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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20 Responses

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  1. WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 10:52 am

    Don’t blame Bob Costas, blame the microphone.

  2. biomass2 said, on December 5, 2012 at 11:21 am

    “whether or not sports commentators should engage in such political commentary.”
    Non-issue. Pastors and insurance salesmen do, too.

    Knives aren’t bad for close up killing. A handy table lamp will do, too.
    For easy access, I prefer an automatic weapon for killing and maiming large numbers quickly. Who wouldn’t?

    Domestic violence cannot be bound by gun laws. Poisonous relationships, and the poisons in which they are rooted need other solutions.

  3. T. J. Babson said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:07 pm

    Costas is a tool who has served his purpose. Notice we are not talking about the brain damage inflicted on Belcher by an incredibly violent sport.

  4. magus71 said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:21 pm

    Oddly enough, many who advocate for legalizing drugs based on the argument that people can get them anyway, do not make this argument when it comes to guns.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 5, 2012 at 6:24 pm

      People can get both easily enough here in the US. I favor having both legal (at least some versions-no legal heroin and no legal personal nukes).

      • magus71 said, on December 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm

        I’m now for legalizing drugs. I think it will give me a personal advantage over the people who do them.

  5. biomass2 said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:29 pm

    That would make an interesting study:
    How many perpetrators of domestic murder had suffered brain damage as a result of football, and how many of those used guns to kill? Also: How many domestic murderers who had no signs of brain damage whatsoever use guns to kill?Or knives? Or their fists?
    And how many people who sport “If guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns”*
    bumper stickers don’t realize how silly the statement is because they’ve suffered brain damage due to football?

    * If eating grapes were outlawed, only outlaws would eat grapes?”

  6. WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    Notice we are not talking about the brain damage inflicted on Belcher by an incredibly violent sport.

    Must have started fairly early. Story is he’s been a thug since he was 12 years old. Notice we are not talking about “bullies”.


    • T. J. Babson said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:51 pm

      Thugs are usually comfortable using violence and have an animal instinct for survival. I don’t think the “thug” argument can explain his suicide.

      • WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 1:02 pm

        I don’t think the “thug” argument can explain his suicide.

        Not sure why it can’t. Thugs are failry miserable people. After they dispense with blaming everyone around them for their misery and are left to face who they really are, suicide could simply be lashing in when there’s no one left to lash out at. Granted many other factors also could be involved outside of both thuggary and brain injury.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 5, 2012 at 6:25 pm

        Good point. While a thug might kill a person from thuggery, this person is rarely himself.

        • WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 7:50 pm

          There is a significantly higher rate of suicide among people who abuse alcohol and/or drugs. Alcohol is involved in an estimated 30% of suicides. Alcohol causes depressed mood, lowers inhibitions, and impairs judgment, any or all of which may set up vulnerable people to act on suicidal plans. These same factors (lowered inhibition and impaired judgment) are also associated with domestic violence and abuse, another factor that increases the likelihood that suicide will occur.

          Violent behavior toward others

          The tendency to engage in violent behavior is a potentially important risk factor for suicide in substance abusers. Up to 75% of those who begin addiction treatment report having engaged in violent behavior (eg, physical assault, mugging, attacking others with a weapon).20,21 Emerging research also indicates that violence may partially account for the connection between substance abuse and suicide risk. For example, in those seeking treatment for substance use disorders, the perception that they have difficulty in controlling their own violent behavior was associated with a greater likelihood of a prior suicide attempt.22 Tiet and colleagues22 hypothesized that individuals who have difficulty in controlling their anger may be more likely to act impulsively, thus turning the violence on themselves rather than on others.


          Not that thugs are known to abuse alcohol and/or drugs. What’s with the knee-jerk reactions?

  7. WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    BTW, the “sport” doesn’t inflict brain damage. The players do, of which Belcher was one. A linebacker and defensive end. Both of which positions dispense more violent hits than they receive.

    • T. J. Babson said, on December 5, 2012 at 12:52 pm

      I like football as much as the next person. Costas makes his living from the NFL. I’m sure they are very appreciative the focus is on guns and not head injuries.

      • WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 1:10 pm

        Agree, but again, why not “bullies”. They’re all the rage, you know. Football has been around for a long time and is probably much safer today than in the past when headslaps, helmet-to-helmet contact, etc. were much more common with equipment that was much less safe.

        • magus71 said, on December 5, 2012 at 6:28 pm

          Watch film of Ronny Lott.

          • WTP said, on December 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm

            Ronnie Lott, hell…how about Decon Jones or Dick Butkis? Of course you had to be tough if your name was Dick Butkis.

            Football was almost banned by Teddy Roosevelt due to the number of injuries and deaths back in those days. Might be interesting to know how many in the pre-leather and even leather helmet days comitted muder-suicides. But as I said, if the above link is true this guy was a thug long before football and no one stepped in to discipline him back then. THAT would have been the problem.

      • magus71 said, on December 5, 2012 at 6:26 pm

        Costas’ political views have been well known for decades. Poor blacks in detroit and Baltimore have been slaughtering each other decades, then a pro athlete goes berserk and it changes the thinking of people.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on December 5, 2012 at 6:27 pm

        Interesting point.

        The head injuries are certainly worrisome. I have no interest in football, but I certainly do not want people being damaged by the sport-most especially kids who play. I’m all for good natured mayhem in sports, but it should not leave permanent damage-so I favor steps to deal with this problem from the junior high level on up to the pros.

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