There is a manufactured debate over whether Bob Costas should lose his job for questioning the "gun culture" Costas suggested was responsible for the deaths of an NFL player and his girlfriend. That's not a real issue; Costas isn't a news anchor. He's a sportscaster and commentator, and weighs in all the time on the athletic performances of players and teams. Failing to talk about the role of a firearm in the tragedy would have been a glaring omission.
Had Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher been responsible for only one death—that of Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and mother of their now-orphaned three-month-old daughter—the conversation might now be about domestic violence. It might be about whether aggressive sports competitions foster aggressive action in other arenas. It might have brought more attention to the problem of violence against women in general.
But Belcher turned a horrible crime into an even more horrible tragedy. He went to the Chief's practice facility, admitted the murder, thanked his coach and general manager, and then—with the coach and GM watching—shot himself in the head.
It is impossible not to have a conversation about guns, given the circumstances. Belcher might have been able to harm, even kill, Perkins without a gun. He would not have committed suicide in front of two people if he had not had a firearm.
Many people like to believe that if we all had guns, such tragedies would not occur. The theory is that if someone breaks out a weapon—at a Virginia campus, a Colorado movie theater, or a home—the would-be victim could fight back, evenly armed. It's easy to acquire that delusion when one watches action movies. Many of us would like to believe we would respond that quickly and calculatingly in the event of an armed assault. In real life, things do not happen that way.
In 1999, I was covering the civil conflict in Kosovo, where danger came from several camps—the Kosovo Liberation Army, the police, the paramilitary, the Serb soldiers, and the most dangerous of all—drunk civilians with guns. One day, two radio reporters, a translator, and I were headed back to the provincial capital of Pristina. We saw, up a hill to our left, that a village was being burned down. Foolishly, we drove toward it to see what was happening. Halfway up the hill, I heard a loud and quick series of click-clicks, as Serb paramilitary surrounded our car and pointed machine guns at us.
It took about 20 seconds even to realize what was happening—and this was not in a movie theater or campus; this was in a war zone where such developments are not completely unexpected. My friends put up their hands. I, incomprehensively, lowered my head, protecting it with my hands (did I imagine that would stop the bullet? I have no idea—it was an automatic reaction). They dragged us out of the car, held guns to our heads, and finally let us go, after a long negotiation and a realization on their part that we were just four hapless, unarmed journalists.
People have asked me if I wasn't sorry I didn't have a gun. I am not. Had we been armed, we would have been killed for sure, as we would have been seen as combatants. But more importantly, we would never have been able to respond quickly enough to stop any attack. Life is not a James Bond movie. With the exception of trained police and soldiers, none of us is going to be able to respond quickly and accurately enough to stop someone from shooting a gun.
The murder-suicide is a wrenching tragedy, and it should indeed engender all sorts of conversations about domestic violence and the head injuries which can affect football payers' behavior. But refusing to talk about the role of firearms in the deaths of two young people is another tragedy. And it would create more.