UPDATE, SATURDAY, Dec. 8, 4 a.m. (And why am I updating my blog at 4 a.m. on a Saturday?) Speaking of the incident at the heart of Bob Costas' anti-gun sermonette, I think it's interesting how the intonation of so much of the coverage of the Belcher/Perkins tragedy has differed from the norm in these cases. Although the Chiefs themselves, in their pregame moment of silence, were careful not to frame it as a (highly impolitic) tribute to Belcher—but rather were mourning a sad moment for the team and the city—it's pretty clear that the media have been far more sympathetic to Belcher than to your garden-variety murderer. All the commentators are looking for reasons that explain (and to some degree excuse) Belcher's rage; I've heard several mention what a shame it is that his career was "cut short," etc. Why do you think this is? Is it simply because he's a pro athlete, and we idolize our pro athletes? (We certainly stopped idolizing OJ soon enough.) Is it because when someone becomes a celebrity athlete, he sort of also becomes a family member, and we always cut family members some slack? Would you cut a family member some slack in such circumstances?
Anyway, many of the women's groups are understandably upset about this. Original post:
Far be it for me to criticize Bob Costas, who is surely one of the most astute and sophisticated observers in the history of sports broadcasting. What's more, in this past Sunday night's half-time editorial on the nation's gun woes (inspired, of course, by the Jovan Belcher/Kasandra Perkins murder-suicide), Costas showed himself to be a man of character and courage. As you may know by now, many are calling for Bob's head. That could've been predicted.
But Costas made the backlash more predictable, and may have even done damage to the cause—a cause in which I share—by offering a relatively weak argument against guns. Or to put my objection in terms more familiar to the gun lobby, instead of going for the kill, Costas merely kneecapped his philosophical adversaries. Borrowing heavily from a column by sportswriter Jason Whitlock, Costas made his case in poetic, emotional terms, when he should have been logical and pointed in his own uncommonly insightful voice. And he saved his weakest point of all for last. Again invoking Whitlock, Costas said:
"If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."Here's the fairly obvious problem: Of all the horrific acts in which guns are instrumental (if not the very sine qua non), murder-suicide is pretty low on the list. You don't need a gun to perpetrate a murder-suicide. A Louisville Slugger and a bottle of oxy will suffice. So by framing his essay in those terms, Costas played right into the hands of his opponents, fueling their outcry.
Here are some of the things that Bob Costas should have said. Obviously he didn't have time to say all of what follows, but certainly he might have included the bold-faced topic sentences:
A gun is one of the few generally available weapons capable of killing multiple targets at a distance. Consider how pathetically irrelevant a PFA/restraining order, with its routine prohibition of coming "within 50 feet" of someone, becomes in the presence of a gun. I know, I know; a person of sinister intent is going to ignore a PFA anyway. But if there are other people around when the confrontation occurs, they may intervene; and other weapons are far less lethal until you are literally toe-to-toe. As I tweeted not long ago, How many moviegoers can you kill with a hammer? They'll run away, or someone will stop you; even if you catch up to someone, you may succeed only in breaking his arm or collarbone.
A gun can accomplish easily what, in its absence, would require a good deal of effort. Before shooting himself in the head, Belcher walked right up to Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel and GM Scott Pioli and thanked them for giving him the opportunity to play football in the NFL. Clearly, then, if he'd wanted to, Belcher could've escalated the mayhem by shooting Crennel and Pioli as well. Take the gun out of the equation and Crenell (shown), a bear of a man, probably would've been able to keep Belcher at bay till reinforcements arrived.
Because a gun is far more lethal than most other everyday/improvised weapons, its impulse use has consequences that will endure long after the precipitating event is forgotten. Get angry and break a bottle over someone's head and you likely won't kill him. In the case of a gun, however, something that you do in a single instant of temper can end the life of another human being and haunt your life forevermore. Which is why:
The argument that guns don't kill people, people kill people, is absurdly simplistic and out of touch with real life. Nuclear weapons don't kill people either, by themselves, but no one proposes that we all be permitted to own a nuke, right? (Stop me if you've heard me say that before, but I think it's a good line.) If we could magically rid the world of the crazies and the miscreants—if we could rid the world of temper tantrums—then maybe I buy your argument. But in the flawed world we actually inhabit?
Finally, I am sick and tired of gun apologists who fall back on the Second Amendment as though it were handed down on Mount Sinai. And I'm not even going to argue on semantic grounds, insisting that the Framers did not intend the interpretation promulgated by the NRA and other gun activists. Instead I'll just say this: 1789 was a long time ago. Don't bring up the Founding Fathers to me, expecting to be yielded the high moral ground. The Founders owned slaves. The Founders expected to reserve voting rights for the propertied class; the Founders denied women the right to vote at all. It's unpopular to say so, but the Founders got a lot of stuff wrong, and even some of the stuff they got right is pitifully anachronistic today.
In many ways, to me, the toughest argument against gun control is the bumper sticker that says, "If guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns." Regrettably, there are already tens of millions of guns in circulation, and one suspects that far too many are circulating among people who should not have them. But the nation's gun culture is out of hand and simply wrong, and we gotta start somewhere. We have to make the effort. Don't we?