National Football League head coaches are a tight-lipped breed who would rather say something nice about a sportswriter than comment on anything outside their narrow purview. But Sean Payton had to speak out.
"Two hundred years from now, they're going to look back and say, 'What was that madness about?,'" said the New Orleans Saints head coach about the gun sickness that devastates the United States. The coach was saddened and angered by the shooting death of former New Orleans defensive end Will Smith, and as he said in a telephone interview with USA Today, "If this opinion in Louisiana is super unpopular, so be it."
Mr. Payton arrived at his opinions on gun violence long before the respected Mr. Smith, who was going to join the Saints' coaching staff this fall, was gunned down on April 9 in an apparent road rage incident. The coach, who grew up in suburban Chicago, told USA Today that he was influenced by his father, who described to his son the gun-related tragedies he encountered in his job as an insurance claims adjuster. Mr. Payton said he was later influenced by the time he spent playing for a British football league.
"I've heard people argue that everybody needs a gun," Mr. Payton told the newspaper. "That's madness...There are places like England where even the cops don't have guns."
The specific circumstances of the shooting, which began with a minor car accident, remain unclear. Mr. Smith apparently had a gun in his car, which didn't save him, undermining the claim of gun apologists that the answer to gun violence is "good guys" with guns. The attorney for the man charged with killing Mr. Smith asserts that the former player displayed the gun, which may enable his client to employ the disgraceful "stand your ground" defense used infamously by George Zimmerman in Florida to avoid jail time for gunning down Trayvon Martin.
If Mr. Smith wasn't a well-known athlete, his shooting death wouldn't have even made the news. Coach Payton observed to USA Today that shooting deaths are common in New Orleans' poorer neighborhoods, and it took the shooting of a local celebrity in one of the city's wealthier districts to attract the interest of a media and public that would have shrugged indifferently otherwise. "Our city is broken," declared the coach.
So is the nation. In a potentially promising step toward healing, however, a Connecticut Superior Court judge last week ruled that a lawsuit against the Remington Arms Company filed by families of 10 victims of the 2012 Newtown school shooting could continue. The families maintain that the company "unethically" and "immorally" promoted a weapon designed for military use to civilian buyers. Gun manufacturers and dealers whose irresponsible behavior leads to deaths must be accountable.
Last Thursday, on the same day that lobbyists from the National Shooting Sports Foundation came to Washington to meet with congressmen, families of gun violence advocates and groups advocating tougher measurers also came to Washington. Among those who spoke at a rally was Senator Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, who decried Republican efforts to prevent the Centers for Disease Control from even studying the gun violence issue. "Let's give the medical, scientific and public-health community the resources they need to help end the gun violence scourge," urged the senator.
We hope that Mr. Payton wasn't correct when he implied that it will take two centuries before Americans look back at the gun mayhem that costs 90 lives a day in the United States and wonder how that was allowed to happen. Polls indicate that most Americans support tougher gun violence laws, but a National Rifle Association concerned only with its clients, and congressmen bought off by and fearful of the NRA, won't allow it to happen. This is discouraging, but the fight for gun sanity must continue to be fought. Lives depend on it.