Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Opinion

Column: A nation of reckless gun handlers

This weekend, after 20 years of handling snakes, Jamie Coots received his final bite. A rattler got him in the back of the hand. It happened as Coots, a Pentecostal minister, was leading the Saturday night service at his church in Kentucky. Two hours later, he was dead.

The same thing happened two years earlier in West Virginia. Mack Wolford, another serpent-handling preacher, succumbed to a rattler's venom.

After scores of deaths from messing with snakes, you'd think people would give it up. But they haven't. Three months ago, a 15-year-old boy died in Ohio. A local TV station said it happened when he brought a snake and "passed it to a 16-year-old friend." A similar tragedy occurred the same day in California, when a homeowner "was showing his friend a snake." "It's a shock that something like this could happen," said a neighbor. "I had no idea there was ever a snake in the home."

On Dec. 1, a young man died in Florida after friends brought a snake to his apartment. "They passed it around," according to the Sun-Sentinel, and the snake delivered the fatal wound when the man's girlfriend picked it up. "It was a stupid accident," said the dead man's grandfather. "It never should have happened." On Dec. 20, a 3-year-old boy died in Arizona after discovering his parents' snake. A local TV station reported that "the parents told investigators the snake was inadvertently misplaced for a short time. That's when the child found it."

On Dec. 22, a 10-year-old girl died in West Virginia. The Charleston Gazette said it happened while she and a 9-year-old friend were handling a snake. A sheriff's officer told the Gazette, "We're not blaming the parents, but we do urge everyone to make sure that your snakes are secure." On Dec. 30, a 10-year-old boy died in Alabama. The sheriff's office said he "was in a bedroom with his 12-year-old brother and 14-year-old male friend" and received the wound "while they were handling a snake."

In November, an Indiana man died while playing with a snake at an apartment complex. A 16-year-old Idaho boy died at a house "where people were handling snakes." One young man in Georgia caused an inadvertent death "while playing with a snake." Another suffered a fatal wound "while handling a snake" at a friend's house. A 42-year-old Tennessee man died when his snake bit him.

How could people be this foolish? The good news is that when it comes to snakes, they aren't. None of the stories I just told you, except for the ones about the two preachers, is literally true.

The bad news is that all of the stories did happen, and all the victims died. But they didn't die from handling snakes. They died from handling guns. All I did was change a few words in the news reports: gun to snake, gunshot to snakebite, discharged to bit.

I took these stories from Slate's archive of post-Newtown gun deaths. The archive captures a year's worth of reported fatalities, from December 2012 to December 2013. It includes more than 12,000 victims. We are killing one another, our children and ourselves. We are a nation of gun handlers, as reckless as anyone who handles serpents.

I'm not going to tell you that the solution to this madness is to pass another gun law. As the National Rifle Association points out, such laws often fail to achieve their objectives. We need more than laws. We need to change our culture. We must ask ourselves whether the comforts and pleasures of owning a firearm are worth the risks. Having a gun in your home is far more dangerous than having a snake.

Nineteen years ago, shortly after Jamie Coots began handling serpents, a bite killed a woman in his congregation. The county attorney wanted to charge Coots with violating Kentucky's law against handling snakes in church. The judge, however, refused to sign the complaint. He told the prosecutor: "You and I both know that this practice is not going to stop until either rattlesnakes or snake handlers become extinct."

That's a good bet. And it's a good bet that the snake handlers will go extinct before the snakes do. But the more frightening question is what will happen to the gun handlers. We have 300 million firearms in this country. Pray for the owners, their children and their friends.

William Saletan is the author of "Bearing Right."

© 2014 Slate

Comments
Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/25/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18