Why Costas Was Wrong

First of all, I think it was pretty courageous of Bob Costas to take on a controversial issue like gun control in the middle of a football game, and just hours after Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend and then himself. Surely he knew what he was getting into.

Unfortunately, I feel like Costas missed the larger discussion that needed to be had, both as it relates to Football, and society in general.

If you managed to miss his comments, I’ve included them below.

Its pretty obvious, on the surface anyway, that if Belcher didn’t have a gun he wouldn’t have shot anyone. Its anything but clear that, absent a gun, he or his girlfriend would have survived the events of last week. The circumstances that led to the problem, and the ones that brought the final result might not have been any different.

When things like this happen, the natural and easiest reaction is to go to the thing that “caused” it…in this case people pointed to the gun. A similar reaction has followed other events, like the 2011 shooting in Arizona that killed 6 and wounded 13 others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

One thing that is clear, guns are not sentient beings. I think everyone on both sides of the debate can agree with that.

Since guns can’t make decisions, blaming the gun is, by definition, missing the point. The old saying “people kill people” rings true here.

And while it is certainly easier to kill someone with a tool like a gun rather than say, a hammer, the result is the same. They’re still dead.

I didn’t hear a loud chorus of hammer control advocates speaking up when this guy killed his parents with one in 2011.

So maybe blaming the tool is misappropriating blame. The ease of use may play a role in the decision, but certain things have to be in place to even seriously contemplate the taking of a life. Maybe there’s something else that binds these three cases together other than the fact that tools were used to kill someone.

Its hard for me to imagine what kind of thinking brings someone to the decision that taking a life is any kind of a solution. Absent the incredibly rare “kill or be killed” moments I can’t imagine why anyone would even consider taking the life of another.

What I do understand is that considering murder as a solution is a pretty good indicator of some kind of mental health issue. What we learned in the wake of the Arizona shooting and the week since Belcher took the life of his girlfriend and himself, is mental health played a role in each.

According to reports, Belcher was struggling with head injuries and addiction. There are reports of domestic violence in the relationship. So do pervasive head injuries and violence in the home, coupled with addiction play a role in the taking of a life? Sure, but they’re not the final determining factors. If they were, we’d see a lot more violent crime than we do.

There has to be more to it.

That’s where things get complicated…much more so than dismissively blaming the gun. See, for someone to decide that taking a life is an option, they must first believe that there is no other solution. For someone to get to the point that taking their own life is the best choice, they must first believe there are no other options.

Of course, there are always other options, but those options can be lost in the haze of the moment, particularly in a society that places a fair amount of shame on mental health issues generally.

If we really want to see a decrease in violence, be it gun violence or any other kind, we need to focus on addressing mental health issues that lead to the violence rather than the violence or guns themselves. That’s the root of the problem. And that’s where Costas got it wrong.

Had Costas chosen to talk about mental health issues rather than the tool used in the violence, the size and scope of his platform might have opened up a discussion about role of mental health in the larger violence problem in our society.

That discussion is valuable, and something we, as a society need to start thinking about if we are serious about decreasing violence generally. An ounce of prevention…

Unfortunately, its just so easy and, to a certain degree, we’ve been conditioned to fall into the “blame the tool” argument that having that discussion right now seems as far away as a distant planet in another universe.

Costas was right about one thing. The outrage from this event has, just a week later, largely faded. We’ve already forgotten and moved on to the next outrage of the moment, in part because Costas chose an argument that pretty much everyone feels is unwinable and unproductive, and partially because that’s just what we do.

Hopefully, one day, we’ll make a decision to really start a dialogue about violence in our society, and work for real long-term solutions to the problem. That’s not in our nature, but here’s to hoping we start acting out of character soon. It would be a refreshing change.