The world turned upside down for some sports fans a couple of weeks ago when Bob Costas spoke about the problem of too many gun deaths in America during halftime of NBC’s “Sunday Night Football.” Costas brought the gun issue up in relation to the murder-suicide that week of Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend.
There is an unwritten rule in the world of sports that you never allow controversial real world issues to intrude in the fantasy world of sports. As if to emphasize that point, the Chiefs went ahead with their scheduled game just 28 hours after Belcher murdered his girlfriend and then shot himself in the parking lot of the team’s facilities while his coach and general manager looked on in horror.
A bunch of folks (not all of them members of the National Rifle Association) complained that halftime of a football game was the wrong time to address the gun-control issue. Some went further and questioned the credentials of Costas, a sportscaster, to even comment at all. He ended his commentary with a quote from sports columnist Jason Whitlock in which he said if there had been no guns in the Belcher household, both the athlete and his girlfriend would be alive today.
First let’s set the record straight. Costas is not just the premier sports commentator of our time, he has also hosted shows where the content was not limited to sports (“Costas Coast To Coast” and later “Costas on the Radio”). You can agree or disagree with him on the issue, but please don’t act as if there is a right and a wrong time to discuss this issue. Costas did not gratuitously decide to talk about gun issues.
Athletes and guns have long been linked, often with disastrous consequences. If the subject had been exactly the same, but instead Costas supported the NRA position, I’m willing to bet the complaints instead would have come mostly from gun-control supporters and NRA members would be wildly supporting Costas right to free speech. As a boss of mine used to say, “Where you stand often depends upon where you sit.”
The gun issue is one of the most important social issues facing America today, but the strength of the NRA has pretty much silenced any politicians support of gun control, except in the safest districts. President Barack Obama was conspicuously silent on the issue during the past presidential campaign. It seems as if in America there never is a right time to have an intelligent debate about gun laws. Gun enthusiasts often use gun jargon to prove their critics don’t know their subject. The NRA argument has become standard boilerplate — quote the Second Amendment, enforce laws already on the books, and assume any further attempt at sensible gun legislation will inevitably lead to guns being taken away from private citizens and only serve to leave weapons in the hands of criminals.
Consider these statistics — there are more than 300 million guns legally owned in America, which has a population of 310 million. This figure does not include guns sold illegally. One out of every two households has at least one gun. Gun ownership per capita in our country is by far the highest in the world — nearly double that of Yemen and triple that of Iraq. In the US, one out of every 240 Americans is likely to be murdered. In 2009, according to a National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care survey, there were 18,735 suicides by handgun.
I don’t believe in confiscating legally owned guns in this country. My father kept a weapon in his home long after he retired from the police force. He also was a responsible gun owner. I don’t want hunters or gun collectors deprived of their rights, but semi-automatic weapons have no legitimate place in the hands of private citizens in America.
I do take exception with the Costas/Whitlock statements that had there been no guns in the Belcher household, both he and his girlfriend would be alive today. I understand a gun in the household becomes doubly dangerous during domestic disputes, as it does for any argument anywhere. I also understand it is easier for a severely depressed person to commit suicide if there is easy access to a gun. But days after Costas made his sweeping statement, there was a news report of a violent domestic dispute that ended in tragedy and the weapon of choice was a kitchen knife.
Access simply to sleeping pills, a belt or a gas range can lead to suicide if folks really want to end their lives. So, no, I don’t believe any of us can say with any assurance that Belcher and his girlfriend would be alive today if there had been no gun in the household. Just as I don’t believe that every time there is a report of a gun owner defending his or her household successfully from a home invasion means we should conclude the victims might not be alive today if they had not had a gun in their home.
We can have stricter requirements for legally obtaining a gun. We can ban the types of weapons that have no place except on a battlefield. Let’s have the debate. Even at halftime of a football game.
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