A Philosopher's Blog

Costas & Guns

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on December 5, 2012
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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