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Costas: We need to talk about America's gun culture

In his first television interview since his controversial commentary on the halftime show of NBC's Sunday night football coverage, sportscaster Bob Costas stood

In his first television interview since his controversial commentary on the halftime show of NBC's Sunday night football coverage, sportscaster Bob Costas stood by his remarks on the murder-suicide committed by Kansas City Chiefs linebacker Jovan Belcher. He emphasized that he was not calling for gun control but rather wanted to push for a candid conversation about America's gun culture.

Costas has been under fire, much of it coming from right-wing conservatives such as Herman Cain and Mike Huckabee, for promoting a political agenda, despite his agreement with NBC that he has the freedom to editorialize on sport-related subjects. Costas told msnbc's Lawrence O'Donnell Tuesday night that he "only had about 90 seconds--and half of that, or close to half of it, was devoted to another observation"; he said the constricted time-frame may be one reason his comments were open to misinterpretation.

"Where some people may have misunderstood my comments was I took one aspect of it, as expressed by a writer, whom I quoted verbatim. I took one aspect of it. I do not think this is the only aspect or possible aspect. There’s clearly a domestic violence aspect. There’s clearly the question, as I alluded to in a general way, of what effect playing football--which we know has debilitating effects, mind and body, at least for some--what effect that might have had. What effect alcohol and drugs might have had. And another aspect of that is easy access to guns and a gun culture. And it was that aspect–the gun culture--that I focused on. Not to the exclusion of the others but just because I didn’t have all that much time."

He also conceded in a lengthy radio interview on The Dan Patrick Show earlier on Tuesday that he made a mistake by leaving the gun-control discussion "open for too much miscommunication." During halftime, Costas quoted Fox Sports columnist Jason Whitlock and ended his commentary on Whitlock's thesis: "If Jovan Belcher didn't possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.''  Many of his hearers (including  Herman Cain and Ted Nugent) launched a social media attack on Costas, expressing their outrage that the sportscaster had used halftime to make what they saw as a partisan political statement. The clip was uploaded to YouTube where it went viral, attracting scores of angry comments. FOX News hosts called for Costas' termination. Costas addressed those comments tonight on msnbc's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

"What I was talking about here, and I’m sorry if that wasn’t clear to everyone, was a gun culture. I never mentioned the Second Amendment, I never used the words gun control. People inferred that. Now, do I believe that we need more comprehensive and more sensible gun control legislation? Yes I do. That doesn’t mean repeal the Second Amendment. That doesn’t mean a prohibition on someone having a gun to protect their home and their family. It means sensible and more comprehensive gun control legislation. But even if you had that, you would still have the problem of what Jason Whitlock wrote about, and what I agree with. And that is a gun culture in this country.It demonstrates itself in different ways. It demonstrates itself in the Wild West, Dirty Harry mentality of people who actually believe that if a number of people were armed in the theater in Aurora, they would have been able to take down this nutjob in body armor and military style artillery. When in fact almost every policeman in the country would tell you that that would have only increased the tragedy and added to the carnage."

NBC News confirmed details in a Kansas City Star article outlining the last hours for both Jovan Belcher and long-time girlfriend and mother to their three-month-old daughter, Kassandra Perkins. The police report from the Kansas City Police Department shows that Belcher legally owned several guns, and police are testing each one, including the gun found with Belcher's body, along with shell casings and bullets. Investigators indicate the couple's history of financial pressures and personal issues was widely-known, and that the Chiefs were providing counseling for them. Still, it wasn't enough--the couple had a unresolved fight at 1 a.m. the night before. Kansas City police found Belcher asleep in his Bentley on Armour Boulevard. Police believe Belcher arrived home around 7 a.m. the following morning when another argument ensued. This one prompted the shooting.

Belcher's mother, who had been watching their baby the night before, heard gunfire as she stood in the kitchen. She rushed to the master bedroom where she found Belcher kissing the dying Perkins on the forehead. Belcher got in his car and headed to his other home--Arrowhead Stadium--where the Chiefs had a 9:30 a.m. team meeting. He stepped out of his Bentley with a gun pointed at his head, telling Chiefs General Manager Scott Pioli, "I did it. I killed her."

Pioli attempted to dissuade Belcher from taking his own life. The linebacker thanked the manager for everything he had done for him. Chiefs Head Coach Romeo Crennel and linebackers coach Gary Gibbs rushed to the parking lot and asked him to put the weapon down. The men heard police sirens and Belcher started to retreat with the gun still pointed to his head. "I got to go," Belcher reportedly told his coaches. "I can't be here." And with a single gunshot, Belcher took his own life.

Costas said it was not unique for an athlete's life to be ruined by the availability of guns.

"Give me one example of an athlete--I know it’s happened in society--but give me one example of a professional athlete who by virtue of his having a gun, took a dangerous situation and turned it around for the better. I can’t think of a single one. But sadly, I can think of dozens where by virtue of having a gun, a professional athlete wound up in a tragic situation."

Costas believes he helped further a much-needed conversation about America's gun culture.

"The ready, easy availability of guns makes mayhem easier…The easy availability of guns makes this sort of thing just far more likely to occur. If somebody points out that the country has a problem with nutrition and obesity, that doesn’t mean they’re going to ban fast food.  But they are making you aware of some of the dangers and hoping to moderate peoples’ behavior. And if nothing else, even if some people disagree with me or misinterpret what I said, if it started a conversation then I think that’s a good thing."