Costas & Guns

English: Jovan Belcher, a player on the Kansas...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While covering a football game the day after  Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher killed  his girlfriend and himself , Bob Costas quoted Kansas City sportswriter Jason Whitlock: “If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kassandra Perkins would both be alive today.”

As might be imagined, there was a range of responses to this. Some agreed with Costas. Others took issue with a commentator making such a political statement during a sporting event. Some responded with considerable anger at what they regarded as an attack on guns.

While the main point of concern is obviously guns, there is also the matter of whether or not sports commentators should engage in such political commentary.

On the one hand, people watch sporting events with the expectation that the commentary will be about the sporting events and they do not expect political, social, theological or philosophical commentary. Naturally, they also expect lots of commercials. Given that the purpose of such commentary is to comment on sports, it seems reasonable for the commentators to stick to what the show is supposed to be providing to the audience. To use an analogy, if one goes to a comedy club and a person gets on stage to lecture about engineering, then one would obviously be right to expect them not to do that. After all, one goes to a comedy club with a reasonable expectation of comedy. Likewise, one watches football with a reasonable expectation that it will be free of political commentary.

On the other hand, Costas commentary did relate to an event connected to football and sports and other areas (such as religion and politics) are often mixed. Also, it is not the case that the commentators make an explicit commitment to only discuss sports and to exclude everything else.

Obviously enough, however, the main point of concern is Whitlock’s claim that the two people would still be alive if Belcher had not owned a gun. The talking point response to this is to point out that by Costas and Whitlock’s reasoning, if OJ Simpson did not have a knife, then the people who were allegedly killed by him would still be alive.

This talking point does, in sort of a mean way, make a reasonable point. After all, people are quite capable of killing without guns. Knives have, of course, been used to commit murders. Obviously, many other tools have been used in domestic violence as well, including such bizarre ones as frozen animals (or their parts). As such, getting rid of guns would not eliminate murders, suicide or domestic violence.

Guns do, of course, make killing easier. After all, they are tools specifically designed for doing the work of killing. As such, if people did not have guns, they would have to use somewhat more difficult means of killing. This might reduce the number of killings in a way somewhat like taking away cars would reduce the likelihood that a person would go someplace. After all, if a person has to work harder to accomplish a task, he is somewhat less likely to attempt that task.

Another point worth considering is that a gun also makes impulse killing easier. After all, a person can simply point the gun and pull the trigger and this allows very little time for thought. If people had to use slower means of killing, they might pause between the impulse to kill and the act of killing. Then again, this might have little impact. After all, a person can stab with a knife almost as fast as pointing and shooting.

People also note that a gun can do a lot of damage, making death more likely than with many alternative means of violence. For example, a person who is shot would tend to more badly wounded than someone who is punched or hit with a club. Of course, there are plenty of other weapons that can match guns in lethality, such as a knife.

Overall, it does make sense that getting rid of guns would cause a reduction in deaths. However, there is the question of the significance of the impact and the costs associated with eliminating guns. After all, getting rid of automobiles would cause a very significant reduction in deaths, yet most would argue that this would not be worth the cost.

A final point of consideration is the usual talking point that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This is, of course, true. After all, people do not (in general) kill simply because they have guns. Rather, they use guns to kill because they have a reason (or think they have a reason) to kill. As such, eliminating guns would not address the actual cause of violence.

In the case at hand, there has been some speculation that head injuries suffered by Belcher played a causal role in his actions. The sort of head trauma football players sustain has been linked to a variety of mental problems, including suicides and violence. As such, addressing this medical problem would seem more fruitful than pushing for the elimination of guns. After all, this would address a causal factor of violence rather than one of the tools used in violence.

Others have also noted that domestic violence is not uncommon in the United States and have expressed concerns about addressing the causes of this violence. While guns are sometimes used in domestic violence cases, people have clearly shown that they will use other tools, such as knives. As such, focusing only on guns would be a mistake. Rather, it makes more sense to address the underlying causes of such violence. While people do point to the fact that guns are used in many such cases, it must also be noted that there are millions of gun owners who never use their guns to kill other people. As such, the problem is not that people have guns. The problem is that some people are willing (or driven) to kill.

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  1. That’s the trouble with the ‘counterfactual pass’; someone runs as though they had the ball and everyone chases after them, but to score you have to get the actual ball over the actual real line.

  2. It is interesting to me that so many people fail to see the logic of not blaming a gun,, which is a neutral, neither good nor evil, as the reason for gun control.

    As rational humans, we often use emotional response to override common sense, which apparently is not so common.

    Ever consider writing about werewolves?

  3. Come on, Mike. Who is more likely to kill impulsively in a fit of rage–someone who can do so at a distance, with little physical effort, by means of a gun, or someone who has to get up close and make a significant physical effort, with a knife? Rather than armchairing this issue, shouldn’t we look for data on the incidence of domestic homicides in countries where handguns are controlled or illegal, and countries like ours in which they’re freely available?

  4. I agree with Robert Wallace.

    Pulling a trigger is so easy compared with attacking someone with a knife, since a person
    attacked with a knife will defend themself and the attacker will have to stab several times, unless they are trained in the use of a knife as a combat instrument, etc.

    What’s more, the person attacked with a knife can run away, while handguns can kill from a distance.

  5. It used to be my job to kill people in a combat zone.

    I never cared if they were close or far away. If it was going to be my buddies or myself, or them killed, it was my belief that I would insure it was them. I had no problem in those days with guns or knives.

    If you want to kill someone, you will find a way, which is why (I believe) that crimes of passion involve as much trauma and abuse as possible. It isn’t about the gun, it is about anger.

    Taking the guns away will not solve anything.

    Lizzie Borden took an ax,
    gave her father 40 whacks,
    when she saw what she had done,
    she gave her mother 41.

  6. The US has the highest gun ownership rate in the world (88 per 100 people) by a significant margin (Yemen apparently comes in at no.2 with 54.8/100). But it does not have the worst firearm murder rate – Zimbabwe, South Africa, Brazil, Columbia are amongst the countries that beat it on that score with Honduras, El Salvador and Jamaica coming out on top. The US only comes in at no.28 on the charts with 2.97 per 100,000.

    Still, given its relatively high GDP – lower GDP per capita correlates generally with higher murder rates – the US does well at producing murders overall (by gun or otherwise) with 15,241 homicides in the last year of reckoning (2009) – 5 per 100,000 (60% of them being by firearm). For comparison Canada only had 1.8 (with gun ownership at 30.8 per 100 and 31% of murders committed using firearms) and the UK only had 1.2 (with England & Wales having 6.2 firearms per 100 people and 6.6% of murders being by gun). There seems some correlation between gun ownership rates and murder rates both by gun and generally if you look at developed Western countries.

    As for suicide, 50 per cent of all suicides in the US are by gun, and 83 per cent of gun-related deaths in the homes of gun-owners in the US are suicides. But it’s less clear to me how well gun-ownership rates and rates of suicide correlate – from what I can tell the US has something like 19.2 suicides per 100,000, Canada 17.3 and the UK 10.9 (for those figures I’m only looking at Wikipeadia) and widening it out there are a fair few developed countries with similar or higher suicide rates relative to the US.

    In a parallel world where an alternate version of this football player didn’t (legally) own numerous guns perhaps, instead of shooting his girlfriend multiple times then turning another gun on himself, he may well have stabbed her. Whether he’d have successively taken his own life afterwards in the absence of a gun is another question again (a man is statistically more likely to successfully commit suicide than a woman in any event). But I’m not sure it makes any sense to say he and/or his girlfriend would or wouldn’t be alive if this fellow hadn’t owned guns, whether you’re a sports commentator or not.

  7. Robert,

    You are right to bring up the matter of data.

    I do, in the essay, note that guns do make it easier to kill. However, people clearly do use them and they would certainly use them more if they did not have guns. While I suspect that a lack of guns would reduce killings, it is not clear how significant this would be in a specific country like the United States. That is, to what extent does the homicide rate depend on guns such that if people did not have guns, then they would not kill.

  8. I know, I bought the book, and read that item yesterday… 😉

  9. People will do a decent job of killing others with knives, a board with nail through it, etc, etc…

    My beef with guns specifically is that they’re not very precise when compared to many other weapons to go murdering with.

    It’s the collateral damage that bothers me. When someone intends to shoot Person A and misses, hitting B and C behind/beside them. Much harder to accidentally miss with a stab and kill some people 50m away.

  10. The expression is ‘then he turned the gun on himself’. Is this not what the U.S.A. is doing in relying on violence to solve problems, in its repressive prison regime, the continuous wars, the normalisation of porn etc. Now the gun is being turned on itself.

  11. In countries where guns are controlled, there are fewer killings.

  12. What constitutes gun control?

    How would I verify your statement?

    I cannot legally buy/own a gun, I have never been arrested of a crime, felony, or otherwise. I am not a wife or child abuser. I have had 3 or 4 speeding tickets, over the years, however.

    My “crime”?

    I went, for my country, to a foreign country, participated in what my county determined to be a necessary war, and brought it home with me, in the form of PTSD. The funny part is that although I feel really comfortable with a 45 cal, I am 6’6″ and weigh in excess of 335 lbs. If I wanted to kill someone, I would probably beat them to death. Perhaps we should pass a law , requiring me to have my hands amputated, to prevent me from ever doing this.

    You cannot address an exception (the crime of passion by the KC Chief footballer), by a reduction of freedoms for everyone.

    The truth is, that the gangs and criminal elements are outfitted with military assault weapons, and they do not hesitate to use them. Innocent people are being killed daily. Where is the outrage for those murdered?

    The problem is not with guns, but with the state of our society, whose fabric has begun to unravel.

    To put gun control in place is not only akin to closing the door after the horse has bolted, but also after the barn has burned to the ground.

    I do not think it possible to control a disease by treating a symptom.

    Those who argue for gun control are looking for a resolution that is little more than a “feel-good” response.

    You can buy any gun you want on the street.

    We do need to find a workable solution, but people are not ready for what would work, yet. Sometimes people would not want the cure, because the medicine would be bitter indeed.

  13. timrford:

    I weigh less than half what you do and am much shorter and it would be difficult for me to beat anyone to death, so gun control might prevent at least me from killing anyone.

    In fact, I can cite cases of knife fights and fights with other weapons which were not firearms which I’ve personally witnessed in which no one was killed and in which someone would have been killed if a firearm had been involved.

    You speak of controlling a disease and curing it: “to control” and “to cure” are not the same thing.

    So while treating symptoms (in this case) might well control the problems which underlie the homicide rate, they will not cure it.

    What, in your opinion, would constitute “curing” the disease in this case and what steps would you take to “cure” it?

    (A real question, since I have no idea how to cure this disease).

  14. Kassul,

    True-it is easy to miss with a gun and the bullet has to go somewhere. Semi-automatic and automatic weapons are especially problematic since they can put out so many bullets in so little time. Also, many weapons have a lethal range that most people are unaware of-for example, a .22 rifle bullet can travel over a mile and high powered rifle bullets are potentially lethal for hundreds of yards-even after passing through a soft wall.

  15. Timrford,

    Quite right. The guns are the tools people use to do what misdeeds are in their minds, but the guns do not put those ideas in peoples’ minds.

    Limiting guns does limit the tool set available to people, but does not address the basic causes of violence.

  16. One might be advised to look into how many of the women murdered per year in the US are murdered with a gun by their (former) partner before one describes this particular ‘crime of passion’ as an ‘exception’.

    One might also want to look into the extent to which access to firearms increases the risk of intimate partner homicide in the States if one wants to think seriously about the questions posed by this case.

  17. It is an exception.

    It is regrettable, and an odious action of a misguided and disordered mind.

    If you have the statistics, please share them. Since Switzerland requires all household to own guns, and does not have these problems, perhaps we should look to other than the instruments and manners of death.

    When someone shoots someone six or seven times, it kind of jumps out at you that the problem is not the gun, but the individual. The fact that he used a gun that many times in front of the woman’s mother indicates an extremely disordered mind.

    Gun registration, etc., is a joke, because as they said the other day on the news that 40% of all gun sales do not fall under the background checks.

    This is a Gordian knot, it is not a solvable problem.

  18. Actually, I believe there is a cure. It involves a medicine that would be very bitter for people to take.

    First, recognize the problem began when we started losing the basis of strong families. We have many people who are married, re-married, and re-married. We must support strengthening the families and marriages.

    A village does not raise a child, parents do, and all children have a right to parents who love, sacrifice, and teach them.

    Nah, people and their pride will never see the truth of this.

    Gordian knot.

  19. It depends on what one means by ‘exceptional’. Obviously most gun-owning males don’t kill their (former) partners. We may have been at cross-purposes there (which is another way of saying I probably misunderstood what you meant). But my point was that it is most certainly not exceptional for a woman who is murdered in the USA to be murdered by her (former) partner through his use of a firearm – that this is far more common than a woman being murdered by ‘gangs and criminal elements’. My understanding is that US women are twice as likely to be shot and killed by (former) partners as they are to be murdered by strangers using any type of weapon and that access to firearms reportedly increases the risk of intimate partner homicide fivefold.

    One study suggested that the USA accounts for 32% of the female population among 25 high-income countries, but 70% of all female homicides – that a female in the US is three times more likely to be murdered than a female in Canada, five times more likely to be murdered than a female in Germany, and eight times more likely to be murdered than a female in England and Wales. Those rankings mirror the rankings of gun ownership that I’ve seen oddly enough. And the lead author of the study, said: “The difference in female homicide victimization rates between the U.S. and these other industrialized nations is very large and is closely tied to levels of gun ownership”.

    Just how much US gun-ownership specifically impacts on women – usually due to men murdering their (ex) partners – seems the point largely missed or dismissed in the conversation so far.

  20. That is an entirely specious line of reasoning.

    The point entirely overlooked by folks who use this line — “After all, people are quite capable of killing without guns” — conveniently overlook the distinction between murder, wherein one plots to take the life of another, and killing someone in the heat of passion or anger.

    It takes motive, means and opportunity to commit a murder, or any other act, criminal or otherwise. If the means are not readily available, one can well imagine that an aggrieved individual may very well come to their senses and find another way to express their feelings. One the other hand, if a weapon is within easy reach, and the target in sight, a single pull of the trigger will quickly take a life — and change and angry man into a murderer.

  21. @eggy Yes! Until we can learn to control our anger, we should keep guns away from everyone. We can’t be trusted with them. We can’t be trusted not to lose our tempers and kill other people. So why do we allow these lethal weapons to remain in the hands of those who can’t be trusted with them (i.e. all of us)? We don’t need gun control, we need an outright ban, with no exceptions and no loopholes.

  22. Ah yes, and we should get another complete ban on alcohol–well, Prohibition didn’t work did it?

    Marijuana is starting to be approved on a state by state basis, because a ban on it hasn’t worked.

    Now you want to go to the biker and street gangs, and tell them to be nice and give up their Uzi’s?

    Government does a terrible job of controlling anything. You want them to become more intrusive into your life? Do you like the TSA?

    Governments are good, from what I can see, is taxing, spending money that they don’t have, and regulating the hell out of anything they can make a fee. (No I am not a libertarian).

    What should governments be responsible for and to whom?

  23. Timrford:

    I have nothing against divorce per se, but I agree with you that people should put more effort and care into raising children, whether they be their biological children or not.

    Maybe parenting should be taught in the schools as a required subject.

    In fact, nothing is not more important than how we raise children, yet society rewards almost everyone more they it does successful parents and being a parent, as a social role, is not as highly valued as having totally unnecessarily material goods.

    Our sense of priorities is perverted.

  24. Agreed, though I have opposition to marriage as a “disposable.” Our kids are not taught how to choose a spouse, other than looks.

    When I was a kid, in the early 50’s in Riverside, Ca, the “scandal” in our neighborhood, the was a woman up the street who was divorced.

    Teach in the schools? Maybe, but given the demonstrable lack of success in teaching kids to read, write, and do arithmetic, they began to teach sex ed, and drug abuse, with less than spectacular and stellar success.

    Public education is a business, while government is sanctioned thievery.

    Do I seem sarcastic? Sorry.

    What is appropriate for schools to teach?

    Why are we 17th in the world?

  25. Timrford:

    I’m from Chile and we are probably 77th in the world in education.

    You’re right: it would be hard to teach parenting in the schools.

    Parenting, it seems to me, requires the same skills and attention as any other good intimate human relationship: respect, care, consideration, empathy, making the other feel welcome, acceptance.

    I leave out love, because so many crimes are committed in the name of love.

    Unless teachers are capable of forming good intimate human relationships, they cannot teach others how to form them.

    Forming good intimate human relationships cannot be learned from a textbook. You have to practice at it, trial and error, with good will, although having decent role models helps a lot.

    Unfortunately, decent role models are hard to find.

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