McLane: Several Eagles, for protection and hunting, own guns

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Eagles’ Josh Huff reaches for a ball at Eagles practice at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia, PA on November 2, 2016.

Josh Huff was under the impression that every professional athlete owned a gun, or at least that was what the former Eagles wide receiver said last week when asked why he needed hollow-point bullets.

"I'm a professional athlete," Huff said a day after he was arrested on gun, marijuana possession, and other charges. "What professional athlete don't have a gun?"

But an informal polling of 37 players from the Eagles' 53-man roster found only 18 who owned a firearm. While it is difficult to get an accurate reading from a random poll, Gallup has had the national percentage of gun ownership somewhere around the low 40s over the last 50 years.

So the 49 percent of Eagles asked who said they possess at least one firearm would have the team slightly above the national average. Even if each of the remaining 16 players not polled said yes to ownership, Huff's generalization about professional athletes would still be way off the mark.

And yet, many other players agreed with Huff, at least on principle. Safety Malcolm Jenkins and center Jason Kelce said they believed the majority of the Eagles locker room consisted of gun owners.

"There's no need to really get into whether it's more justified for us as athletes to have them," Jenkins said. "It's our American right, and some guys choose to practice it."

But the Eagles have had two incidents involving guns over the last month. Linebacker Nigel Bradham was arrested a month ago when a Miami airport X-ray machine detected a pistol inside his carry-on bag. Police concluded that Bradham had unknowingly left the Glock 40 in his bag, but the charge is still pending because his July arrest for assault was also unresolved.

Huff was pulled over for speeding on the Walt Whitman Bridge on Tuesday and during the stop was found to have an unloaded 9MM Smith & Wesson, six hollow-point bullets, and a small amount of marijuana in his car.

The gun is registered in Texas and because of New Jersey's strict gun laws, Huff is facing potential jail time for the gun and the bullets. The Eagles released the wide receiver on Thursday. Multiple players said that the NFL and the team have mandatory classes on gun rules and regulations when players enter the league.

"When I first got here they do a good job of letting new guys know, like: 'Hey, just because you have a carry concealed permit in whatever state you're from and that carries over into Pennsylvania, that doesn't carry over to New Jersey,' " said Kelce, who said he is not a gun owner. "I remember hearing that right when I got here from the Eagles."

Huff could be an isolated incident. Bradham, who owns multiple firearms, said he doesn't have any guns with him in Philadelphia because he doesn't feel it's necessary.

"I only go from here to home," Bradham said from the Eagles practice facility. "I ain't going anywhere in between. I'm not trying to be out and about. That's not what I'm up here for. I'm up here to play ball."

But when so many own guns should it behoove the Eagles to do more to prevent a future occurrence? Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that the organization could do more to instruct players on the various state laws. The New Jersey resident said that he owns rifles for hunting.

"I don't necessarily understand why they need guns outside of maybe sport hunting or whatever," Pederson said on Wednesday. "But we just continue to educate our players and try to curb it the best we can."

Many of the players who said they owned guns come from southern or Midwestern states, where gun ownership is more widespread and laws are more lax. Guard Allen Barbre said that he has at least 20 various guns because "it's my constitutional right."

"I have pistols for protection. In Missouri I always got them with me," said Barbre, who owns a 100-acre plot of land. "Checking cows - if a coyote is messing with a cow I have a right to shoot it."

"Protection" was a common response many players gave for possessing guns. Huff, before he was released, said that he had felt his life was threatened before and that he couldn't trust people from his native Houston because "there's always someone out to get you."

"I have a wife and I have a son at home," Huff said. "My job is to protect them at all costs, and my job is to protect myself as well."

Bradham echoed Huff and listed protecting his family - he has a girlfriend and son - and hunting as reasons he owns guns. But he also said that he felt compelled to protect himself because he has "some money."

"So you're kind of a target to some people," Bradham said. "We can't act like we're not. That's one of my reasons. I have a nice car, nice clothes."

Bradham and many of the gun owners cited Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who was shot and killed by burglars in his Florida home nine years ago, as an example of how professional athletes can be targets. Former Eagle Jerome McDougle was once shot in the stomach while in his car during an attempted robbery. It should be noted that Taylor had a firearm in his house and McDougle was armed.

One Eagles player, who doesn't own guns, requested anonymity because he said he feared that public knowledge of this fact could make him more susceptible to criminals looking to rob him.

"My family was never big on guns," said safety Rodney McLeod, who doesn't own a gun. "But I understand why other people do have them, especially in our profession, more so for protection than for any other reason. But some use them for hobbies - hunting and things like that."

Tackle Matt Tobin said he uses firearms strictly for hunting. Quarterback Carson Wentz has openly talked about his affinity for hunting deer and geese for game. Defensive end Bryan Braman said that he owns a wide variety of guns for both hunting and protection, but like Bradham, leaves them home in Texas.

Braman said he was a fierce advocate of the second amendment, but that he promotes strict gun laws because responsible gun owners are willing to go through the necessary hoops. He said he worked in an armory during two offseasons and only keeps one firearm at his home.

"I have a tactical shotgun that I might use a little for house defense, but I'm pretty strict with what I have," Braman said. "You don't have to use rifles or pistols in your home because bullets can go through walls and enter family members."

jmclane@phillynews.com

@Jeff_McLane

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