By Jon Y.
I am currently spending this week looking after my parents’ house in southern New Mexico. Yesterday afternoon, when I went out to get dinner, there was a very small, very young rattlesnake sunning itself on the walkway. It was only six to eight inches long and it probably only had one rattle on it’s tail since it made a sound almost like a loud bumblebee or a vibrating phone. Had it not started rattling, I very possibly could have stepped on it, which would have been very bad for business on both ends of the deal. My initial confusion (What’s that buzzing sound?) turned quickly to excitement (Oh wow, a snake!) and then almost immediately again to absolute terror (Wait… the snake is the one buzzing. Oh shhiii..) . . .
I quickly realized, however, that the snake was very much not looking for a fight. It tried valiantly to retreat and only took up a defensive posture once it became trapped between two rocks. At this point I was able to take a better look at it. I am quite fond of animals and snakes in particular, and I can say this rattlesnake was simply beautiful.
I only had my phone on me and did not want to get very close to it, but it had a pattern like gray marble with jagged black stripes every few inches (after doing some Google Fu I now am 90% sure it was a banded rock rattlesnake, and may have been older than I initially believed). Be that as it may, it was still a highly venomous reptile and it was only a few feet from the front door.
I was concerned about myself or my animals getting bitten so I found a long metal rod and attempted to lift the snake to relocate him. Unfortunately every time I tried, the snake quickly slid off and found a new crevice to hide in. I considered calling for reinforcements but I doubt animal control would have showed up at 5:00 PM on a Saturday and the one local reptile shop in town closed down a few months back. Eventually I walked away for a few minutes to look for a better snake-handling implement and it was gone when I returned.
The whole incident made me realize something: even though rattlesnakes are common throughout most of the Americas, I doubt even 90% of Americans could identify one visually. In fact I would go so far as to say that, to most Americans, all snakes look more or less the same. Almost everyone on earth knows what a rattlesnake sounds like, though, and they all know that when you hear it, it’s time to take heed and back up.
Of all the snakes on earth, the vast majority are completely harmless to humans. A small percentage, however, are very dangerous. As vilified as rattlesnakes are, this one did everything in its power to avoid harming me. It warned me when I approached, attempted to flee, and never once tried to strike at me or the stick I was using to move it. A rattlesnake doesn’t rattle when it’s hunting. It doesn’t use its rattle to find mates or to attract food. It only rattles to warn other animals to stay back. In other words, the rattle is there for you, not for it. Many non-lethal snakes are far more aggressive than the rattler I encountered (anyone who has ever dealt with a bullsnake knows what I mean).
What does this have to do with guns? When you carry a gun, either openly or (especially) concealed, you may look just like everyone else, but you have the potential to be far more lethal, just like a rattlesnake. And, just like the rattlesnake I met yesterday, your behavior determines your fate.
Had the rattlesnake failed to warn me, not attempted to move out of harm’s way, and/or been overly aggressive, I would not have hesitated to blow it to pieces, and it’s possible I could have been seriously injured as well. The lesson is that, as gun owners, we must understand that our guns are seen as threatening to many people, and in order to avoid needlessly escalating dangerous situations we must follow a set of guidelines, including avoiding or evading danger whenever possible, using non lethal warnings (brandishing, verbal warnings, etc.), and only firing against imminent serious threats.
Of course, most of the people reading this already know what I am saying, but I find it nothing short of fascinating that there is already a template for civilized, justified self defense in the natural world. Hopefully something to think about next time you run across a snake.