Jamie Coots, a religious snake handler who gained notoriety as the subject of National Geographic's Snake Salvation, died last week due to an untreated rattlesnake bite. In light of this, Slate's William Saletan wants to know when we're going to stop the fatal madness surrounding snakes, er, rather, guns.
Saletan highlights a handful of accidental deaths in the last few months, replacing firearms with snakes in each story. His point is that "gun handlers" are "reckless" and "having a gun in your home is far more dangerous than having a snake." To be fair, Saletan acknowledges that anti-gun legislation is often counterproductive, so instead he advocates for a cultural reevaluation of the role of guns in the U.S.
His claims run headlong against conventional wisdom, though. Saletan fabricates an image of gun owners as comparable to a fringe religious group in which members regularly and deliberately exposes themselves to live, provoked animals in hopes that they will survive if bitten. The firearm community simply does not behave like this. Gun policy advocacy groups, shooting instructors, journalists in the community, and individuals on forums–well aware of the power of their tools–all constantly advocate for responsible and safe use and storage of guns.
And, Saletan's argument overlooks widely available data that could provide context to his sensational claims. The Center for Disease Control ranks accidental firearm discharge below 116 other leading causes of death in America, including diabetes, nutritional deficiencies, and hernias. Fatal organ potrusions just don't make for the same kind of moralistic finger-wagging. Perhaps Saletan meant to give himself a wider berth and include all firearm-related deaths (homicides, suicides, and accidents). These account for 10.3 deaths per 100,000 Americans, which is still fewer than motor vehicle accidents and drug poisonings.
Saletan calls upon the owners of America's 300 million guns to choose between their weapons and their safety. This is simply a false dichotomy. Widespread gun ownership and low violent crime rates, as demonstrated by a recent Harvard study and FBI statistics, go hand-in-hand.