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  1. Opinion

Ruth: Fangs and foolishness

Florida officials are considering tougher rules on owning venomous snakes like cobras.
Florida officials are considering tougher rules on owning venomous snakes like cobras.
Published Dec. 30, 2015

This may very well be the bureaucratic jibber-jabber, head-slapping understatement of the year.

Florida state wildlife officials are considering tougher rules on the ownership of venomous snakes.

Considering? Thinking about? Mulling over? Really? Allowing Floridians to own deadly poisonous snakes requires rumination? This is a tough call?

Here's the full quote from Nick Wiley, executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: "We have had a couple of escapes of venomous reptiles — of cobras — in the last few months. It does make the news, it gets people nervous. I just want you to know we're on to that. We're taking a close look at the issue."

How comforting.

Well, duh, when cobras decide to make a break for it, you better believe it makes the news. And please, forgive just a tad of overreaction, but when cobras — even two of them — escape from their owners, then yes, the populace just might get a pinch … nervous. This isn't like the neighbor's Grover the Irish setter has taken an amorous interest in your Pomeranian.

Wiley wants you to know that the FWC is fully aware of the venomous snake issue in Florida and that the agency is assembling its finest paper-pushers and harrumphers to take "a close look at the issue." You're probably feeling much safer already.

How hard should it be for someone in authority to issue a regulation that simply says: "If you own a poisonous snake, you are a complete moron and thus you should not be allowed to be in possession of any reptile that is a threat to public safety."?

What is the point of owning a cobra? They don't fetch. They don't make funny faces. They aren't even happy to see you. But they do want to kill you.

Now it is entirely possible Wiley is being less than aggressively proactive in decisively banning the private ownership of cobras and other deadly critters because he fears intense pushback from the NRA — the National Reptile Association, whose motto is: "I'll Give Up My Puff Adder When They Pry It From My Cold Dead Hands."

You may find this hard to believe, but the state of Florida does issue permits for "conditional reptiles" and "venomous reptiles." What's next? Pet anthrax spores?

Even Brian Yablonski, the FWC chairman, admitted to the Panama City News Herald that he was at a loss to understand why anyone would want to own a venomous snake, adding: "With freedom comes responsibility, and somehow with the responsibility side, the wheels have fallen off a little bit."

Isn't that precious? It's rather doubtful the Founding Fathers ever considered inserting the phrase "life, liberty and the pursuit of cottonmouth moccasins" into the Declaration of Independence. Yes, freedom is simply the cat's pajamas. But there is no rational relationship between exercising one's freedom to be free with the ownership of a deadly, humorless, poisonous snake.

No, Mr. Yablonski, the wheels have not fallen off the "responsibility side" of goobers owning lethal reptiles. Common sense has been run into a venomous ditch.

Amazingly, Nick Wiley estimated it might take until the spring before the FWC is able to fully study the simpletons-with-killer-snakes problem and arrive at a series of recommendations.

There is a reason why Florida so often leads the nation in the freedom to be stupid. We have a Legislature that wants to make it easier for the citizenry to shoot one another with as little consequence for their actions as possible. We have political leadership that thinks in a state heavily dependent on tourism it is a really smart idea to allow people to roam the byways of Florida openly brandishing weapons based on the delusion there are brigands hiding behind every shrubbery ready to pounce. How welcoming.

And we have a Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that needs to take up to as much as six months to try to figure out if it is a brilliant idea to permit all manner of yahoos across the state to own an animal that can kill you in about a half-hour after being bitten. But they're so cute! What to do? What to do?

In recent months, two cobras went AWOL. The Everglades are awash in annoyed pythons.

And just earlier this month, a boater spotted a 9-foot anaconda happily cavorting in the St. Johns River. In the anaconda world, where the beasts can grow to nearly 30 feet in length, the St. Johns serpent would be known as "Shorty."

Perhaps the FWC will take a close look at the, uh, anaconda problem — one of these days.