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January 19, 2010

The Mailman Delivers the Truth

In recent years, there has been a great deal of controversy concerning professional athletes and guns. Whether it was New Jersey Net Jayson Williams accidentally killing his chauffeur while showing off his shotgun, L.A. Clipper Sebastian Telfair boarding the team plane with a loaded handgun in his pillowcase, New York Giant Plaxico Burress accidentally shooting himself in the leg at a nightclub, or Cleveland Cavalier Delonte West riding his motorcycle on the Capital Beltway with three loaded firearms on his body, the combination has proven to be a toxic mix that produces one horror story after another.

A recent incident that has captured national attention involves Washington Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas. On Christmas Eve, Arenas (who has a history of not complying with firearms regulations) admitted to storing four unloaded guns at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. Arenas was apparently unaware of two important facts: 1) The District of Columbia requires residents to register their firearms with the Metropolitan Police Department; and 2) The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement prohibits players from bringing firearms into league facilities or carrying them while traveling on league-related business.

Arenas originally claimed that he moved the guns to his locker after the birth of his daughter, but soon a more disturbing story was revealed. Arenas and teammate Javaris Crittenton allegedly had a scuffle during a card game on a flight back from Phoenix on December 19, in which threatening comments were exchanged. Two days later, Arenas laid out four unloaded guns in Crittenton’s locker, reportedly with a note reading, “Pick one.” Witnesses indicate Crittenton responded in the locker room by brandishing his own gun, loading it, and chambering a round.

Because of an ongoing police investigation, NBA Commissioner David Stern was initially reluctant to respond to the incident. After Arenas playfully formed his hands into pistols and pretended he was shooting at teammates before a game in Philadelphia on January 5, however, Stern announced that “[Arenas’] ongoing conduct has led me to conclude that he is not currently fit to take the court in an NBA game” and suspended him indefinitely.

Stern’s response to the incident—and the disgust expressed by Wizards management and NBA fans—was not surprising. What was surprising was the reaction of retired NBA superstar and currently-serving National Rifle Association (NRA) board member Karl “The Mailman” Malone.

Malone played in the NBA for 19 years, 18 of them for the Utah Jazz. Following his retirement he became an NRA spokesman and has served on the organization’s Board of Directors since 2001. Writing for Sports Illustrated Online days after Arenas’ suspension, Malone commented, “I don’t want Arenas made an example of, but this is not just a minor situation, and if we say that, it’s ridiculous. It’s wrong to make light of a firearm. That’s when mistakes are made ... This is nothing to be laughing about.” Malone is certainly right, and this is the very same reason Washington Wizard’s owner Abe Pollin decided to change the team’s name from the Bullets in 1995.

But what Malone said next was a shocker. “You can’t tell me one good thing that can happen with a gun in an arena, but I can tell you a thousand bad things,” he said “I’ll be the first to tell you I don’t go anywhere in my vehicle without my weapon, but at no point has it ever occurred to me to take it inside anywhere, let alone an arena.”

Apparently Malone isn’t familiar with the policies and statements of the organization he represents. The NRA is currently pushing to allow the carrying of concealed handguns in public spaces across America—schools, churches, parks, airports, metro transport, restaurants, bars, you name it. And Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s CEO, has stated in no uncertain terms, “Right-to-carry saves lives ... An armed few make the many safer, because the bad guys don't know who's armed and who's not.”

Malone missed the memo. He goes on to say:

If I were a gun dealer and somebody walked in and said, ‘I want this for protection,’ I don't know if I would sell it to that person, because that person's only thinking about another confrontation. The people who get threatened or cut off in their car and think about their guns are the people who don't need a gun … The big picture is that guns won’t protect you. If someone really wanted to get you, they would.

Doesn’t Malone realize that gun ownership is a “fundamental, God-given right”? Why would he possibly assert, “It’s a privilege to own a firearm”? Heresy!

But is Malone simply a misguided “sheep” in the NRA flock, or are his views actually representative of gun owners in America? Well-known Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently conducted a national survey that seems to support the latter contention. The poll showed that strong majorities of gun owners (and NRA members) support sensible gun policies, such as requiring background checks on all firearm sales at gun shows and prohibiting terror suspects from buying guns.

Perhaps the NRA’s leadership is as extreme as advertised. Gun owners realize that Gilbert Arenas made “a terrible mistake” by bringing guns into a public arena.

Well, most gun owners, anyway.

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