By now you know the story. On December 1, 2012, Chiefs LB Jovan Belcher argued with his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins. He then shot and killed her, got in his car, drove to the Chiefs’ facility, and in the presence of Chiefs’ coach Romeo Crenel and GM Scott Pioli, shot and killed himself as well.
In the wake of the Javon Belcher tragedy, one voice that emerged, not surprisingly, was that of Bob Costas. Not everybody likes Bob, but I happen to think he deserves his reputation as an outstanding journalist (for those who never got to see it, his decided non-sports related Late Night With Bob Costas was one of the all-time great interview/talk shows, easily the equal of Tomorrow with Tom Snyder). In any case, Costas briefly addressed the murder/suicide that took the lives of Belcher and his girlfriend Kassandra Perkins on Sunday Night Football.
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Later in the week, he expanded his comments, including an appeared on Last Word With Lawrence O’Donnell to talk more about why the Kansas City linebacker’s death should spark a debate. He was NOT talking about gun control, which is a separate debate, but he was talking about the gun culture, especially in the world of professional sports. He recounted an anecdote told by Tony Dungy when the latter was coaching the Indianapolis Colts, where Dungy asked the 80 men on his preseason roster to raise their hands if they owned a gun. 65 hands went up. Neither Bob Costas, nor Tony Dungy, nor I, are questioning anyone’s right to own a gun, but a group mentality that is so pervasive that over 80% of the members of a team believe they need one is suggestive of a larger problem.
On the other side of the argument is Steelers LB James Harrison. Harrison is a bona fide gun collector who owns over 20 firearms. He says Jovan Belcher, not a gun, is to blame. It’s not a gun issue. It’s a people issue. Jovan Belcher committed those acts. He alone is to blame.
Of course, Harrison is right. But so is Costas. Harrison’s later comments about the Second Amendment aren’t the issue here. No one is suggesting Javon Belcher didn’t have the right to own a gun. No one is suggesting (to my knowledge), that tougher gun control laws would have precluded him from owning one. But the fact that Javon Belcher, Kassandra Perkins, their young child, Belcher’s mother, who was in the house when he shot Kassandra, and both of their extended families, wouldn’t be better off today if Javon Belcher had never gone and bought one. That is the part of the equation that doesn’t require new legislation, but simply a change of attitude.
Harrison says, “I’m going to use my guns responsibly and go from there. It’s not as far as athletes needing guns (for protection). . .It’s the right to bear firearms.” But is this about the right to bear arms? I don’t think it is. I think it’s about the decision to bear arms. Harrison, who grew up around guns and presumably is knowledgeable and conscientious about their use, it’s not an issue. But for so many NFL players, buying a gun is part of the “bling” that comes with the “life.” But guns aren’t toys, and too many NFL players and others in society don’t seem to get that.
Harrison chose to be on the cover of Men’s Journal holding two firearms.
Not everyone needs a gun, and in some cases, there are people who really shouldn’t have them. Society is not safer if every single person in it is carrying a gun. To suggest otherwise is silly. A fully armed citizenry is more likely to shoot each other, maybe over nothing. Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock, quoted by Costas on Sunday Night Football, urged that the proliferation of guns only served to exacerbate human flaws, turning simple disagreements into tragedies, fostering the illusion that conflict was to be sought out, not avoided.
Statistically speaking, most people who own guns won’t ever use them (except at a gun range or to hunt). Statistically speaking, those who do use them are more likely to shoot the wrong person (like a family member) than a bad guy. Are you safer with a gun? Even if you are, you’re not THAT much safer.
The percentage of justifiable shootings compared to the total number of gun owners in the USA each year is infinitesimally small. Stated another way: you are safer sitting in a chair than flying in a plane. That doesn’t mean every plane crashes. It doesn’t mean you should sit in your living room if you have a chance to go Paris. You are only a tiny bit safer not flying, so you have to weigh that against the benefits. If you own a gun for protection, you’re not doing it because it makes you safer, because at best you are only a tiny percentage bit safer. You are doing it because it makes you FEEL safer. And if you’re not careful and responsible with your gun, you’re actually a lot less safe.
That doesn’t invalidate the desire to own a firearm. But it does suggest that a concentrated effort should be made to better educate people about both the advantages and disadvantages of gun ownership. Owning a gun is not a license to go out and act like an asshole, seeking out conflict. That won’t make everyone happy, because it will involve debunking some of the myths being advanced that make it sound as if every non gun-owner in the U.S. is minutes away from being stabbed to death in the street, while every gun owner routinely thwarts violent crime with his trusty piece. Similarly, it also isn’t true that everyone who owns a gun is moments away from accidentally shooting their mom in the face.
If no one is suggesting changing the laws, however, but rather changing attitudes, then perhaps the loudest and most extreme voices in the gun debate can STFU and let the rest of us talk for a while. If you’re a responsible gun owner, good for you. I wish you were a larger majority of the gun-owning population. If you’re an irresponsible gun-owner, I don’t need to know about it. I’ll read about in the Darwin Awards at some point. If you’re a person in a position to influence public policy, and you’re a supporter of Second Amendment rights, do all of us a favor and advocate responsible gun ownership and use in all instances. And allow an honest debate about gun ownership. NOT everyone is better off owning a gun. Like Javon Belcher, for example.
Reportedly, Javon Belcher shot his girlfriend and then himself after they argued. In my opinion, having an argument with your girlfriend ought to end with flowers, candy, an apology, and occasionally some make up sex. Of course, I don’t own a gun. In the wake of the Jovan Belcher incident, I’ve never felt safer.