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The Gun Made Him Do It

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During the 1970s, comedian Flip Wilson would excuse the bad behavior of a character he portrayed with the retort, “The devil made me do it!” We laughed at his attempt to shift responsibility for his actions because it was ridiculous. Yet, according to NBC sports announcer Bob Costas, guns cause crime!

Costas, in halftime remarks during the December 2, 2012, National Football League game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys, blamed handguns for the suicide death the day before of Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and Belcher’s murder earlier that day of Kasandra Perkins, his girlfriend and the mother of their 3-month-old daughter. He quoted from an article by Fox sports columnist Jason Whitlock that “our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy,” concluding that “if Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” In other words, the gun made him do it!

One can forgive Costas if his remarks were merely the thoughtless, emotional reaction to a tragic event made personal by his association with professional football. After all, emotions can be irrational. If, however, the outburst reflects a deeply held belief, one must question his judgment and intellectual honesty. Judgment, because common sense dictates that an inanimate object cannot be responsible for a deed requiring a conscious act by a capable actor. Intellectual honesty, because a little research would provide ample evidence to the contrary. But if his remarks are those of a gun-control advocate taking advantage of a tragedy, then his conduct is despicable.

The conclusion of Costas (and Whitlock) that, lacking a gun, the crime would not have happened is faulty for a more obvious reason. Belcher could have carried out his heinous crime with a baseball bat, his hands, a necktie, a pillow, a knife, or any number of common items found in the average home. (I don’t recall anyone’s calling for a ban or restrictions on knives after Nicole Brown Simpson, former wife of professional football player O.J. Simpson, was stabbed to death in June 1994.)

Costas ignores the numerous times innocent people defend themselves or others using a gun. According to criminologist Gary Kleck of Florida State University, about 2.4 million persons in the United States use a gun each year to defend themselves, 192,000 of whom are women. Of this figure, 92 percent merely brandished a firearm or fired a warning shot to successfully deter the aggressor.

If Costas is so outraged at the senseless gun deaths of Belcher and Perkins, I wonder whether he is equally outraged at the federal government’s Fast and Furious program which, over a two- to three-year period, allowed several thousand military-style firearms to cross into Mexico into the hands of drug cartels without any attempt to track or interdict them. Guns from this program have been traced to the deaths of two U.S. agents, the wounding of another, and the murder of hundreds of Mexican citizens. When Congress investigated, the administration first stalled, then provided meager, heavily redacted information, and finally refused to comply, further citing executive privilege, forcing Congress to issue a contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder. Whistleblowers within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), the agency tasked with carrying out Fast and Furious, said the purpose was not to stop gun-running into Mexico, but to advance the gun-control agenda of the administration by blaming U.S. dealers for gun-related crimes in that country. How about a halftime commentary on that, Mr. Costas?

It is the state of mind of the actor, in this case Jovan Belcher, that determines the crime, not the means. Belcher had numerous ways of carrying out his crime with or without a gun. What drove him to do so, we may never know. But I doubt he said to himself that fateful day, “Because I have a gun, I’m going to kill someone today.”

In conclusion, if guns cause crime, one can say with equal logic and certainty, that a microphone caused Bob Costas to utter those intemperate remarks. “The microphone made me say it!” Or was it the devil?

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    Benedict LaRosa is a historian and writer with undergraduate and graduate degrees in history from the U.S. Air Force Academy and Duke University, respectively.