December 7, 2012

M.D. Harmon: Costas exploited a crime to make a point that was a mistake

There I was, minding my own business, watching a moderately interesting football game on NBC Sunday night, as halftime rolled around, people on the field began singing "God Bless America"-- and sportscaster Bob Costas, of whom I previously had no particular positive or negative opinions, said something I knew instantly wasn't true.

Yes, I know what he says now, in defending his claim that if Kansas City Chiefs (and former University of Maine) linebacker Jovan Belcher didn't have a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his 3-year-old daughter, would both be alive today.

Costas now says he supports the Second Amendment, and that he was not trying to denigrate firearms ownership, but confronting the excesses of "the gun culture" among young black men, and also the culture of professional football, which rewards violence and aggression with fame and sky-high salaries.

Well, the guy is a professional commentator, paid tons of money to speak his mind. If he was going to use his network-provided prime-time commentary segment to discuss his personal views of guns and violence, you'd think he could have found a way to be much clearer than he was.

And he should have avoided politicizing the tragic death of a 22-year-old young mother in doing it.

In truth, while her death was indeed tragic, it wasn't the same kind of random tragedy that, say, a fatal accident would be. This tragedy was entirely intentional, and it was a heinous crime. Belcher was the vicious criminal who caused it, and he and he alone bears the blame for what he did.

Costas exploited that crime to make a point that, no matter how he explains it now, was an expression of emotion, not thought; knee-jerk reaction, not informed reflection; and to cap it all off, contrary to established fact. That is, it was wrong as a statement of what happened and wrong in the conclusions he drew from it.

No amount of good intentions can cover for that. Only an apology will do, and as of this writing, he has not apologized.

What were his errors? First and foremost, his conclusion that if Belcher had not had a gun, he could not have killed his girlfriend and then himself, is obviously in error.

Belcher, a 228-pound, 6-foot-2 professional athlete, was completely capable of killing Perkins with his bare hands. Or a baseball bat. Or, as O.J. Simpson killed his wife Nicole and her male friend, with a knife.

Blaming inanimate objects for human evil is properly called "magical thinking," the imputation of power and intent to something that has no will of its own or any independent capability to act.

As John Lott, author of the book, "More Guns, Less Crime," noted in a Fox News commentary Monday, "Whether people like Costas like it or not, the facts speak for themselves."

The facts also disprove Costas' subsequent allegation that legally owned guns are greatly to blame for crime among minorities. Guns are used in inner city gang crimes, certainly, but they are almost all illegally acquired and possessed by their users.

Indeed, gun crime rates are highest in the cities where legal gun possession is most strongly discouraged -- New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C., chief among them.

But where guns are widely and legally possessed, crime rates fall. And studies have shown more than a million crimes are halted or prevented by legally owned firearms each year. Just the display of a weapon discourages most offenders, who look for easier targets to victimize.

Therefore, gun crimes most often take place in places where criminals know they have a high probability of being the only person on the scene who is armed.

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