“Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch. Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote!” —Benjamin Franklin
This famous quote is sometimes cited as evidence that Benjamin Franklin would have supported gun rights although the actual origins of the quote are murky, and people didn’t use the word lunch when he was alive. Nevertheless, it is a thought-provoking phrase.
As the school shooting in Uvalde has shown once again, we are not doing enough to protect, never mind arm, our lambs. At the same time, we have made it too easy for the wolves to gain easy access to all of the assault rifles and ammunition they need to walk into schools, churches, grocery stores, and movie theaters and kill defenseless people, including children.
If you ignore the extreme rhetoric on both the right and the left sides of the political divide, the majority of Americans are in support of reasonable gun laws that ensure that the people who can purchase and maintain guns are stable and law-abiding.
But our current system doesn’t have enough checks and balances to ensure that people with a history of violent behavior or anger management issues have difficulty obtaining weapons. In the meantime, many of our elected officials find it easier to hide behind disingenuous arguments about the freedom to bear arms than to take the steps necessary to ensure that Americans are at liberty to pursue their daily lives without fear of assassination.
However, limiting the flow of guns on our streets is only part of the solution. We also need to acknowledge that our current polarized discourse, based on disinformation, distrust, and the failure to listen to anything we don’t already believe, is a part of the problem.
We have always been an opinionated, contentious country where disagreements play out loudly in the press, and in our homes. But in the age of 24/7 media and connectivity the feedback has grown so loud we can’t hear ourselves think. Instead of focusing on our common goals, we highlight our differences and focus more on being right than doing the right thing.
I find it hard to believe that any rational American, on either side of the political spectrum, is okay with the idea of an entire classroom of children being mowed down by a lone gunman. The people who lost their lives or were injured and their extended families will never be the same. And we need to make sure that we aren’t, either.
For one thing, we need to admit that we have a mental health crisis. Ignoring evidence of mental distress in others does nothing to solve the problem. Until we all learn to recognize and respond effectively to signs of mental illness in ourselves, and others, things won’t change. School shooters rarely transform from star students to violent criminals overnight. In fact, a comprehensive review of mass school shootings since 1966 conducted by researchers Jillian Peterson and James Densely indicated that three-quarters of the shooters had prior mental health issues and had shown an interest in past shootings in writing, social media posts, or other activities, and had revealed their plans ahead of time.
Surely, we can use this information to inform our choices going forward. Parents, teachers, classmates, friends, and social media contacts need to feel responsible, but for and responding effectively to signs of distress in the people around them.
Just as friends “don’t let friends drive drunk” and we try to make it difficult to commit suicide by jumping off buildings and bridges, we need to make it harder for people in crisis to obtain weapons and carry out the actions they have signaled they might do. This doesn’t mean locking them up and taking away their freedom indefinitely; it means helping them to overcome their mental struggles so they, and their potential victims, have a future.
To cite another quote arguably attributed to Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best dividends.” We cannot afford to continue vilifying each other and pretending that thoughts and prayers alone can solve the problems leading to mass shootings.
It is imperative that we take action to protect the lambs and find ways to reduce the number of lone wolves among us. This is not a new challenge: Wolves have long figured in our fictional morality tales.
Peter had to learn not to “cry wolf” when there wasn’t an imminent threat. Little Red Riding Hood almost dies from not acting when she senses something wrong with the wolf posing as her grandmother, and the three little pigs can only outsmart the wolf by combining their efforts to build a safe residence for themselves.
Yet none of these fables are based on the idea that wolves have the inalienable right to eat people and so should be given bigger teeth or a gun. Nor do they explore ways to help the wolves find enough food to survive without killing their neighbors. The world has changed a lot since those tales were written so maybe it is time to look for new solutions.
Surely, most of us want to live in a country that both enables the lambs to get smarter and stronger, and the wolves to become kinder and less isolated. What we are doing now isnt working, so it is certainly worth a try.