Sportswriter says NRA the new KKK, or something

Who says you have to wait for election season to get truly ignorant political commentary?  Sportswriter Jason Whitlock, who inspired Bob Costas’ rant on NBC’s Sunday Night Football that blamed guns for the murder-suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs player Jovan Belcher, told Roland Martin that not only are guns to blame for the crimes, but that the NRA is the new KKK for defending gun rights for all Americans:

“Sports gets so much attention, and people tune out the real world, that I try to take advantage of the opportunity to talk about the real world when sports lends itself to that and try to open people’s eyes,” Whitlock said.

“You know, I did not go as far as I’d like to go because my thoughts on the NRA and America’s gun culture — I believe the NRA is the new KKK. And that the arming of so many black youths, uh, and loading up our community with drugs, and then just having an open shooting gallery, is the work of people who obviously don’t have our best interests [at heart].”

Unfortunately, we still have the old KKK with us, which is bad enough.  But equating an interest group of gun owners with a hate group, especially one with the history of the KKK, goes beyond sheer ahistorical nonsense to horrid demagoguery.  Never mind that the NRA has many gun owners of all colors and creeds, as Eric Puryear pointed out four years ago to other ignorant accusations that defending the Second Amendment was somehow racist; the supposed argument in this case is that opposing government confiscation of every firearm in America is somehow a symptom of xenophobia and hatred.

All you need is love … and the government seizure of your means of self defense.  Oooooo-kay.

Cheap and obvious demagoguery usually gets deployed for a purpose.  My column for The Week points out that while sports analysts like Whitlock and Costas heap blame on the gun and call the NRA the new KKK, they get to avoid some tough questions about one of the industries that puts bread on their own tables:

Costas’ brand of knee-jerk speculation cuts both ways. After all, Belcher played in one of the most violent mass-market sports in the world. Did that have anything to do with the crime? Deadspin reports that Belcher sustained a concussion on Nov. 18, and had been taking medication for it — all while drinking large amounts of alcohol, according to a source close to Belcher. “If you review the footage of the Cincinnati game, he took a few hits to the head directly,” an unnamed friend of Belcher’s told Deadspin‘s Isaac Rauch in a series of emails. That mixture exacerbated tensions at home, where Perkins had just returned after the couple’s separation, according to the source.

And when it comes to Belcher taking his own life… sadly, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen an NFL player commit suicide. There have been six suicides in the past two years, in fact. The NFL has recently, and belatedly, begun taking steps to prevent long-term brain damage to its players. The changes have been a long time coming, and might not be enough. As the New York Daily News reported on Sunday, evidence shows that chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) might not come just from concussions, “but also from repeated, less spectacular blows to the head — calling into question the future of America’s most popular sport.”

Did the concussion and/or Belcher’s medication cause him to kill? That kind of speculation becomes a lot more uncomfortable for commentators and networks that rely on the NFL for ratings and ad revenue, while gun manufacturers and owners make for a much safer target — pun intended. A medical cause seems a bit more likely than just having a handgun — but plenty of players have concussions without killing themselves or others. Perhaps sports experts should stick to sports, and report honestly on the dangers players face on the field, while we all let the police and medical experts investigate crimes themselves.

While six suicides in two years may not seem like a strong correlation to violence in the NFL, consider the correlation Costas and Whitlock ask us to make to render Belcher — and perhaps the NFL — blameless for the murder-suicide:

Let’s first get the facts straight about firearms and handguns in the U.S. Estimates vary widely on the number of households with firearms, but Gallup’s survey in 2005 put it at 42 percent. With roughly 150 million households in the U.S., that means that a gun is present in roughly 63 million households. Yet the number of murders committed by firearm in 2011, according to FBI statistics, was 8,583. That represents 0.0136 percent of all firearm-owning households. Murders by handgun came to 6,220, which makes that percentage 0.0099 percent. If guns caused murders, we’d be seeing a lot more murders. More than 99 percent of Americans seem to be capable of owning guns without committing murder, which demolishes the blame-the-gun argument.

Cheap demagoguery indeed.  The problem with people killing people existed before guns, it exists with guns, and it would exist when guns are entirely absent.  That’s because the problem doesn’t lie with the gun, or the knife (over 1600 murders by knife in 2011, by the way), or the baseball bat.  It lies with the person who chooses to kill over real or imagined slights.