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Philly pro athletes talk about guns

In his wallet, Lito Sheppard carries his laminated permit to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida. It does him no good in New Jersey, where the Eagles cornerback lives during the football season, but it means that he and all 17 of his registered guns are legal back home.

In his wallet, Lito Sheppard carries his laminated permit to carry a concealed weapon in the state of Florida. It does him no good in New Jersey, where the Eagles cornerback lives during the football season, but it means that he and all 17 of his registered guns are legal back home.

Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress was allegedly not as diligent about following gun laws. Burress accidently shot himself in the thigh last Saturday night at club in Manhattan. His concealed weapons permit, issued in Florida, reportedly expired in May, although it wouldn't have been valid in New York anyway.

Burress' gunshot wound apparently is not serious. The felony charges he faces for carrying a loaded and illegal weapon are serious.

While New York City police investigate, Burress was suspended by the Giants for the rest of the season, including today's game against the Eagles.

In the wake of the Burress incident, The Inquirer asked several athletes from Philadelphia-area pro teams about whether they own guns.

The states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania do not allow public access to lists of those with gun permits.

Sheppard said he is well aware of New Jersey's strict gun laws - the state doesn't offer reciprocity to gun owners holding permits in other states - and, therefore, keeps his weapons in Florida.

Still, Sheppard said that he estimates that "90 percent" of his teammates are also gun owners. Sheppard suggested some, like defensive end Trent Cole, have weapons for sport, but most others have them for protection.

"It's just about how responsible you are handling those types of situations," Sheppard said. "I just pray for the best of everybody and just hope nobody gets put in that predicament" where they have to fire a gun.

Whatever the percentage of gun owners, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb said he is not among them.

"It would be registered if I did," McNabb said this week.

"I don't own any weapons unless you call a couple of Louisville sluggers and aluminum baseball bats some of my weapons," McNabb said. "But if you come into my house, I am going to turn into Barry Bonds on you."

Potential targets

Professional athletes often say they feel like targets when they go out because of their fame and money.

"This is America and people should be able to wear whatever they want, diamonds, jewelry, whatever they want, and not have to worry about it," Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said. "But the point is people are going to get after you and it's sad but I guess it comes with the territory."

Does Mikell carry a gun?

"I don't carry one with me, but I have one," Mikell said. "It stays in the house. If I'm out and about that's one thing, but if you come in my house that's a different story."

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver and north Philadelphia native Marvin Harrison was involved in an incident this summer. A man was shot and police reportedly said a gun involved belonged to Harrison. Police have not said Harrison is a suspect, but the investigation continues.

Some athletes choose to buy and carry guns, legally registered or not. Some avoid threatening situations. Some grew up around weapons, either in dangerous inner-city situations or rural areas where hunting is common. Some want no part of weapons.

"I was always told when a crime is being committed that you're more likely to have a crime being committed against you with your own weapon," Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "They get it away from you and that weapon is going to be used against you. It's not something I'd ever bring into my home."

John Hageman, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Philadelphia, said that an agent from the bureau had, at the 76ers' request, made a presentation to the team about firearm safety several years ago.

"I've been following it a little bit, but that has nothing to do with me," Sixers guard Andre Miller said of the Burress news. "What Plaxico does is none of my business. I don't own a gun."

Miller's teammates Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams and Willie Green also said they do not own guns.

"I understand why guys own guns," Green said. "I understand the lifestyle. But it isn't my choice because I don't own one."

Phillies starting pitcher Brett Myers went to a shooting range on an off day during the playoffs.

Flyers coach John Stevens has been in professional hockey for more than two decades and said he has never seen or known of anyone in the sport who has carried a handgun.

"There are some guys who are avid hunters," Stevens said of NHL players. "They grew up being outdoorsmen, and they fish and hunt, but it's for the sport, and I don't ever know of anyone who has carried a concealed weapon in my time in hockey."

Gun laws and environment

Many NHL players come from Canada, which generally has stricter gun-control laws than the United States.

Asked if coming from Canada has contributed to guns being less prevalent among NHL players, Stevens said: "There's an awful lot of U.S.-born players and European players playing as well. I don't know. I know a lot of these kids grew up in small towns and grew up playing hockey, and they're in rinks all the time and traveling with their families, and they just never got exposed to it [guns]. Maybe that's just not part of their upbringing and they've never seen it - and if you've never seen it, you end up not being a part of it."

Like Stevens, Coburn said he has never known an NHL player who had a handgun, thanks in part to gun-control laws in Canada.

Coburn said a lot of hockey players grew up in small towns in Canada and that because of that culture - and the feeling of a safe environment - guns were never part of their lives.

"Maybe there's a different culture [in football and basketball]. What your teammates do has a lot of effect on what you think is acceptable," Coburn said. "And if there's a certain culture in your dressing room that it's acceptable, I think it definitely has a role in your decision-making.

"I grew up in a small, rural area. A lot of the [hockey] guys grew up in smaller towns. Protection of your home was the furthest thing from your mind. I don't remember locking our doors to our house ever."

Coburn laughed.

"Unless my parents were mad at me and for some reason they locked me out," he said.

Coburn lived in small towns in Western Canada and it was unnecessary to lock car and house doors.

"I grew up in three small towns in Saskatchewan. . had 200 people, one had 75 people and then when my parents got divorced, my mom took us kids and we moved to a town with about 1,500 people," he said, adding that he always felt a sense of security.

The Eagles' Trent Cole said that, growing up with more lax gun laws in Ohio, he learned to shoot a gun at an early age. He remains an avid hunter; after Thanksgiving, when coach Andy Reid gave the players a couple of days off, Cole went to Maryland to shoot deer.

"Check the gun laws in Ohio," he said, "and you'll see how I feel about guns."

In September, the Ohio Supreme Court wiped out local gun-control laws by ruling that a statewide law giving Ohioans the right to carry concealed weapons takes precedence. The Columbus Dispatch reported that the ruling might also invalidate assault-weapons restrictions in cities, including Columbus and Cleveland.

Never a question

Sheppard said growing up in Jacksonville, Fla., it was a foregone conclusion that he would have a gun. Had he not made it to the NFL, Sheppard said he planned on joining the military or the secret service.

"That's one of my true, good hobbies: I can shoot real good," Sheppard said.

But only for recreation. Although he used to carry a gun with him when he'd go out in Florida, Sheppard said he no longer does. He doesn't want to attract attention or trouble because he's carrying a gun, in part because Sheppard and his wife have a young son and a daughter.

"I think that plays a big role in it," Sheppard said. "What do you have to lose, and does the good outweigh the bad?

"Like I said, I've been collecting since I was able to buy my first one, and coming from different places, the mentality is different. Even growing up in certain backgrounds, you just see certain things if you've lived in certain things, and that forms a sense of security that you feel like you need to take. Sometimes you just have to be bigger than the situation, and I think that's where a lot of people kind of get a little screwed up."