Paul Helmke (left) with Plaxico Burress (center), and his wife, Tiffany Burress, National Urban League President Marc H. Morial, and Former Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy.

Months before he entered prison in September 2009 for carrying an illegal gun, Plaxico Burress said he realized he had made the worse decision of his life when he armed himself before going to a popular New York City nightclub. Burress believed, mistakenly, that he was protecting himself from violence. But as we’ve witnessed over and over in this country, the presence of a gun increases the risk of violence. It is no peacemaker.

Burress, as most people now know, accidentally shot himself in the thigh when his handgun slipped down a pant leg and was discharged. He was released from Oneida Correctional Facility on June 6 and is now able to look forward to playing professional football again because he got lucky; the bullet stopped a couple of life-saving millimeters from a major artery.

The man who caught the winning Super Bowl touchdown for the New York Giants in 2007 is prepared now to tell everyone not to bank on luck. Burress contacted the Brady Center last year and told us that when he was released from prison, he wanted to spend his time warning young people, especially, about the risks and dangers of guns.

He told us that his direct, and painful, experience with the gun in that nightclub in 2008 had taught him a lot of lessons. It had taught him, ultimately, that guns make everything worse. And as time unfolded behind bars, his experience helped him understand that once he was free, he would have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of children, athletes, the greater sports community, and among everyday Americans.

We’re pleased to work with Plaxico on this life-saving issue. The Brady Center is the nation’s largest public interest organization dedicated to ending gun violence in America. As a non-profit, 501(c)3, we work to bring justice to gun violence victims in the courts. We educate Americans about the risks and dangers of guns. We fight in the courts to make sure strong gun laws remain on the books.

We have joined forces with people from the faith community, Hollywood, law enforcement, the medical community, education, and other segments of society. We’re happy to now add another voice to our movement to address the gun violence in this country which makes everyone, including children, a target.

Children 15 years and under in America are 12 times more likely to die from guns than children in the next 25 largest industrialized countries combined. African-American children and teens are almost five times as likely as their white peers to be killed by firearms. Community violence, including gun violence, has the equivalent emotional impact on children as war or natural disaster.

Gun violence in America is clearly a disastrous problem – but it’s one we can do more to prevent.

America needs more voices like Plaxico’s speaking on behalf of sensible gun laws and sensible behavior around guns. America needs Plaxico, other athletes, and sports professionals to be active in campaigns against gun violence. Plaxico will occupy a new and important place in this conversation.

He has agreed to work with us to share:

  • His life’s journey, including how his decision to use a gun illegally injured himself, endangered many, and led to his incarceration;
  • The lessons he has learned about the consequences of misusing a gun and the illegal possession of a gun;
  • The inherent risks and dangers of guns; and
  • The importance of abiding by gun laws.

I will have more to tell you about this partnership in the coming weeks. But for now, I am eager to see this man who has proven he can be a giant in football become a giant in the cause of helping save lives from being lost to gun violence.