Gilbert Arenas’s Gun Case Not Exactly a Slam Dunk

The Washington Wizards basketball star’s prosecution and subsequent punishment were a play for the bleachers.


My friend and former editor Daniel Wattenberg is back to his roots in the latest Reason magazine with a long and well-considered analysis of the Gilbert Arenas affair.

Wattenberg is a sports nut with a sharp mind for politics, and he mounts a persuasive case that while the Washington Wizards basketball star made an inarguably stupid mistake by bringing (unloaded) guns into a locker room, his prosecution and subsequent punishment—excessive when compared to previous NBA gun-related shenanigans—were a play for the bleachers, so to speak:

Gilbert Arenas was just what D.C. needed, a celebrity athlete with all the requisite signaling power to drown out the Court’s message with one of its own: Heller, schmeller. If we catch you carrying a gun, we’ll put you behind bars.

Heller, of course, is the 2008 case in which a majority of the Supreme Court, writes Wattenberg, “explicitly recogniz[ed] an individual right to keep handguns in the home for self-defense,” but at the same time “sowed doubt, among the general public and constitutional scholars alike, about the continuing viability and extent of the city’s highly restrictive gun laws.”

Complicating the picture, ideologically speaking, Wattenberg writes that Arenas became not just a “symbol of liberal fears about the spread of guns,” but a target for “conservative disgust with cosseted, anti-social pro athletes who think they’re above the law.”

Recommended reading for all.