Gun culture a needless part of the sports world

MIAMI — Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, committed suicide and orphaned his daughter. If the Kansas City linebacker had not put a gun in his hand during those moments when he was seized by rage and despair, the 3-month-old baby girl would have had a chance to grow up with her mother and father.

Now she has no chance. She is another innocent victim damaged by the gun culture that has ensnared too many athletes.

We are still saddened by such needless tragedy but no longer shocked. The precedents are numerous: Junior Seau, Dave Duerson and Mike Flanagan killed themselves. Jayson Williams carelessly killed his driver. Rae Carruth paid a hit man to shoot his pregnant girlfriend; she died, the baby boy — brain-damaged by a lack of oxygen — survived and is being raised by his grandmother.

Sports' strong men needed only the twitch of a finger to pull the trigger in a heartbeat of weakness.

The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence on Monday re-released its July 2012 study titled "Guns in Sports: How Guns Have Affected the Athletic Community and What It Tells Us About America's Gun Crisis."

The report contains 100 narratives on athletes who have killed themselves, killed others or been killed. And that doesn't include the close calls, life-altering injuries, prison sentences.

Each case contains its own awful details. It's difficult to shunt them into categories or label them with statistics.

But they do have one single thing in common: Guns.

Former NFL coach Tony Dungy, who lost a son to suicide, recalled addressing his Colts players on conduct befitting professional athletes. When asked how many possessed guns, three-fourths of the players raised their hands. Three-fourths.

What compels pro athletes to be gun owners in disproportionate numbers? Why did Plaxico Burress feel he needed to carry a gun to a nightclub? Why did Gilbert Arenas bring a gun into the locker room?

Wealthy, famous young athletes can't seem to resist the lure of gun culture. Guns afford them security and status — ironically, the very things they have achieved by becoming the top 1 percent of 1 percent in their field. A gun is a macho badge of badness — seemingly redundant for superheroes with intimidating muscles.

The right to bear arms has been a delicate issue since the United States was created by revolution. How far does that right extend? To the mentally impaired? To those who might get drunk or high? To someone standing his ground? To people who want to own assault weapons?

One school of thought: Guns don't kill; people do. They would argue that Sean Taylor and Steve McNair and Hector "Macho" Camacho might have survived if they shot their killers first.

Here's the counter argument, backed by data: People are far less likely to kill if they don't have a gun in their hands.

Gun ownership in the United States — 200 million firearms — is completely out of whack compared to other first-world nations. So is the population behind bars. We've got 3 million people serving time, giving rise to a prison industry that now dwarfs many manufacturing sectors. Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: a large storage facility enclosed by barbed wire — for human beings.

Columbine High, Virginia Tech, the sniper in Washington, D.C., the crazed Joker opening fire at the Batman movie, drive-by sprays — what once seemed preposterous happens with regularity in the land of the free and the home of the brave.

South Florida is one of the capitals of gun violence. Last week a little girl boarded her school bus and never came home. She was accidentally shot by a boy showing off a gun in his backpack.

Brady Center president Dan Gross said the Belcher case illustrates what happens in everyday instances of domestic violence, arguments and suicide attempts when "someone introduced a handgun into the equation." Deaths that might have been prevented if a gun was not present.

"This isn't a debate about the Second Amendment," Gross said. "That has been decided by the Supreme Court. It is about all of us, as a nation, coming together to say we are better than this, and having an honest conversation about the risks and dangers that guns pose and what we can do to prevent tragedies."

Conservative commentators who chastised Bob Costas and Jason Whitlock for speaking out on gun violence were off-base and insensitive, particularly one who said that if Belcher's girlfriend had had a gun, she'd still be alive today.

Athletes who understand their outsized stature as role models counsel kids to stay in school. They warn people not to drink and drive. Say no to drugs. Don't discriminate against minorities. Get fit.

In other words, be responsible, use your brain, respect your fellow man. The damage wrought by bullets is irreversible. Now it is time for athletes to lend their voice to the gun-control debate. Before another child loses her father.

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