As it always does in America, the New Year arrived the way the old year went out: with a bang, or the constant threat of one.
The day after Christmas former major league pitcher Jeff Reardon allegedly robbed a jewelry store in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., after passing a note to a clerk that said he had a gun. (Police never found one.)
On New Year's Eve ex--NBA center Charles Shackleford was arrested in Johnston County, N.C., and charged with carrying a concealed gun. It was his first appearance in the news since he testified in the trial of Rae Carruth, the Carolina Panther convicted of conspiring to have his pregnant girlfriend shot to death.
A few hours later former Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett allegedly robbed two people in Columbus, Ohio, after showing them a gun in his waistband.
Forty-eight hours after that, TCU freshman kicker Kasey Davis was found shot to death in his car.
Five days later recently sacked Virginia Tech quarterback Marcus Vick was charged in Suffolk, Va., after allegedly waving a gun at three hecklers.
And that's just a tiny sampling from 14 unremarkable days in the life of America, where the number of guns (200 million, by the NRA's estimate) is fast approaching the number of people (298 million). That's a fact even the most incurious person who reads nothing but the sports section will have sensed by now, as jocks and Glocks are firmly twinned in the popular culture. So commonplace is the coupling that it seems only natural that 10 members of this season's Chicago Bears held an outing--punctuated by a violent brawl--at an FBI shooting range. But then an informal survey two years ago by The New York Times concluded that at least 50% of NFL players own guns, which makes every team the Packers.
Would we know that Tyree Wallace died on Dec. 22 in a shootout with Philadelphia police if he hadn't been the cousin of Pistons star Rasheed Wallace? Likewise with that other tragedy, discovered the same day? James Dungy posted images of guns on his profile page at the teen website myspace.com, which was taken down after the 18-year-old son of the Indianapolis Colts' coach committed suicide. By all accounts, Dungy's website photo--his face obscured by a bandanna--was not reflective of his life or personality, the bandanna literally a mask of bravado. But it points out once again the seductiveness of guns to teenagers, for whom their effects are the most insidious.
A survey of Boston high school students released last year by the Harvard School of Public Health had some rather startling, shall we say, bullet points: Half of the boys responded that getting a gun would be "very or fairly easy"; nearly a third had a family member killed in a shooting, stabbing or beating; and a quarter had witnessed someone being shot in the previous year. The first homicide victim of 2006 in Boston was a Franklin, N.H., high school junior who had played on the girls' basketball and field hockey teams. She was found shot on Jan. 8.
According to a 2004 report by the Children's Defense Fund, "The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that in 2001, 2,911 children and teens were killed by gunfire in the United States--which is one child every three hours, eight children every day, more than 50 children every week." And four times as many were said to be wounded.
On a single night in suburban Dallas last October, a 17-year-old was killed and six others wounded by gunfire after a high school football game in Richardson, while three students were wounded after a football game at Duncanville High.
Last Thursday, Gary Joe Kinne--the Canton (Texas) High football coach who was shot in the stomach last April by an angry parent--was hired as Baylor's linebackers coach. Meanwhile, a court last week rejected former Baylor basketball player Carlton Dotson's appeal of his conviction for murdering teammate Patrick Dennehy at a makeshift shooting range in 2003. Largely unnoticed was the 16-year-old boy shot last week outside Mount Pleasant High in Delaware, after the 4:30 p.m. jayvee game.
These stories read like a reverse auction, the ages falling lower and lower. And so on Jan. 6--sometime between the death of Kasey Davis and the arrest of Marcus Vick--13-year-old Coby Cureton was found dead at home in Monroe, N.C. The "starting quarterback for the Monroe Middle School Redhawks" died of an accidental gunshot to the head, the family told The Charlotte Observer in a story that is all the more heartbreaking for its brevity. "He was a budding basketball star," the paper reported, "with aspirations to play in college and the pros."
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