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The tragedy of Jovan Belcher

The weekend murder-suicide involving Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher and his 22-year-old girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, is a grim reminder of the toll in lives domestic violence takes, how common such tragedies are even among highly successful people who otherwise would seem to have everything to live for — and how easily a dispute can turn lethal when a handgun is within reach.

Mr. Belcher, 25 and a rising star on the Kansas City team who recently became a million-dollar player, shot and killed Ms. Perkins, with whom he had a 3-month-old daughter, on Saturday morning at their Kansas City home. He then drove to the team's practice facility a few miles away and committed suicide there in front of his astonished coach and general manager after an emotional meeting outside Arrowhead Stadium in which he thanked them profusely for all the help they had given him. Both men said they never felt threatened during their talk.

It is difficult to imagine what would drive a talented young man so obviously full of potential to kill himself and the mother of his infant child in a bizarre public spectacle. Reports over the weekend suggested the young couple had been arguing earlier that day, but a heated domestic dispute hardly explains Mr. Belcher's decision to use deadly force against himself and his family. What caused him to snap, if that is what happened, remains a mystery as baffling as it is heartbreaking.

Authorities are still investigating the circumstances surrounding the shootings, including the possibility that Mr. Belcher may not have been in his right mind at the time of his death due to a traumatic brain injury suffered on the football field. Such injuries have been suggested as contributing factors in a number of recent high-profile suicides by professional football players. But as sportscaster Bob Costas observed over the weekend during his halftime commentary on NBC's "Sunday Night Football," even if this were simply a case of domestic violence spinning out of control, the result probably would not have been as lethal if there weren't a handgun readily available.

"If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today," Mr. Costas suggested, correctly in our view. Domestic disturbances can turn deadly even without a gun — witness the case of a Baltimore woman suspected in the killing this weekend of her 2-year-old son who died of a severe laceration — but firearms assuredly raise the level of danger. Mr. Costas quoted Kansas City-based writer Jason Whitlock on the link between gun-related deaths and easy access to firearms: "Our current gun culture," Mr. Whitlock wrote, "ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy. ... 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."

The truth is that while many people keep guns because they derive an added sense of security from their presence, studies consistently show that having a gun in the house actually increases the danger that a person in the household will be a victim of gun violence.

In the end, we may never know exactly what led to the awful waste of youthful promise represented by Mr. Belcher's and Ms. Perkins' tragically premature deaths. Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn's remark that even in an age of constant connection through Facebook and Twitter we may not know what is really going on in the lives of those around us is painfully true. If there are any lessons to be taken from this tragedy, perhaps it is that no one is immune to domestic violence, and that a decision many make with the idea of keeping themselves and their families safer may only put them at greater risk.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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