As you may have heard by now, particularly if you are a pro-football fan, New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg in a Manhattan nightclub on Friday. While covering the Redskins-Giants game last Sunday, FOX Sports commentator and former NFL defensive tackle Tony Siragusa summed up the situation pretty well: "If you go to a place that you feel you need to carry a gun, the best thing is, stay home."
Or, as NBC's Bob Costas said, "I'd like to have somebody show me one time when an athlete was out in a public place and by having a gun, he either averted harm to himself or other innocent people. Show me one time as against the dozens of times people came to grief for carrying guns."
The comments by Siragusa and Costas make a point not only about common sense, but also about a culture of fear that the gun lobby in this country is constantly trying to generate. The gun pushers want us all to be afraid of one another so we feel the need to carry a semi-automatic pistol every time we leave the house. Apparently Burress felt that way.
Except Burress isn't an ordinary gun owner - and not because of his status as a professional football player. Until this past May, according to reports, he had a valid concealed carry permit from the state of Florida. If we are to believe the gun lobby propaganda, that made Burress the classic "law-abiding citizen" that all Americans should trust to carry a loaded, hidden handgun anywhere, at any time in public - someone who is supposedly educated about the laws regulating where and how he can carry his firearm, and who won't accidentally shoot himself in the leg.
Obviously that wasn't the case.
The gun laws in New York and New Jersey (Burress's reported state of residence) are some of the strongest in the country. They work to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, helping both states rank among the five with the lowest gun death rates in America.
On the other hand, Florida's gun laws are notoriously weak. In just this year alone, according to news reports, Florida concealed carry permit-holders have been charged in at least two murders and a manslaughter; another apparently had an illegal drug record; another was arrested for impersonating a police officer; at least four others shot themselves in gun accidents (here, here, here, and here). These are just published reports. Almost certainly, many more go unreported every month - and not just in Florida.
What these incidents show is that some people who we're led to believe are responsible, law-abiding gun owners - people like Plaxico Burress - can still exhibit dangerous behavior with firearms in public every day. The fact that most gun owners really are responsible, law-abiding citizens only highlights the risk of serious injury or death that a firearm in the wrong hands can cause.
This risk is borne by the public as much as by gun owners themselves, and the Burress incident is just one more example of how a gun kept for protection is often used against its owner instead. Yet the costs of Burress shooting himself are not borne by him alone. His team is also paying the price, in medical costs, media scrutiny and their chances on the playing field.
When it comes to the steady drumbeat of stories about guns in professional sports, John Feinstein wrote an important column in yesterday's Washington Post. While Feinstein's desire to "repeal the Second Amendment" is a nonstarter, another statement of his gets at the same point Tony Siragusa made: "If [Burress] felt he was unsafe going to the New York club two questions arise: Why go there? And, if you think you need protection wherever you go, at $7 million a year [in salary], why not hire bodyguards?"
Rather than put himself, his team, and the public at risk with a gun he didn't know how to handle, in a city that didn't allow him to carry a firearm without a proper license, perhaps Plaxico Burress should have gone somewhere else last Friday night - or just stayed home.
Hopefully, we can all learn a lesson from this - guns are dangerous and gun ownership is a serious responsibility. Any one of us has the potential to make a mistake, get angry, or get drunk, which makes carrying loaded guns in public all the more dangerous for all of us. We all need to understand the risks and responsibilities that go with guns.