NBC sportscaster Bob Costas brought the sports world some unexpected controversy this weekend: As every NFL fan and a lot of others now know, Costas used the lofty perch of NBC’s Sunday Night Football halftime show to deliver an emotion-fueled diatribe against guns and by implication, gun owners. His rant came a day after Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot his girlfriend Kasandra Perkins dead and then committed suicide, leaving their child an orphan.
Costas is paid to analyze and report. He should deal in facts and reason, but but he was clearly doing something else when he quoted from Fox Sports writer Jason Whitlock’s article about the crime, in which Whitlock essentially argued that it was the gun that was really at fault in the murder-suicide. In a subsequent podcast interview with Roland Martin, Whitlock clarified for everyone that he considers the NRA “the new KKK.”
On his own emotional bender, Whitlock strayed far afield in his piece, making some serious errors about both the historical right to keep and bear arms and the accepted scientific knowledge regarding the utility of guns in society. But given the emotional tone of his article, we can understand why he would dismiss both the social science and the American political consensus about guns. Almost all the political momentum against gun owners is powered by such raw emotion, which tends to trump logic in people who irrationally fear firearms.
Costas, reading word-for-word Whitlock’s angsty tract to the rapt millions, seemed to think that the world of American gun owners can be reduced to “convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car [leaving] more teenage boys bloodied and dead.” Costas goes on quoting Whitlock for most of the segment, laying down these absurdities for the home audience:
“Handguns do not enhance our safety.” Yes, they do, when deployed by the average citizen in defense of self or family. This is what the science has told us repeatedly over the last couple of decades.
“They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.” No, they don’t. State and local law-enforcement officials agree that people licensed to discreetly carry handguns for protection are model citizens who exercise great restraint. They actually commit fewer crimes than those who don’t have carry licenses.
“If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” The world view of people with an unreasonable fear of guns seems to center around a commonly held belief that the gun is the agent of wrongdoing, the cause of crime. The purest and most innocent person becomes, apparently, a violent attacker simply by picking up a gun.
But psychodynamics aside, simple observation brings us back to reality: An NFL linebacker doesn’t need a firearm to kill a woman or even himself. Belcher could easily have used the standard weapons of abusers of women — his hands or feet — to get the job done.
But it’s the last line in Whitlock’s rant that best illustrates the psychology behind much of the gun control movement:
“We’ll watch Sunday’s game and comfort ourselves with the false belief we’re incapable of the wickedness that exploded inside Jovan Belcher Saturday morning.” It would be instructive to know how Whitlock might defend that sweeping condemnation of humanity, but here’s what comes to mind. Psychiatrists use the term “projection” to describe the psychological defense mechanism of denying one’s own emotions and attributing them to others.
Here, Whitlock suggests that anyone, not just a mentally disturbed man, is likely to act on homicidal impulses, given the chance. But obviously very few people do. Everyone encounters difficulties in life. Everyone is wronged at various points, sometimes grievously. But those who retaliate by killing are an extremely small and aberrant group. Whitlock, being a professional supposedly able to observe and report accurately, should be as aware of this fact as anyone.
But here, as ever when emotion gets the better of reason, tempers flare, IQs drop, and little progress is made toward bettering the human condition. This is not to belittle the rage and sadness of those close to the deceased and fans of football. But these emotions should be displayed appropriately, in mourning with family and friends. They should not be broadcast in a prime-time Sunday slot and presented as informed commentary.
— Timothy Wheeler, MD is director of Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership, a project of the Second Amendment Foundation.