The NFL's principled stand on gun control

Michael Brick

Somehow the National Football League, our country’s foremost purveyor of wanton violence for fun and profit, has managed to position itself as an important voice of reason on gun control.

Now more than ever, as the two terrifying specters of mass shootings and global terrorism merge into one, we need to hear its message.

NFL officials have in no way chosen the easy path. They are standing up against a sympathetic opponent with strong and well-intentioned arguments.

For the past few years, unions representing law enforcement officers have been urging league officials to allow off-duty officers to carry loaded weapons into pro football games. The Fraternal Order of Police, supported by local unions across the country, argues that more armed officers will provide faster response times to confront an armed assailant.

The NFL has responded by pointing out that its stadiums are already well patrolled. In a 2013 letter to the union, league security chief Jeffrey Miller said 500 civilian security guards and 150 on-duty officers work every game. They recognize one another and carry out specific assignments.

Both sides agreed to disagree until last month, when the terror attacks in Paris — including bombs detonated during a soccer game — turned the world’s attention to the emerging threat of mass shootings augmenting the old weapons of hijacking aircraft. The national union wrote back to the NFL, urging officials to reconsider as groups like ISIS target large gatherings.

Here in Texas, much of this debate has gone overlooked. Citing state law that seems to supersede league policy, officers have been able to take their weapons into AT&T Stadium and NRG Stadium.

When I called Charley Wilkison, executive director of the Coalition of Law Enforcement Agencies of Texas, he urged the league to look to our state as an example. Off-duty officers, he argued, know how to identify themselves to their colleagues in an emergency and quickly help end the threat.

“They’re going to buy a ticket,” Wilkison said. “They’re going to be there in the crowd. They’re football fans. They want the game to go on and want things to be peaceful.”

Both sides want safety. Both sides make compelling arguments. But there is something bigger at stake here, and you can see it, too, right here in Texas. Since the last legislative session, when lawmakers opened college campuses to firearms, utter confusion has reigned.

Texas Christian University opted out of the law. The University of Houston called a public meeting to discuss the issue. The Faculty Council at UT-Austin approved a resolution to ban guns in “educational spaces.”

Another new law seeking to expand gun rights has produced similar results, leaving local officials unsure of their authority to ban guns in government buildings. Struggling to respond, Harris County officials have started evaluating each of their 150 buildings separately. Across the state, as my colleague Lauren McGaughy reported, various unions representing government officials have joined the fray.

For a nation awash in 300 million guns, the time for quibbling over exceptions and loopholes has passed. Private groups need to retain the clear right to turn guns away. The time has come to place our trust in our strong, on-duty armed police departments. We need to let go of our fear. We need to listen, believe it or not, to the NFL.

“This Sporting Life,” by Michael Brick, runs every Wednesday in Gray Matters. Bookmark Gray Matters. Somehow, our country’s foremost purveyor of wanton violence for fun and profit has managed to position itself as an important voice of reason.