Immediately after the suicide of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher, who police say murdered his girlfriend at their home before driving to the Chiefs’ practice facility and shooting himself in front of the team’s coach and general manager, thoughts turned to the role concussions and brain injuries may have played in the tragedy.
But during halftime of last night’s Sunday Night Football broadcast, NBC’s Bob Costas brought up another angle: the role guns, and our nation’s lax gun laws, played in the tragedy. After a brief introduction, Costas quoted Kansas City-based columnist Jason Whitlock, who wrote yesterday that he believed both Belcher and his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, would be alive today were it not for Belcher’s possession of a gun:
‘Our current gun culture,’ Whitlock wrote, ‘ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy. And more convenience store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead. Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions and their possible connection to football will be analyzed. Who knows? But here,’ wrote Jason Whitlock, ‘is what I believe — if Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.’
Conservatives and gun advocates are, of course, angry at Costas’ insinuation, via Whitlock, that gun control could have prevented the murder of Kasandra Perkins. Fox & Friends blasted Costas this morning, with co-host Brian Kilmeade relying on the tried-and-true point that follows every outbreak of gun violence this country has. “I just don’t know if it’s appropriate enough on a Sunday night, less than 24 hours after this guy took his own life and killed his girlfriend and the mother of his baby, to make that stance,” Kilmeade said. “I don’t think we needed to hear that last night.”
When, then, is the appropriate time to talk about gun violence? According to gun advocates, it wasn’t after another black teenager was shot in a parking lot because he was listening to loud music. It wasn’t after another mass murder at one of our schools, shopping malls, or movie theaters. It wasn’t in a year when another 30,000 Americans lost their lives to firearms (11,000 in homicides), or in a country where 1,800 women like Kasandra Perkins are killed in gun disputes and another 5,000 are treated for assault-related gunshot wounds every year. It wasn’t during presidential debates. It wasn’t after Trayvon Martin was killed for wearing a hoodie, after Jared Lee Loughner shot a member of Congress in the head, after the Dark Knight Rises theater shooting, or after the latest murderous weekend in one of our nation’s biggest cities. So if those weren’t the right times, and this isn’t either, when? Which high-profile murder, suicide, or mass killing will be the one that gets us to talk?
Perhaps, if Jovan Belcher didn’t own a gun, he would have found another way to kill Kasandra Perkins and himself. Or perhaps he wouldn’t have. Having a gun in the home, after all, increases both the risk of homicide and suicide, and 60 percent of our nation’s homicides are committed with guns. Studies have shown that guns in the home increase chances of homicide two to three times, and gun death rates are seven times higher in states that have high household gun ownership (Missouri is 21st, and considered a high-ownership state), according to the Brady Campaign. For suicide, guns present a similar problem. “Every study that has examined the issue to date has found that within the U.S., access to firearms is associated with increased suicide risk,” according to Harvard’s School of Public Health, and suicides committed with guns are most likely to be successful.
A domestic dispute in any home may leave a woman bloody and bruised, but in a home without a gun, it’s far less likely to leave her murdered. The presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk of homicide for women by five times, according to one study, and two-thirds of women killed with guns each year die in domestic disputes. When a domestic dispute involves a firearm, it is 12 times more likely to end in homicide. If Jovan Belcher didn’t have a gun, perhaps his mother, who watched her son shoot the mother of his three-month-old daughter, could have helped calmed the fight. If Jovan Belcher didn’t have a gun, perhaps the coaches and executives who watched him put the final bullet through his own head, or the police officers who arrived seconds too late, could have saved his life.
We’ll never know if the lack of a legally-owned gun would have changed the situation and kept both Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher alive. Whitlock believes it would have, and I do too. What we do know is that Saturday morning, a gun made it easier for a man to kill his girlfriend, to take his own life, to leave his three-month-old daughter without her parents. And the Jovan Belcher story happens somewhere in this country every day. Somewhere, today, a man will shoot his girlfriend. A woman will shoot herself. A teenage boy will die at the hand of a firearm. A dispute that could have ended with a punch will instead end with a bullet. If that isn’t enough to make us talk about the role of guns in our society, I don’t know what is.