After Wednesday’s horrific mass shooting in San Bernardino, we have reached a point in 2015 where there have been more mass shootings in the Unites States than there have been days in the year. We don’t know as of this writing what pushed the alleged shooters to kill so many. We do know that the guns were bought legally. This glorified gun culture, backed by the NRA and their political labradoodles on Capitol Hill, has brought us to a frightening place.
In this light, it is revealing to look at the letter earlier this week from the National Fraternal Order of Police to the National Football League. In a classic “not The Onion” moment, the FOP suggested that off-duty police officers be allowed to carry concealed guns inside NFL stadiums. In a formal missive to Roger Goodell, FOP President Chuck Canterbury said that armed cops are our nation’s best defense for stopping a terrorist attack inside a stadium. Canterbury wrote:
Today, I am writing on behalf of the members of the Fraternal Order of Police to urge you to rescind this policy, which weakens the safety and security of NFL players, personnel and fans. The terrorist attacks and threats of attacks from organizations like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) are selecting targets based on the amount of death and injury they can inflict—mass murder and casualty events.
For everyone with a working brain stem—including NFL commissioner Roger Goodell—the belief was that this is a comically stupid idea. As Vice pointed out, off-duty police officers tend to commit violent crimes—a lot of violent crimes. The number-one contributing factor during these criminal acts was alcohol intoxication. In 10 percent of these cases, a concealed firearm was brandished or fired.
Now let’s take that statistical knowledge and apply it to an NFL game. If you have never had the pleasure, spending your Sunday immersed in the NFL fan experience certainly varies from city to city. In my experience, Denver and Seattle—with clouds of legal weed over the tailgates—tend to be mellow affairs, but only relative to everywhere else. In other cities there is a level of agro-rage among men shelling out a small fortune for tix. Yet, whether it’s the munchies in Seattle or the punchies in Baltimore, there is one common factor at every NFL game, and it’s not hot dogs. It’s booze.
Alcohol turns NFL contests into working class or even prison yard–level identity politics for middle-class fans. Put away the tie that strangles you all week, wear ripped jeans with a $150 jersey, and look for someone to hit. This article at Sporting News offers a damning data dive about violence at NFL games. To take one example, San Francisco saw 201 fights and 23 felony arrests last season (over 25 fights per home game). Replace “fight” with “glock” and see what collateral damage can really look like.
Introducing guns into this is a recipe for more tragedy and more funerals.
This should all be obvious. But in the wake of the shootings in San Bernardino as well as Colorado Springs, and in the aftermath of the video of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald being gunned down by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, the FOP’s motivations become clear. They did not release this letter because they thought the NFL would ever take it seriously, or because they think that armed, inebriated off -duty cops can fight terrorism. Instead, the letter exposes the ugly opportunism of the Fraternal Order of Police. The FOP’s number-one job at the moment is not fighting terror but fighting the perception—seen so clearly in too many cities—that police are off the leash and inflicting lethal force with impunity. The Laquan McDonald tape has opened a national window onto one police department that appears to be a gang unto itself. But, as we have seen with every tragic hashtag, no city is immune from this. The “bad apple” argument loses some of its weight when we have orchards of awfulness.
The FOP is not only using the terror attacks to rehab its image but also to advance the 0 percent gun-restriction agenda of their compatriots in the NRA. (The order would not respond to repeated requests for comment.) It is also exposing the way we view the terror of ISIS versus the terror of living in a country where mass shootings happen with a numbing regularity. The right-wing idea that brandishing a gun represents freedom from tyranny ignores that it creates a new tyranny, a tyranny of the armed against ideas and legal institutions they oppose. Ask people in Colorado Springs or San Bernardino how they would define terror.
Lastly, it is worth noting that in Paris the bomber never entered the stadium because security personnel—some of whom were Arab and Muslim—did their job. Let the security personnel here do the same. As for off-duty police officers, they should not be armed inside NFL games. Hell, after watching that video from Chicago, they should not be armed outside of NFL games either.