Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Guns Don't Kill People, Football Players Kill People

Jovan Belcher
Jovan Belcher, during a domestic dispute, killed his girlfriend before driving to the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium and killing himself in front of the Chiefs' general manager and head coach.

Belcher left behind a three-month-old daughter.

The phase used in the title of this post is absurd in the very way that the longstanding defense of guns -- guns don't kill people, people kill people -- is absurd. What's even more absurd is the frenzy demonstrated any time a reasoned commentary is offered on our widespread gun culture and its dangers.

Belcher's girlfriend and surviving daughter.
Longtime NBC sports commentator Bob Costas, more in sadness than in accusation, offered the observation after the Belcher tragedy that "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today." In whatever spirit you find Costas to have spoken, it's hard to counter that what he said isn't essentially true, unless you want to mindlessly defend guns at all costs.

Which is exactly what happened in the aftermath of Costas' remarks. Media Matters flagged the response by John Lott, writing on FoxNews.com, who said:
Guns can make it easier to kill people, but that isn’t relevant here. Even if no weapon existed, the strength differential is so large that Belcher could have easily killed Perkins in any number of ways. The same is true, sadly, about suicide. There are so many ways that Belcher could have killed himself, including crashing his car at a high rate of speed into a wall or even another car as he drove to Arrowhead Stadium.
Unfortunately, pointing to two deaths here does nothing to advance the case for gun control. Costas’ rant falls under the category of if gun control could save just one life it would be worth it. The argument makes as much sense as saying we shouldn’t have gun control if guns can save one life.
First, notice Lott's choice of "rant" to describe Costas' comments. I've seen Bob Costas often over the past thirty years, and I've never seen him rant. He's a cool, deliberative speaker; it's part and parcel of his approach to dignifying sports, something he brought to the business, a trademark. But it's classic counter-commentary these days to attack ideas one opposes as a "rant."

Next, Lott essentially makes the case that Belcher, being so much larger and stronger than his girlfriend, could have beaten her up, or broke her neck, or strangled her. Hell, he could have thrown her off a balcony. Fer chrissake, he didn't need to use a gun, it wasn't the gun. As for his own suicide, he could have crashed his car, driven to a bridge and jumped off, or tied a plastic bag around his neck. He didn't need a gun.

Only, it looks like he did. Jovan did use a gun to kill his girlfriend and take his own life.

This doesn't sit well with John Lott, who maintains that:
The question is the net effect of guns, and what Costas ignores is that guns save a lot more lives than they cost each year. And that's not even mentioning the roughly 2 million times a year that people use guns defensively.

Japanese don't kill Japanese, and neither do guns.
I've cited statistics that run absolutely counter to Lott's position. Here in the U.S., where guns are readily available, up to 30,000 die by guns each year (10.27 per 100,000); in Japan (read about it here), where guns are essentially banned, the annual gun-death rate is .07 per 100,000. In Germany, the gun-death rate is 1.10 per 100,000. You can argue "culture" all you want, but it's hard to get around the fact that we Americans love us some gun violence.

Here's a cheery set of numbers reported by ABC after the Aurora, CO, tragedy in a piece entitled, "Gun Deaths: A Familiar American Experience. It reads:
But on the other side of the argument, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a non-profit organization, points out that Americans still kill each other with guns at a level that is staggering compared to the rest of humanity.
A study in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery found that the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined.
Among the world’s 23 wealthiest countries, 80 percent of all gun deaths are American deaths and 87 percent of all kids killed by guns are American kids.
If you want to make the case that it ain't the guns after reading those stats, fine. I wish you luck out there.

4 in 10 U.S. homes have guns, some with larger arsenals. Are these next door?

Update. Of course Fox News has to chime in, calling Bob Costas a coward:

Stay classy, Fox News.

Update 2. ABC has an article about reaction around the nation to Costas' remarks. And right on schedule, Ted Nugent goes off on Costas.

Update 3. Just to test the waters of public opinion on the Costas affair, I found this page on the topic on Yahoo! Sports. Yahoo! commenters are notoriously right-wing and don't generally show much favor toward grammar and syntax. But this thread takes the cake for rabid support of gun rights. Also, the original Costas comments are on video at the top.

I've written about Yahoo! commenters before, and I don't mean to disparage a point of view or anyone's freedom of expression. But the notion of "hate-filled speech" is demonstrated at Yahoo! News pages 24/7/365. It's a bit frightening and certainly, from a civility/communitarian point of view quite demoralizing. Good reading!


  1. Statistics say that I'm much safer in a home with no gun, so I'll go with the statistics.


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