The NFL is Driving Me Away

There are few things in this world that I love more than football.  I have been a fan and avid watcher of the sport for more than three decades.  Some of my fondest memories involve games watched with my father or with friends.  I have spent my hard-earned money on tickets and merchandise, and countless hours reading about my favorite team and even playing fantasy football.  I have been a loyal consumer of the product that the NFL has been selling, and it has brought me great joy.

So, why are they driving me away?

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I guess I always knew there was a dark side.  After all, this is a sport based on violence and brutality.  Sure, there is strategy involved, but that strategy still involves gigantic men destroying their bodies.  And, the ungodly amount of money involved cannot help but corrupt those who run the league.  But, somehow, I was always able to ignore all of that because I loved watching the game so much.  I have been a loyal fan, willing to turn a blind eye.

But, I cannot pretend to be blind anymore.

Today’s news about Ray Rice is the tipping point perhaps, but it is merely one of many illustrations of just how corrupt the NFL has become.  Like any big business, they are driven by profit, and as long as the money keeps rolling in, they are willing to condone just about any sort of behavior.

Let’s look at the Rice situation.  Here is a player who was seen as one of the league’s “good guys.”  He played well for a team that won the Super Bowl just a few years ago.  But, he committed the fatal error of doing something awful and getting caught.  To the league, the action does not matter nearly as much as the getting caught.  It would be foolish to believe that Rice is the first player to abuse his partner.  He just happened to do it on camera.  So, since the league could not ignore it, they did the least they could possibly do to quiet the critics.  They condemned his behavior and suspended him for 2 games.  They told us just how seriously they take the issue of domestic violence, then suspended Rice for just one-eighth of the season.  And, they were more than willing to sweep the entire incident under the rug.  But, the public, to their credit, would not let them.  After the uproar that followed what was seen as a far-too-lenient punishment, the league vowed to re-evaluate their policy on domestic violence.  They decided that a six-game suspension should apply to any future incidents.  And, again, they were willing to consider the matter settled.  But, today, after more video evidence was leaked, revealing just how brutally Rice attacked his then-fiancée, they were again pressured into action.  Ray Rice was released by his team and suspended indefinitely by the league.  There is a real possibility that he never plays football professionally again.  But, even after all that, Rice still lands on his feet.  He does not face any criminal punishment, and he has millions of dollars to cushion his fall.

And, the NFL comes out on top.  By allowing all the blame to fall on Ray Rice (and absurdly trying to blame his fiancée for being abused), the league gets to keep selling its product to a fan base that cannot get enough.  This is not to say that Rice should not be blamed.  Of course he should.  He should be blamed, he should be punished, and he should go to jail.  But, the NFL should be blamed, as well, not for the assault, but certainly for how they dealt with it.  They did as little as they could, trying to protect themselves and their product.  That is the game they play.  For the product is all that matters.

This single-minded focus on the game and the profits they reap is what allows them to stand behind a team owner in support of a racist team name.  It is what allows them to condemn the use of illegal (but harmless) drugs like marijuana while pumping their players full of dangerous prescription painkillers.  It is what allows them to ignore the countless brain injuries caused by years of players slamming themselves into each other as hard as they can.  It is what allows them to play their game in stadiums owned by billionaires and paid for by public funds taken away from education or infrastructure.  They address only what they are forced to, only those bits of the darkness that creep out into the light.

I love football, but I don’t like it anymore.  When I see a big hit, I don’t cheer.  I wonder whether the player is destroying his brain and his body.  When I see an owner in his luxury box, I think about fans who can’t afford tickets into the stadium they are paying for.  When I see a player doing charity work and photo-ops, I wonder whether he shows the same kind of compassion to his wife.  Yet, despite all this, I still watch, because I love football.

So, why is the NFL trying to drive me away?  How difficult would it be to actually do the right thing?  Why not condemn the owner of the team with the racist name rather than the woman who was beaten by a man who just so happens to be famous for playing football?  Why not embrace efforts to protect the players who make the league possible?  Why not reach out to the fans who spend the money that has made the league so profitable and address their concerns?  We don’t want much.  We just want to watch football without feeling like we’re supporting all the awful things that happen under the league’s watch.  Is that too much to ask?

This Man Should Not Have a Gun, and He Is Not the Only One

Georgia has gone all-in on gun rights recently, most notably with their “Guns Everywhere” law that allows guns in churches, bars, libraries, and even airports and schools.  But, even for such a pro-gun state, this is inexplicable.  A man convicted of sexual assault who attempted to rape a woman with his gun has had his right to carry a firearm restored.

Think Progress reports:

A Georgia appeals courts decision upholding the sexual assault conviction of a former cop named Dennis Krauss is difficult to read. According to the record in Krauss’ trial, the former officer was dispatched to the home of a woman who called 911 alleging that her husband had hit her. Rather than arresting the husband, however, Krauss asked the victim to ride with him in his police car. Once she was in his car, “Krauss told the victim that he could take her to jail if he wanted to” or, if she did not want to be arrested, she could have sex with him instead. Krauss’ words, according to the court opinion, were “[w]e can go to the motel or you can go to jail.”

At the motel, Krauss drew his service weapon and told the woman that he wanted to anally penetrate her with the gun. When she refused, and began to cry, “Krauss then pushed her back, pulled off her pants, and had sex with her.” And then he drove her home to the same husband that led her to call the police in the first place.

Krauss was convicted of sexual assault against a person in custody, and this one instance of sexual assault is far from the only allegation against him. According to theAtlanta Journal-Constitution, “[h]is record was filled with allegations of misconduct: that he beat a prisoner so severely the man’s brain bled; that he threatened to fabricate charges against a suspect so he could sleep with the man’s wife; that he pressured at least 10 women for sex to avoid arrest.” The former cop, for his part, is unrepentant. When asked about his sexual assault conviction, he claims that “[t]here wasn’t any crime,” and that “I was dealt a bad hand.”

And yet, in July of 2013, the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles restored Krauss’ right to carry a firearm. According to a Journal-Constitution tally, he is one of 358 violent felons who regained these rights over a six year period. That includes 32 violent felons who killed someone, and 44 who committed sex crimes. One man regained his right to own a gun in 2012 after serving a 10 year sentence for child molestation and aggravated child molestation. Some offenders regained their gun rights after being convicted of crimes such as armed robbery, burglary or aggravated assault.

Surely, even the state of Georgia can see the dangers of letting a man like this carry a weapon. This is a man convicted of a violent crime and who allegedly committed numerous others.  He used his gun to coerce a woman into non-consensual sex, and then attempted to violate her with that very weapon.  But, apparently, the right for a manany manto carry a gun outweighs the right of women not to be sexually assaulted.  Rapist, robbers, murderers, and even child molesters are allowed to carry weapons, and that is completely ludicrous.  Each of those 358 violent felons has victimized people, and can now carry a weapon that will allow them to continue their abhorrent behavior.

Courts have ruled repeatedly that violent criminals can have their right to own a gun revoked.  Yet, somehow, women and children still get little protection.  There has been resistance to keeping guns from domestic abusers or people with violence-related restraining orders.  And, in Georgia at least, even serial rapists are free to carry weapons.  Or, is sexual assault not a violent crime?  Are women not people who should be protected?  How about children?

This issue goes far beyond the Second Amendment.  For all the gray area over what the founders may have intended, no one could argue that they thought violent criminals should have weapons.  This issue is just further proof that women, children, and other victims of violent crime don’t matter to GOP lawmakers, at least not as much as guns do.

Abusers Should Not Have Guns, and Gun Owners Should Agree

As the gun debate continues, Congress finally held a hearing over the link between domestic violence and gun-related homicide.  Everyone, including gun owners, should naturally support efforts to protect abuse victims, but that sadly has not been the case.  Various proposals have been raised attempting to expand the regulations keeping domestic abusers from owning guns, but they have naturally met resistance from gun groups, including the NRA.

Current laws prohibit violent felons and certain people with restraining orders or misdemeanor domestic violence convictions from owning weapons, but these bans do not extend to other potentially violent people.  There are no laws in place to keep stalkers, those whose domestic violence convictions apply to attacks against people other than a spouse, or those whose restraining orders are merely temporary rather than permanent from owning all the weapons they please.  The proposals blocked by gun groups merely seek to broaden the bans to include these additional classes of potentially dangerous people.

Studies showing the increased risk for women when domestic violence and gun ownership are combined are numerous and terrifying.  Nearly half of women murdered by guns are killed by their intimate partner, and women are five times more likely to be killed by their partner when a gun is present in the house.  This threat even extends to mass shootings, as 57 percent of these kinds of sprees involve an incident of domestic violence.

The claim that keeping guns out of the hands of abusers is just an attempt to limit gun ownership simply does not hold water.  These are people who have already proven themselves to be dangerous.  Allowing them to own weapons that can be used to kill their partners (or former partners) is beyond irresponsible.

I have written before about how all gun owners are accountable for the actions of all other gun owners.  The case of domestic abusers having firearms is a perfect example of this.  As always, this type of legislation would do nothing to limit gun ownership for law-abiding citizens.  It would merely keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of violent or threatening behavior against their partner.  Responsible gun owners should want this as much as anyone else.  Surely they don’t condone this type of violence.  They should applaud any attempt to keep dangerous people from owning weapons, if not for their own safety, then for the safety of the 46 women a month who are shot and killed by their intimate partner.

Luckily, there are a few such gun owners who do support this potential legislation:

But not all gun-owners are siding with the NRA to fight these stricter gun controls. “I am a gun owner. I was shot and left for dead by my own gun,” says Christy Martin, a former championship boxer whose ex-husband was sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for attempting to murder her with a firearm. Martin flew to Washington, DC this week to attend Wednesday’s hearing, at the invitation of Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group backed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “I consider myself a physically fit, somewhat strong woman, mentally strong, emotionally strong, but it didn’t matter,” she says, noting that her ex-husband had a history of stalking behavior prior to the attack, and that she’d like to “close up some of those loopholes for stalkers.”

And closing those loopholes is exactly what the proposed legislation, including a bill from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), seeks to do.  And, it should not be only the victims of these horrible attacks who support it.  But, the NRA has called her proposal “a backdoor attempt to limit gun ownership,” and said it, “manipulates emotionally compelling issues such as ‘domestic violence’ and ‘stalking’ simply to cast as wide a net as possible for federal firearm prohibitions.”

Downplaying the terror of domestic violence and murder at the hands of an intimate partners as merely “emotionally compelling” is heartless.  These are people who live in fear and are killed by a person they loved and trusted.  They deserve our help and protection, and keeping their partners from owning a weapon that can be used against them is the very least we can do.

Whatever the Problem, More Guns is not the Solution

Pro-gun folks are getting ambitious with their new proposals.  They used to merely oppose legislation that would hinder the ability of people to own as many guns as they want, regardless of their criminal history, mental health, or ability to handle their weapon safely.  Now they want to push legislation that would encourage or even require more people to own guns.

Take the recent commentary from NRA News Commentator Billy Johnson titled, “Everybody Gets a Gun.”  Though he conceded that his ideas “may be seen as ‘ridiculous’–even by ‘Second Amendment advocates,'” I don’t think this admission comes close to expressing just how ridiculous his proposal is.  It is flawed from beginning to end.  But, it is a telling indicator of where some of the more extreme pro-gun supporters hope to go with gun policy.

All emphasis in the following excerpts is mine.  Johnson begins:

As a country we have an education policy. Imagine if that policy was about limiting who has access to public education. I mean, let’s be honest, the danger in educating people to think is that they might actually start to think for themselves. Perhaps we should think seriously about who we give access to knowledge. They could use it to do a lot of damage.

As a country we have a far reaching public parks program. Imagine if that program was designed to limit who has access to those parks. You littered once in high school, sorry no park access for you.

As a country we have labor policies designed to ensure that people are given access to jobs regardless of gender, race, or creed. Imagine if that policy withheld certain types of jobs as only the purview of the government elite.

Here Johnson sets up his straw men, hoping that he can convince people who guns are actually comparable to any of these things.  But, let’s break them down, one at a time.

First, he compares the right to own a gun to the right to an education.  While it is true that only one of these things is mentioned in the Constitution, his argument actually defeats itself.  He claims that knowledge in the wrong hands can be a dangerous thing.  This is the very crux of the argument for gun control legislation.  None but the most extreme anti-gun advocates is seeking to outlaw guns completely.  Most are merely hoping for measures are put in place that limit who has access to them, ensuring that they do not end up in the wrong hands.  Even if Johnson is attempting to be sarcastic or ironic (and he may very well be, to be fair), he fails in this attempt.  Claiming that knowledge can be dangerous but ignoring that guns can be is idiotic.  Or, assuming he is being sarcastic, he is admitting that guns can be dangerous and we should “think seriously about who we give access to” them.  Either way, the argument fails.

Next, he says litterbugs should be kept out of public parks.  This is obviously a reference to legislation that keeps violent felons and those with violence-related restraining orders from owning weapons.  But, his analogy is offensive as it compares acts of violence with littering.  I think the victims and survivors of these acts would dispute the similarity to leaving trash on the ground in a public place.  Surely, even Johnson can see the difference.  And, if this is merely an attempt at humor, again, he has failed, as there is nothing at all funny about violence or trying to prevent it.

Then, Johnson compares gun owners to those affected by discrimination due to their “gender, race, or creed.”  And he tops off this failed comparison with the right-wing buzzwords “government elite,” hoping to appeal to the paranoia of many gun extremists.  One would assume that he is trying to make an analogy to the fear that the government will come take all the guns away from regular citizens, meaning only the government itself will be allowed to bear arms.  Again, this is playing into the extremist paranoia, and doing so through an apples-and-orange comparison between the right to discrimination-free employment and the right for unhindered gun ownership.

But, all of that is just the set-up.  Now, we get to the heart of Johnson’s proposal.  He continues:

The point is that as a country we often write policy to protect access to something; education, parks, jobs. But one for one of the most important protections, a constitutional right, we write policy designed to limit access. Among Second Amendment supporters it’s common to talk about U.S. gun policy. We worry that policies will encroach on our rights; we share our concerns about overreaching gun policy that fails to make any of us safer.

But we don’t spend nearly enough time asking what is the purpose of policy and what should the purpose of gun policy be? We don’t have a U.S. gun policy. We have a U.S. anti-gun policy. Our gun policies are designed around the assumption that we need to protect people from guns, that guns are bad or dangerous. But what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better. Let’s consider that for a minute.

Gun policy driven by people’s need for guns would seek to encourage people to keep and bear arms at all times. Maybe it would even reward those who do so. What if instead of gun free-zones we had gun-required zones?

It is a common tactic among pro-gun supporters (or “Second Amendment” supporters) to fall back on the Constitution.  Yes, the Constitution does have an amendment that refers to a right to bear arms.  But, there has been great debate over the ambiguously worded amendment and just what it actually does intend to protect.  The Amendment reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”  It was only with the recent Heller decision by the Supreme Court that this was found to refer to the right for all people to own guns of any kind without restriction.  But, even after that, the court has upheld numerous restrictions, as various states and cities have implemented legislation seeking to limit gun violence.  But, gun supporters have been bolstered by the Supreme Court ruling, to the point that they believe their right to keep and bear arms should supersede the Constitution’s promises to “establish Justice,” “insure domestic Tranquility,” or “promote the general Welfare.”  These far-less-ambiguous promises are exactly what Johnson mocks with his earlier dismissal of education, public parks, and jobs.  Surely, if limits can be placed on access to these, the same can be done for guns.  But, Johnson calls such restrictions an “overreach.”  He then claims that gun policy “fails to make any of us safer,” despite proof that states with more gun legislation in place have lower rates of gun violence, and vice versa.

Next, Johnson makes a blatantly false assumption and then uses it as the basis for the rest of his commentary.  He asks, “what would happen if we designed gun policy from the assumption that people need guns — that guns make people’s lives better?”  The answer is simple.  We would be making policy based on a false assumption.  We might as well make gun policy based on the assumption that guns can make people fly or grow to be ten feet tall.  All are equally ridiculous.

But, Johnson is undeterred, next suggesting that what we really need are “gun-required zones,” an apparent reference to the erroneous belief that criminals seek out gun-free zones for their killing sprees, though that argument has been debunked.  So, now we have false information leading to a proposal that is itself based on the false assumption that people have a “need for guns.”

Now, we come to the big finish.  Johnson concludes:

Gun policy driven by our need for guns would insist that we introduce young people to guns early and that we’d give them the skills to use firearms safely. Just like we teach them reading and writing, necessary skills. We would teach shooting and firearm competency. It wouldn’t matter if a child’s parents weren’t good at it. We’d find them a mentor. It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn. We would make it necessary to advance to the next grade.

Gun policy driven by the assumption we need guns would probably mean our government would subsidize it. I mean, perhaps we would have government ranges where you could shoot for free or a yearly allotment of free ammunition. Sound crazy? Think about it. Education, healthcare, food, retirement, we subsidize things we value. Gun policy, driven by our need for guns would protect equal access to guns, just like we protect equal access to voting, and due process, and free speech. Our Founding Fathers believed that we did need guns. That’s why they codified our access to guns into the Constitution. But the idea of a gun policy that does justice to their intentions sounds ridiculous. What does that say about us? Even as Second Amendment advocates we can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.

Johnson has gone off the rails, contradicting himself at every turn.  He now claims that young people should be educated to use weapons, just like they are taught “necessary skills,” after earlier stating that education can be dangerous (unless maybe he is joking again; it can be hard to tell).  Then, in his most disturbing statement of all, Johnson says, “It wouldn’t matter if they didn’t want to learn.  We would make it necessary…”  Without making too many assumptions about Johnson’s political beliefs, wouldn’t this be the very type of government tyranny that Second Amendment folks are so worried about?  Johnson then calls for government subsidies for guns since “we subsidize things we value,” like education, healthcare, food, and retirement.  Again, aren’t these examples of government tyranny?  While I am surprised that he admits that those are things we value, guns clearly do not fall into the same category–at least not unless you are still buying into the false assumption that guns are something “we need.”

He concludes by saying that even the pro-gun crowd “can’t fathom a world where we would treat guns as a need.”  But, clearly he can.  Not only can he fathom it, he can come up with a dubious justification for it.  And, while this may be merely a tongue-in-cheek thought exercise, this kind of thinking can have real-world consequences.

For example, look at the recent legislation in Kentucky that seeks to arm survivors of domestic violence.  This shows the danger of treating guns as a necessity rather than as something that can be used to do great harm.  Rather than taking steps to keep people with a history of violence from gaining access to a weapon, Kentucky has now placed the burden on the abused, encouraging them to arm themselves, even though having a gun in the house drastically increases the likelihood that a domestic violence attack will result in the victim being killed.

The idea that guns make people safer is dangerous, and the idea that guns are something that people “need” is even more so.  While guns may be protected by the Second Amendment, regulations on them are also protected.  And, these regulations are necessary.  The right to own a gun is no more sacred than the right not to own one, or the right to be free from the fear of having one be used against you.  But, the NRA keeps pushing.  And, though Johnson’s proposal is admittedly ridiculous, it justifies laws like the one in Kentucky, where the answer to a problem of violence is more guns.  And, more guns should never be the answer, no matter what the problem is.