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Local opinion columnists

Gun debate obscures real issue

By From page A11 | December 06, 2012

In a halftime rant on NBC-TV’s Sunday Night Football, Bob Costas set off a firestorm of controversy when he commented on Kansas City Chiefs’ linebacker Javon Belcher’s murder-suicide by blaming guns.

Costas quoted sportswriter Jason Whitlock’s column that blasted guns as the main culprit in Belcher’s horrific act. Both Whitlock and Costas amplified their remarks, with Whitlock comparing the National Rifle Association with the Ku Klux Klan.

Some commentators wrote about the deaths through the prism of a violent football culture. Still others mused whether concussions, a brain condition like chronic traumatic encephalopathy or drugs and alcohol played a role in the violent events.

This isn’t a story about lax gun laws, NFL culture, brain injuries or substance abuse. What’s been lost is this is a story about domestic violence. It’s been reported that the Chiefs knew the relationship was troubled and offered counseling.

In the aftermath of such a horrific event, there’s always a rush to find reasons why it happened. After my brother Ken murdered his girlfriend and killed himself 22 years ago, I recall my dad wondering if Ken’s job as a correctional officer at CMF played a role. Another officer had killed his girlfriend and himself about a month earlier.

The fact that my brother’s blood alcohol level was 0.12 percent at the time made it easier for my parents to say he wasn’t in his right mind.

No one focused on the guns in my brother’s case, because as a peace officer he could legally carry them. But still there’s always the desire to explain the events away.

The ugly truth is that some men are abusive. Some men are painfully insecure, with bad tempers and very few coping skills. While I never witnessed my brother being abusive to any of his girlfriends, I certainly knew he had a hair-trigger temper. In the aftermath, I learned that it’s extremely rare for a domestic homicide to occur without previous violence and/or threats of violence.

Jason Whitlock’s belief that if Belcher had no gun, he and his girlfriend would be alive today may or may not be true. But Belcher could’ve killed his girlfriend with his bare hands or a knife. Many domestic violence homicides are committed by means other than a gun.

By shifting the focus to guns, we’re missing the opportunity to address the enormous problem of domestic violence. Why focus on Javon Belcher’s handgun rather than the fact that he chose to shoot his girlfriend to death? And he chose to do it while his mother and 3-month-old baby were right there.

Millions of couples live in households with firearms. Those couples argue like most couples do yet no one ends up dead. Why? Because this is an issue about behavior.

Why aren’t we having a national dialogue on the dangers of children growing up in households where there is domestic violence? Those children are at greater risk of growing up to be abusers or victims. We should be having a dialogue on raising young men with compassion, with conflict resolution skills and with a vocabulary to express their feelings.

We could be talking about warning signs of potentially abusive partners.

Instead we’re having the same gun control debate that changes nothing and informs no one.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline number is 800-799-7233. Locally, reach SafeQuest Solano from 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 422-7345. Their 24-hour crisis line is 866-487-7233. Peace.

Kelvin Wade is a writer and lives in Fairfield. Email him at [email protected]

Kelvin Wade

Kelvin Wade


Discussion | 1 comment

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  • Jason KnowlesDecember 06, 2012 - 9:02 am

    Excellent article, Kelvin. This must have been a tough write for you that triggered a lot of painful memories. I think that, even deeper than domestic violence, is the issue of men not being taught how to be assertive before they become aggressive. I remember being told to keep my mouth shut, do as I was told, and not express what my needs and wants were because that was "selfish." The end result is frustration, anxiety, and an inability to deal with conflict. I am concerned with how we raise our boys and what values we are teaching them. I see it in my students. I wish someone had taught me the value in being assertive rather than aggressive when I was younger. Being assertive means speaking out and not being ashamed of doing so. I am not suggesting that Belcher or your brother would have been saved with that lesson alone, but it couldn't have hurt.

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