How many bites will it take?


A Nation of snake Handlers.

Quoted by permission. William Saletan for Slate Magazine

This weekend, after 20 years of handling snakes, Jamie Coots received his final bite. A rattler got him in the back of the hand. It happened as Coots, a Pentecostal minister, was leading the Saturday night service at his church in Kentucky. Two hours later, he was dead. The same thing happened two years earlier in West Virginia. Mack Wolford, another serpent-handling preacher, succumbed to a rattler’s venom.

After scores of deaths from messing with snakes, you’d think people would give it up. But they haven’t. Three months ago a 15-year-old boy died in Ohio. A local TV station said it happened when he brought a snake and “passed it to a 16-year-old friend.” A similar tragedy occurred the same day in California, when a homeowner “was showing his friend a snake.” “It’s a shock that something like this could happen,” said a neighbor. “I had no idea there was ever a snake in the home.”

On Dec. 1 a young man died in Florida after friends brought a snake to his apartment. “They passed it around,” according to the Sun-Sentinel, and the snake delivered the fatal wound when the man’s girlfriend picked it up. “It was a stupid accident,” said the dead man’s grandfather. “It never should have happened.” On Dec. 20 a 3-year-old boy died in Arizona after discovering his parents’ snake. A local TV station reported that “the parents told investigators the snake was inadvertently misplaced for a short time. That’s when the child found it.”

Actually Saletan is not talking about snake handling. While the story of the preachers are true, Saletan found stories of accidently gun deaths and replaced the words gun to snake, gunshot to snakebite, discharged to bit.

The reason I am sharing a quote from his Slate piece is because seriously, I don’t get it. More people die each year from gun related accidents and intentional acts than did those killed during the 9/11 attacks, yet we don’t hear politicians decrying the gun culture. None of them are demanding the stopping of the building of gun stores, yet many spoke out against the building of a mosque in New York. We now regulate what you can take on a plane (no liquid or lighters for you!) yet we refuse to regulate how many guns and ammunition you can have in your home and in some states, on your person. We have regulations in place that have cut down the number of automobile and motorcycle  related deaths. I know regulation is not the only solution. Our attitude towards guns and how and why we handle them must change. So why hasn’t it? What kind of mentality chooses to continue to ignore all warning signs that a culture of guns perpetuates a culture of violence and senseless accidents?

I truly did not understand this mentality until I read this piece. I get it now. The US is a nation of snake handlers. We think it is our god given right to posse guns and ammo, and much like God’s will,  we think they will keep us safe from harm.  All the while the rest of the developed nations look at us in horror and wonder when the next snake will bite.

You can read Saletan’s full piece here

Author: sarij

I'm a writer, lifelong bibliophile ,and researcher. I hold a Bachelors in Humanities & History and a Master's in Humanities. When I'm not reading or talking about Shakespeare or history, you can usually find me in the garden discussing science or politics with my cat.

2 thoughts on “How many bites will it take?”

  1. Worth adding that the local district attorney in Coots’ neck of the woods said that he’d not prosecute because prosecuting wouldn’t end the snake-handling culture. Gun rights supporters make an equivalent claim: you’ll never get rid of illegal guns.


  2. Humm, not sure who would be prosecuted. Didn’t they preacher die while handling the snake himself?
    Yeah, I hear that argument all the time from my brother. He doesn’t have much to say when I remind that many guns used in violence are legally purchased. Personally I don’t want to take guns from everyone, just want our attitude towards them to change. Hell, even towns in the old west adopted no carry laws when things got out of hand.


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