Snake Kills Man! When Will We Stop Snakes, er, Guns?! Asks Slate


Tjook / Foter / CC BY-ND

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. 

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  1. Saletan calls upon the owners of America’s 300 million guns to choose between their weapons and their safety.

    Give me safety! A nice warm blanket! And hot cocoa! Here, take all the means I have to defend myself! GIVE ME SAFETY!

    1. Don’t forget the jammies and hipster hornrims

    2. Funny, my guns remain unloaded and no more dangerous than metal bars unless I take some action to change that. Also, the powder is extremely stable. I have to work to make the charge go off. I’m less afraid of my guns than I am of my circular saw. I’m more likely to disrespect the dangers of saw handling.

    3. When did so many Americans become such pussies? It’s so depressing.

    4. I *have* chosen between my gun and my safety. That’s why I have the gun in the *first* place – for my safety.


  3. Clicking on a Slate article was your first mistake.

  4. Better to die with a phone in your hand than to live with a gun in your hand.

    1. “If you would like to report a crime, press 1 now, If you have been in an accident press 2 now, If you are being attacked, press 3 now. If you are using a rotary phone please hold for the next available operator.”

      1. “… Said operator will sign you up for an obamaphone so you can call on a touch-tone phone”

  5. 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

    Because in his fevered mind, that is how he sees gun owners. Seriously. Because idiots like him are animists and the guns take on a supernatural, evil aura. These people are not intelligent; they are like cavemen grunting at the moon. They are not rational or reasoned, they are supernatural-believing morons.

    1. Because guns are just like snakes and can jump up and attack you of their own volition.

      1. To these idiots, they are.

      2. Only guns with evil black plastic on them. Wooden stocks makes guns safe.

        1. Not really, but they’ll pretend they’re OK with fuddguns because they don’t want to alienate the remaining union dipshit gun owners.

          1. Thats true, if they ever got another assault weapons ban through we would then start hearing news reports on how hunters are buying bolt-action sniper rifles like the R700, which are used by the U.S. Marines to kill targets over 1000 yards away.

            Plus it’s action is based off the Mauser used by those evil Nazis.

            The right news report can make anything sound scary to the average mouth breathing retard.

            1. And that Mauser action was based off of a door bolt. Only deranged paranoid loons would want to bolt their doors!

      3. well, everyone gets slide burn at least once, right? Or Garand-thumb?

        My Kel-tec has a bunch of sharp edges. Bit the shit out of my hands. Covered in blood. OMG! IT’S GOT THE TASTE FOR HUMAN BLOOD!

        1. I gave myself M1 thumb once like a dumbass, but I can’t say I’ve ever gotten slide burn. That sounds…unpleasant.

        2. Dumbass. My Kel-Tecs never bite me. Though my Beretta Tomcat has tried…

          1. Every time I clean it, lots of little slices on my fingers. Then pour a little solvent in, oh yea. Good stuff.

            1. I’m not a gun guy…but I am a machinist. It sounds like the edges weren’t deburred after machining it. At good hardware stores you can buy a little deburring tool, looks like a handle with a little metal crook coming out of it – it’s basically a scraper.

              You’re going to want to confirm this with a gunsmith to make sure it’s alright to do, but running that scraper along the sharp edges will create an almost imperceptible bevel that will reduce the amount of cuts you get on your hands.

    2. You beat me to it Episiarch. That is exactly how he thinks. To Saleton, picking up a loaded gun is no different than handling a poisonous snake. The gun has an agency of its own and you and those around you are at grave risk no matter how careful you are.

      1. Where’s Tony to cite that one study that says that people who own guns get shot more? Which proves the mind-control powers of the gun-gods.

        1. I wonder if anyone has ever told him that people who own lawn mowers are more likely to be hurt in a lawn mowing accident. Does Tony know the evil that lurks around him?

          1. Wait, Florida is the shark bite capital of the US because it has more linear miles of beaches that more people swim in, more of the year than any other state?

    3. I’m telling you, The Half-Made World with its Gun spirits that prey on the corrupt to make them Agents who stand in the way of the expansion of the Line, which are god-like trains, is a great allegory of this.

  6. We need to change our culture

    Fuck you Saletan, our ‘culture’ is a reflection of the people it includes, and the people have spoken. Want a different culture? Go there.

    1. If you want to change the culture how about teaching children how to handle and respect a gun instead of demonizing it.

      1. The thing is, if they were really interested in safety, that would be the first and foremost solution. The fact that the idea is unthinkable to them–literally unthinkable–tells you that this isn’t even remotely about safety.

        What. A. Surprise.

        1. Remember back in the old days when people actually DID care about safety — say 1920-1950 or so — and they YMCA, NRA, and Scouts all taught proper care and handling of firearms to young people? Some schools in places like NYC and Philly had rifle teams who had no problem carrying their arms to and from school without causing a lockdown.

  7. Liberals on diversity: We need to understand diverse groups of people and make sure they can live their lives as they see fit as long as they aren’t harming one another.

    Liberals on guns: I don’t understand why people want to own a gun so we should make laws making it hard to own one.

    1. Liberals on diversity: We need to understand diverse groups of people and make sure they can live their lives as they we see fit as long as they aren’t harming one another making us uncomfortable.


    2. Oh, this is so damn right. If it wasn’t so long, I’d get a bumper sticker.

  8. I and a lot of other people on here refer to people like Saletan as animists when it comes to guns. That used to be a bit of a snarky hyperbole. Now it is the literal truth as this article illustrates. Saleton equates gun owners to snake handlers because he sees guns as having an agency of their own, just like the snake. I have no doubt that Saletan thinks he came up with a really clever and potent analogy when he wrote this. Saletan honestly believes that a gun can just “go off” and kill someone just like a rattle snake can strike and bite someone trying to handle it. To Saletan, it doesn’t matter how careful a gun owner is. Just like every herpetologist will some day make a mistake and get bit, every gun owner will some day have his gun “just go off” and probably hurt someone.

    You really can’t over state how primitive people like Saletan are.

    1. You really can’t over state how primitive people like Saletan are.

      They feel that writing incantations onto parchment will cause these mystical objects to disappear!

      1. Even the old Pagans were not that stupid. We need a new word describe just how stupid these people are.

        1. Waffeangsttrottel

          1. Fuck. Waffeangsttrottel

            1. Awesome. I will be stealing that.

    2. Is hoplophobia the cause of this animism, or is it a symptom?

      (Does it matter? Probably not.)

    3. It’s just another front in the KULTUR WARZ.

      Saletan surely had the basic theory worked out long before the preacher got bit, and plugged in the details afterwards. This works well for him because he wants to portray all gun owners as crazed rednecks. I’m not sure his argument is as much about portraying sentient guns as it is about portraying gun owners as dumb rednecks with a death wish.

      Either way he’s fucking stupid.

  9. I use my chainsaw a lot, in fact I have two. They can be dangerous to use under normal circumstances. People who live in urban apartments go their entire lives without seeing one, or needing one. Clearly they are the ones who should be making up laws regulating my saws.

    1. What if a small child picked up a running chainsaw?! The damage would be immense!

    2. You think you are kidding but idiots like Saleton won’t stop with guns if he ever got them banned. They would move on to knives and eventually chain saws and lawn mowers and swimming pools and anything else that allowed them to turn their fevered imaginations towards. Guns are just the particular object they are obsessing about today. Even if guns were to go away, they would just find something else. They are animists and they will always need an object to project on.

      1. If all those things were left to professionals, think of how rich we would be!

        We’d all have professional protection, we’d all eat prepared food, we’d all have professionally manicured laws, we’d all go to professionally staffed pools…

        Think of all that money circulating in the economy!

        What could go wrong?

      2. Those idiots have already enacted Knife Control in the UK because the Gun Ban was going so well…

      3. They go after guns first and foremost because weapons are a symbol of independence. Who’s to say chainsaws and lawnmowers wouldn’t become symbols of living independently in the fascist nightmare state that they want to live in? You know, the renegade who cuts his own lawn instead of filling out his Department of Lawn Maintenance 27B/6 form and waiting 6-8 weeks for the landscaping crew to come out.

        1. That is exactly right WARTY. They loath independence. People who are independent do things that they can’t predict and fuck up people like Saleton’s plans for Utopia. They hate any sign of independence or individuality.

        2. “Hingham’s proposed noise law could ban lawn mowing”


        3. It’s old, and it’s Cambodia, but still:

          Agriculture officials have reissued a nationwide warning that all unlicensed chainsaws will be confiscated from private owners and traders, after confiscating 633 illegal chainsaws from loggers so far in 2008.

          Khem Chenda, director of the Department of Administration in the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said the government had suppressed 506 illegal logging operations this year and would confiscate unlicensed machines in order to protect Cambodia’s forests.

          But rural villagers who have lost chainsaws and other logging equipment are calling on the government to pay back the cost of the confiscated items.


        4. filling out his Department of Lawn Maintenance 27B/6 form and waiting 6-8 weeks for the landscaping crew to come out.

          Don’t forget the fine imposed if he doesn’t mow his grass every two weeks.

      4. People like this have no idea why anyone would need a chainsaw, lawnmower or any other tool to perform manual labor. A rancher out in North Dakota, or a mechanic in Ohio live lives that people like him can’t even imagine.

        People like that think they are very worldly and open-minded, but live in such a small, confined little bubble that they can’t even fathom of lives of people that live in what they dismissively refer to as “fly over country”

  10. Five-gallon buckets of water: The Toddler Killer. Outlaw them, now!

    1. No one needs five gallons in a bucket. One gallon is more than enough for civilians.

    2. If only buckets looked scary, or were used by bad guys in movies to kill people.

  11. I was going to have something meaningful to add, but the idea of a fatal hernia has got my mind stuck on an imput filter loop.

  12. Oh Jesus. SugarFree’s link to American Apparel in the MLs has got my browser showing me ads with some chick who looks like Groucho Marx’s granddaughter and some other guy who went for the Freddie Mercury and fell well short.

    1. Upset are you? Wait till they show up at your front door.

      1. “Just get out of my house if that’s the clothes you’re gonna wear”

    2. Bwa-ha-ha-ha! You were a fool to trust me!

      1. Well, its much more obvious in hindsight.

  13. “Having a gun in your home” is absolutely safe – the gun will not go off by itself, outside of the rarest possible mechanical failures of broken/worn or unsafe designs, stored in the worst possible way.

    That is so rare we can round it to “never happens”; even normal mechanical failures and design flaws still require human intervention to cause a discharge, just one that shouldn’t have happened given the human inputs involved.

    Poisonous snakes, unlike guns, are animate creatures that act on their own.

    Unlike a gun, a snake can try to get out of its enclosure – and if it does, it might well just bite you if you get too close to it.

    Unlike a gun, a snake may well actively dislike being monkey-pawed, and attack you.

    Guns? They just sit there, even if you leave them out in the open.

    (That’s a bad idea if any random or ill-willed people might have access to them, of course, but the guns themselves will continue to … just sit there. Forever.)

    Saletan didn’t think his analogy through – or has deep emotional issues with weapons. I charitably assume the former.

  14. “Widespread gun ownership and low violent crime rates, as demonstrated by a recent Harvard study and FBI statistics, go hand-in-hand.”

    I can’t tell if the author is implying causation here or if he is just stating the correlation. I’m assuming the latter.

    “Assigning causes to increases or decreases in the national crime rate is a notorious fool’s errand because of the amount of variables at play, but what the numbers don’t suggest is any clear correlation between gun crime, gun ownership and gun-control laws.”
    – FBI stats link

    “both sides of the gun prohibition debate are likely wrong in viewing the availability of guns as a major factor in the incidence of murder in any particular society”
    -Harvard study

    1. You are correct in saying that the increase in gun ownership while the crime rate fell doesn’t prove that the increase caused the fall.

      But it’s also true that a falling crime rate while gun ownership increases makes it difficult to claim that increasing gun ownership results in increased crime, or that decreasing gun ownership will decrease crime.

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