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.