For those of you who read this blog regularly or know me in the physical realm we all infest, you already know I’m a big fan of the NFL. I come from a city without an NFL team, so I’ve been able to grow up and around the sport as a kind of disinterested connoisseur, appreciating the intricacies of professional football without hooking my caboose to any one team in particular. So, although I am not a Kansas City Chiefs fan, it was with sadness and perplexity that I read and watched of the suicide of Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher following his earlier murder of his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins. The whole incident is a tragedy, and something I can’t begin to comprehend with the information I have at hand.
It was with even more perplexity and consternation, however, that I watched the halftime show on NBC’s Sunday Night Football last night, during a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite the fact that the Eagles put on an athletic performance of a level not unlike that of a 6th-grader pianist at a recital for which he did not practice, the game itself was not the most disappointing thing the fans watched. Instead, veteran journalist and sports commentator Bob Costas decided to use the halftime show, much of which was taken up with the discussion of the Jovan Belcher tragedy, to blame both Belcher’s death and Perkins’ murder on the existence of and, what I presume he must feel is easy access to, handguns. You can see his speech here:
Before discussing all the many things that are wrong with Costas’ (and by extension Jason Whitlock’s) comments here, let me say this. I have tremendous respect and admiration for Bob Costas as a journalist. He has been among the very best at his job (and sometimes at other people’s jobs) since before I can remember. From his coverage of the Olympics, to American sports of all kinds, to his excellent, touching appearance on Ken Burns’ Baseball (one of my favorite documentaries), to his recent, fantastic coverage and interviews of the Jerry Sandusky matter, Costas has, as the famous opera composer Donizetti might say, covered himself in glory.
This time, though, he is wrong.
And not just wrong, but frankly, ignorant. I have often said that I can understand and am willing to engage liberals and conservatives on a variety of issues over which men can have reasoned debate — and there is a variety. But one of the few issues over which I can countenance no debate, no counterargument without immediate loss of respect for the intelligence of the counter-arguer, is prohibition. How anyone, anywhere (but especially in the United States and Canada) can support prohibition of any kind, in the face of the overwhelming historical evidence that it is ineffective and causes more problems than it solves, is beyond me. This is especially true of so-called liberals and others on the political left, who claim to disdain “faith”-based arguments and instead to ground all of their thinking in “science” and empirical evidence. How, then (assuming Mr. Costas is a liberal), one can look at the vast, Martian-volcano-sized mountains of evidence in historical and current prohibitions around the world, and then advocate for more prohibition, is beyond my feeble, American mind to grasp.
Costas quotes writer Jason Whitlock, saying that Belcher and Perkins would be “alive today,” he believes, if Belcher simply had not had a handgun. And how, one might wish to know, should we make handguns disappear from this mortal coil? Perhaps Costas and Whitlock have access to some sort of Harry Potter-esque, faux-Latin incantation they can use to wave a wand and make guns disappear. If so, why are they sitting on it? If not, what do they suggest in its place? Prohibition? Making guns “illegal,” I suppose, would make them disappear, goes their sclerotic logic. One might wish to ask them about places like Mexico, which has far stricter gun laws than almost all U.S. states, yet has vastly more and more severe per capita gun violence than any U.S. state. Or, one might raise this Virginia study, in which gun purchase rates have gone up 63% while gun-related crime has gone down more than 25% in the face of more gun rights for Commonwealth citizens.
Ultimately, though, the question is much deeper than that. The real question is: how do Costas and Whitlock actually formulate their political opinions? Is it through a process based on the evidence of history and the world around them? Clearly not. So, perhaps it is based on some internal logic. Well, let’s pursue that. Let’s assume, against all evidence to the contrary, that making handguns illegal would somehow have prevented Jovan Belcher from killing his girlfriend and himself. As Frederic Bastiat, the greatest economic mind ever produced by the French nation, told posterity: we must look not only at the immediate consequences and effects of a law, but at all effects on all people at all times, to the extent possible, in order to assess that law’s value.
So, again, let’s assume the law were passed and Belcher were unable to acquire a handgun. He could still, of course, have run his girlfriend over with a car, or stabbed her, etc., but let’s assume he would have thought better of those media of murder because they require that much more effort than loading a gun and pulling a trigger. Even assuming that’s the case, we’d need to look at all the other consequences of the Costas-Whitlock Gun Dissapearance Act, too. Once the Act goes into effect, this woman gets raped, robbed, and possibly murdered (note the assailant in her house was armed with a knife, not a gun). Others would be robbed, mugged, carjacked, or worse, because they weren’t able to have access to the one thing that could have put them on equal footing with their assailants, despite a difference in physical size, aggressiveness, or training. Indeed, quite apart from the implication that Costas and Whitlock make — that guns somehow cause more violence to be perpetrated — one could make a much more logical (and empirically supported) argument that knowledge of a potential victim being armed will make criminals of whatever stripe think twice before committing their crimes.
Again, I don’t want to get into the nuts and bolts too much, as these arguments have been done to death, on this blog and elsewhere. But it’s so damn disappointing to see one of my heroes fall victim to foolish thinking, let alone to have him advocate such claptrap on a national program, with no place for counterargument, and no real, explicit statement that his advocacy was mere opinion and not part of the factual reporting on the Belcher issue. Leaving aside the argument that Costas was using the Belcher tragedy to advance his personal political agenda and the moral/journalistic implications therein, he was just wrong here, plain and simple.
The truth is, though, I can understand where Costas is coming from. See, this whole thing reminds me of this friend I had in high school. He was a linebacker, too, for a rival school’s team. Sure, he wasn’t going to play D1 college, but he was a good player who loved to play, and was a nice guy, too. Unfortunately, my friend got into drugs, cocaine to be exact, and then harder stuff. The drugs made him into a different person. He took unnecessary risks, acted erratically, slipped in school. I later found out that he was having problems at home, too, and that he’d been receiving psychiatric treatment for a long time for his own personal demons — maybe it was those demons and those problems that led to the drug use in the first place. I’ll never know, because my friend was killed, along with another driver, in a fatal DUI collision in his senior year of high school. If only cocaine and other narcotics had been illegal, and therefore my friend had not had access to them, he would still be alive today.