The Difference a Gun Makes

By now, we have all heard the story. Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed the mother of his child, Kasandra Perkins, on Saturday, before turning the gun on himself in front of his coaches at Arrowhead Stadium. Tragically, stories like that of Kasandra Perkins and Jovan Belcher happen every day in America — three women on average are murdered daily by a current or former intimate partner.

NBC sports commentator Bob Costas was right in his assessment of the deadliness of guns in domestic disputes, as he mourned the loss of Belcher and Perkins during the Kansas City Chiefs game on Sunday. He quoted an article written by reporter Jason Whitlock:

Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it. In the coming days, Jovan Belcher’s actions, and their possible connection to football will be analyzed….But here is what I believe. If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.

A backlash from Rush Limbaugh and other pundits ensued. Limbaugh espoused that the gun was not the reason Belcher killed his girlfriend, that he could have strangled her instead. A Fox news anchor argued we shouldn’t be concerned about firearms because Belcher could have used a butcher knife. These commentators threw up their hands, saying that there’s nothing we can do to prevent batterers from killing.

Thankfully, those who work with domestic violence victims do not accept this false conclusion. Part of the job of a police officer, social worker, attorney, or judge who must intervene in a domestic violence situation is to assess which pattern of violence is most likely to turn from repeated assaults to homicide. Numerous tools have been developed to help assess the particular risk of lethality in each situation. Domestic violence death review teams meticulously pore over details of dead victims’ relationships with their batterers to determine what factors they have in common. It is no surprise that a batterer’s access to firearms has been found to be one of the greatest predictors that an abusive relationship will turn fatal.

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