Bob Costas’ Hope for a Thoughtful Dialogue on Guns Ignores Reality

There is a lot to like about Bob Costas. He is a huge baseball fan; he does great interviews; he is a straight shooter; and he was in the movie Baseketball (scenes of him can be seen here and here—not sure how Trey Parker and Matt Stone got him to say some of that stuff). But this past Sunday, Mr. Costas went to a place I hadn’t seen him go before. He took a very strong position on guns before an audience not looking to hear a political message and an audience that includes many people likely hostile to such a view. For those of you who have not yet seen the video, it can be seen below:

Costas did something unheard of. He spoke rationally about guns. That is something that is just not done in the United States by anyone with a big microphone. On the rare occasion it does occur, it gets a lot of attention, as Bob Costas has (and while I believe there is some merit to the criticism that Mr. Costas chose an inappropriate forum to state his position, that will not be the subject of this article).

There can be little question that America’s gun culture combined with its lack of meaningful gun regulation is a terrible and deadly combination. The United States leads all developed nations in gun ownership and gun-related injuries. Despite the clear correlation between the number of guns and the number of gun-related injuries, gun rights advocates scream that more guns mean a safer citizenry. They never explain, however, why countries with much fewer guns have much lower rates of gun deaths than the United States: Canada’s rate is not even half of the United States’.  Australia’s rate of gun deaths is not even a third. Italy’s rate is ten times lower than the United States’. And Japan’s gun death rate is 146 times lower than that of the United States.

For the last several years, the United States has averaged about 100,000 gun-related injuries, and about one-third of those result in deaths. This is actually an improvement from 20 and 30 years ago (an improvement due in large part to our shift towards much longer prison sentences for violent criminals). There is also compelling evidence that a majority of these deaths and injuries would not have occurred had the perpetrator not had access to a gun. In other words, a gunman does not necessarily become a knifeman or poisonman if a gun is not available. Often times the gunman will just not commit the violent act, which supports Costas’ statement that without a gun being available, there is a very good chance Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend would be alive today.

No one is safe from our culture of gun violence. There have been 11 attempts to assassinate our presidents with the use of a gun, and four of those have been successful. To put it another way, more than 20% of our presidents have experienced attempts on their lives by gunmen, and our presidents have an assassination rate of 9% (13% over the past 150 years).

Despite the irrefutable evidence that our nation has a serious gun problem, we are paralyzed into inaction. This remains true even after the recent spate of gun-related tragedies caused an uptick in the number of Americans supporting strengthened gun laws. Nothing has been done, and nothing will be done. Many people blame Democrats for not having the courage to stand up to the NRA and gun manufacturers, but I can’t blame Democrats. Gun control will, for the foreseeable future, if not forever, be a losing issue for any candidate who takes up its mantle. The reason for this is that gun control is one of those few issues that produce “single-issue” voters, and all of the single-issue voters are on the pro-gun side of the gun issue.

Having grown up in a rural area, and continuing to know gun enthusiasts, I know first-hand just how important guns are for so many people. I cannot explain it. It is like a religion for many. I hate to judge anyone’s passions, but for many I know it borders on obsession or addiction. You want to see how rabid these people are, view the Bob Costas YouTube link above and read the comments. The hatred and vitriol against Costas is off the charts, and I bet those ugly comments were written by people who—when not talking about guns—are kind, respectful, and thoughtful individuals. These gun enthusiasts would vote against their own mother if she even suggested that requiring trigger locks was a good idea or that perhaps we should close the gun show loophole.

On the other side you have people like me, who—even though I do own a handgun—support reasonable gun laws, but would never vote for or against a candidate solely on the issue of guns. In fact, the issue of guns is so far down my political priority list that it is difficult for me to even envision it breaking a tie between two comparable candidates.

So what is the consequence of a political world that pits a small group of rabid gun worshippers who will vote against any politician who mouths the words “gun control” versus a large group of voters who support increased gun laws, but cast their votes based on a wide array of other issues deemed more important than guns? It creates a political culture where elected leaders realize that supporting gun laws can only cost them votes.

This political reality clarifies just how ridiculous those claims were back in 2008 when people thought Obama would come after people’s guns and their ammunition. Anyone with any political acumen knew this would never happen. Lo and behold, the only bill signed into law by President Obama relating to guns was a bill expanding gun rights. Specifically, Obama signed a bill that allows citizens to carry guns into national parks (an illegal act under George W. Bush). I am still waiting for these people to admit they may have been wrong about Obama coming for their guns.

With this political climate hostile to any hope of meaningful change with regard to our nation’s ineffectual gun laws, I worry about my friend Bob Costas. I respect him for taking a principled stand on something he believed in, but I certainly question the issue on which he chose to speak. There is likely no issue that could have cost him more fans without gaining him any. Costas is a good human being, but a lousy politician.

– Dylan

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