Feb. 19, 2014

Snake Handlers Are Just Like ... Gun Owners?

To Slate, the death of a snake handler means we need to get rid of guns.

When Jamie Coots, the Pentecostal snake handler who rose to fame as the subject of National Geographic’s “Snake Salvation,” died from an untreated rattlesnake bite, Slate’s William Saletan took the opportunity to call for gun control. Apparently, any excuse will do. Saletan begins by asking, “How many people must die before the U.S. gives up this insane practice?”

He recounts story after story of accidental deaths caused by guns but replaces each instance of the word “gun” with the word “snake.” “I took these stories from Slate’s archive of post-Newtown gun deaths,” he writes. “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.”

We note that Saletan doesn’t mention gang-related murders, which account for a significant number of those 12,000 victims. And even using his number, more Americans are killed by cars and drug poisonings than guns.

“We need more than laws,” Saletan concludes. “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.”

To be sure, he recounts horrific incidents of negligent gun handling, and it’s shameful that each death could and should have been prevented by simple respect for the tool being used. Every gun owner should have the sense to realize they’re handling a deadly weapon and to act accordingly. The vast majority of gun owners do. But libeling all of them as irresponsible and likening them to snake handlers is inexcusable. Snake handlers deliberately play with a dangerous animal – one capable of acting on its own – practically asking to be bitten so they can display their great “faith.” Law-abiding gun owners, by contrast, handle and properly store an inanimate tool that secures their safety and, more important, their Liberty.

As a parting mental exercise, suppose we recounted story after story of children’s deaths but replaced the word “shot” with “aborted.” How would Saletan respond to that? After all, he says, “We are killing … our children.” One million of them every year.

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