Sports and tragedy. Saturday morning, Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, who was also the mother of his three-month old baby. He then drove to the team’s practice facility, and,in the parking lot, met Scott Pioli, the team’s General Manager, who had just pulled in. Pioli could see that Belcher was agitated, upset, and armed. Belcher asked if he could see head coach Romeo Crennel, and his position coach, Gary Gibbs; Pioli, hoping to avert a tragedy, called them. Belcher then thanked the three men for giving him a chance to play in the NFL, walked away from them, and shot himself in the head.
This was on a Saturday morning; the Chiefs had a game the next day, against the Carolina Panthers, which the NFL chose not to cancel. The next day, the Chiefs, one of the worst teams in football, won. Sunday night, Bob Costas used the platform of his half-time comments during the Sunday night football broadcast to speak out against what he called ‘gun culture,’ and to quote, at some length, a column by Fox Sports syndicated columnist Jason Whitlock. Costas quoted Whitlock in concluding “if Jovan Belcher didn’t own a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would be alive today.”
If you Google ‘Bob Costas comments Belcher tragedy,’ most of links clearly reflect anger at Costas for raising gun control as a political issue after a tragedy; for exploiting a tragedy to come out against guns. That seems to be how the issue is framed; you’re either pro-guns or anti-guns. Or, as it’s often put, pro-2nd Amendment or anti-2nd Amendment.
Jovan Belcher was clearly a deeply troubled young man. In my opinion, one of the most thoughtful responses to his tragedy came from the Chiefs quarterback, Brady Quinn. His comments are worth quoting at length:
When you ask someone how they are doing, do you really mean it? When you answer someone back how you are doing, are you really telling the truth? We live in a society of social networks, with Twitter pages and Facebook, and that’s fine, but we have contact with our work associates, our family, our friends, and it seems like half the time we are more preoccupied with our phone and other things going on instead of the actual relationships that we have right in front of us. Hopefully, people can learn from this and try to actually help if someone is battling something deeper on the inside than what they are revealing on a day-to-day basis.”
Well put and timely advice.
But what about the gun thing? What about Costas and Whitlock’s response, and Rush Limbaugh’s response to their response, and then Mike Lupica weighed in and Fox News did a segment and on and on. And the outrage over this on the Right and the outrage over that outrage on the Left: this is familiar stuff, isn’t it? Aren’t both these reactions predictable? Every time there’s a national gun-related tragedy, the old play opens again; people opposed to gun violence outraged over yet another avoidable tragedy, people opposed to gun control outraged over how cynically liberals exploit human tragedy for their own partisan purposes. All the usual actors recite their long-memorized lines, tread the boards using the same blocking. Jovan Belcher was a mentally disturbed young man who flipped out and ended two young lives. And maybe if he hadn’t had a gun, the outcome would have been equally horrific, but also maybe not. Guns do make violence easier.
I’m not against guns. Growing up, my Dad had an ancient .22 single-shot rifle, and me and him and my brothers would occasionally go out into the Indiana woods and pot at tin cans. That’s all we ever did. I’ve never been hunting in my life–don’t object to it morally, just didn’t have any interest in it. The sporting goods chain, Scheels, has this commercial featuring the generational pull of hunting; shown as a wonderful father/son activity. I think the commercial is weird and creepy, but then, that’s not my culture, not in any sense. I think caving is also weird, but I have a brother who is an avid spelunker.
And the Second Amendment argument, to me, makes no rational sense. The argument I’ve heard is that the Founders thought the Second Amendment was the foundation all the other Amendments rest on, that it’s the ultimate protection against tyrannical government. Some few Founders did think that way, but it’s complete foolishness today. If the federal government actually got seriously tyrannical, a few guys with hunting rifles would have no chance; none. The ‘we need to oppose tyranny with our guns’ argument seems to reflect the views and values of Timothy McVeigh, not Thomas Jefferson. That crazy old Cold War nutbag, American-teens-beat-back-a-commie-invasion Red Dawn movie has been re-made; came out last week. It imagines an invasion of the USA by–wait for it–North Korea! North Korea, which can’t even feed its own people without American aid, which we only provide so their off-his-meds-insane dictator doesn’t invade South Korea and kill a million people.
No, the Second Amendment imagined a world where local militias provided security against 18th century threats; an Indian uprising or a slave revolt. Both real possibilities, so you have the right to drill with your neighbors and keep your muzzle-loading Brown Bess rust-free and ready. Eighteenth century guns were very hard to maintain, and difficult and fiddly to load. And misfired a lot. Guns nowadays aren’t. Which is why so many suicides use guns, why so many victims of domestic violence are shot. Guns make it easy. They make violence easy.
And can I say, and yes, okay, typical liberal bringing race into everything, but let me just point out that race is a factor. Isn’t it? Weren’t the threats that our eighteenth century forbears were in-their-bones afraid of mostly racial in origin–slave uprisings, Indian attacks? When people in the NRA talk about ‘self-protection,’ what do they want to protect themselves against? Criminals? Do people tend to construct ‘criminal’ in racial terms? I’m not saying all gun owners are racists, not at all. I am saying that ‘feeling physically threatened a lot’ tends to be how gun owners and Second-Amendment defenders self-identify, and that feeling threatened a lot may sometimes have a racial component. At least enough of one that black NRA members get pretty defensive about it. It’s at least that much of a thing.
But it’s complicated. Guns are cool; no point denying it. I may not want to own a gun, and I may be pretty committed to non-violence, but I love violent movies, and love scenes in movies when the guns come out. I don’t like guns, particularly; but I acted for years, and on the rare occasions when I played a character who got to carry a gun, I thought it was the awesomest thing ever. I do get that, the visceral thrill of packing heat. I’m kind of a connossieur of guns in movies. The ‘hold the gun’ sideways thing, for example, seems to be dying out, along with the John Woo shoot-while-diving thing, while the ‘two-handed gun hold’ is making a comeback.
So I’m conflicted; I get the pull, the tug of a gun-ridden culture, while also not wanting in any sense to participate in that culture. I think gun control is good and that we need more of it, and I can wait to see the next Quintin Tarantino movie. I think of a big public shooting event, and I think that if some licensed-to-carry bozo had one, he’d most likely make everything worse, but I’m also a guy, and part of me fantasizes about being that guy, the hero, Bruce Willis in Die Hard or something. I’ve read all the Elmore Leonard novels, and think Raylan Givens is an amazing prose creation. I remember when Plaxico Burress (speaking of football players), shot himself in the thigh at a night club, nearly ending not only his career, but his life. I thought that was hilariously stupid. And I also got it. It must feel so cool, being a professional athlete, feeling like the toughest dude ever. Of course you’d also want a gun.
It wouldn’t violate the 2nd Amendment in any meaningful sense if we had some sensible guns laws. Require background checks, for example. Don’t let people with criminal records have them. Make prospective gun owners pass a psychological screening. Perhaps the kind of screening that would have figured out that Jovan Belcher was seriously disturbed, maybe even gotten him the counseling he needed.
But there’s a reason guns have such a hold on our imaginations. And the richness of a gun-filled fantasy world is part of the reason why this issue never seems to get any political traction.
The NRA is a lobbying organization; they stake out an extreme position because that’s what lobbyists do. But sensible restrictions on the sale of guns and ammo do NOT violate the Second Amendment, and are favored by a majority of Americans. I’m not saying we should take away everyone’s guns. And I get why people want them. I wish it had been harder for Jovan Belcher to get hold of one.