in your mouth in regards to 2nd amendment issues. To split the issue into two separate groups, unknowingly or not.” (“Zumboed” now has an entry on Urban Dictionary.)

Since 2007, there have been two other major instances of Zumbo’ing. In 2012, Jerry Tsai, the founding editor of Recoil Magazine, wrote that the MPA7A1, a military-grade submachine gun, had no “sporting applications to speak of” and was “unavailable to civilians for good reason.” After gun manufacturers like Mag Plus, which holds licenses for Bushmaster rifles, threatened to pull ads, Tsai was pushed out of his own publication. And in 2013, Dick Metcalf, once one of the country’s most respected gun journalists, lost his job at Guns & Ammo after writing a column called “Let’s Talk Limits,” which stated, with respect to gun control, “The fact is, all constitutional rights are regulated, always have been, and need to be.” (Jim Zumbo and Dick Metcalf declined to comment for this story; attempts to reach Jerry Tsai were unsuccessful.)

“I’ve been vanished, disappeared,” Metcalf later told the New York Times.

In other words: Zumbo’ed. “Fear and intimidation works,” says David Stalling, “because it keeps people silent.”

[Photo: Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation]