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  • Reverend James Squire

Good Vibrations: A Possible Answer to Gun Violence

One of the signature songs from the sixties was the iconic song of Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys where the key phrase is “I am picking up good vibrations.” Our problem in society in the past week is that people have been picking up the wrong vibrations from others who seem to be a threat to them. Police broke into an innocent man’s house thinking it was a different address of someone that they were looking for and killed an innocent man.

There have been recent shootings of black people who made “one false move” and police fired many bullets into the men thinking that they were armed or another threat to them.

Recently we had a cheerleader mistakenly get into a car and was shot. Another person mistakenly pulled into someone’s drive, was turning around to leave, and was shot, another individual was sent to pick up his brother and rang the doorbell of the wrong house, and was shot. It strikes me that we are not as good at reading the vibe of the other person that Gladwell spells out in his book on the subject.

Malcolm Gladwell who wrote Blink has indicated that “You make up your mind in 100 milliseconds. Literally. And more often than not you’re right. In just five minutes you can often evaluate people accurately with 70% accuracy. The shootings that I indicated above don’t seem to support this evidence or do they.

Gladwell begins his book, Blink, with an example of police watching a man give another man money on his front porch and thought that it was a drug deal and opened fire. It was that moment that caused him to write his book on reading your vibe.

Of course, I wonder if all of the above tragedies would have occurred if less access to guns was the case.

I believe that David Brooks, author of The Social Animal: The Hidden sources of Love, Character, and Achievement, has research that may help us isolate one of the reasons that these tragedies have occurred. He discovered that “Human beings are overconfidence machines. Managers in the advertising industry gave answers that they were ninety percent confident about. In fact, the examples show that their answers were wrong sixty one percent of the time. People in the computer industry gave answers they thought had a ninety percent chance of being right; in fact, eighty percent of them were wrong. Ninety-nine percent of the respondents overestimated their success.” They thought that using a gun on someone was right when it was wrong.

In the recent shootings cited above, it is obvious that they weren’t accurate in their perception of threat. They quickly pulled the trigger. There is a certain amount of passion involved as well as hypersensitivity that led to the shootings. Our mantra is when passion enters the equation, reason goes out the window. We all want an answer to the question of the hour which is “what were they thinking?” The answer is “not enough to get it right.”

Just as it is true that what happens in America sends signals to the rest of the world of how a democracy should work, it is clear that our current times of school shootings and governors giving toddlers their very first guns that we have become more of a gun culture than we are willing to admit. The Stand Your Ground legislation in various states and the cry that we have the right to bear arms is very present.

Let’s look at some possible ways that we can move forward with the increasing reality that the gun lobby will continue business as usual. First, it should be noted that the statistical probability of the individuals who made innocent mistakes and then were fired upon by someone who has a gun is rather low. It would be like getting struck by lightning. This means that there is a high probability of gun ownership that didn’t exist before. In essence, too many people have guns. New Zealand saw this as a cause for gun deaths and changed their gun laws to a rigorous standard to cut down gun ownership. Seems simple and obvious, but as Occum’s Razor theory points out that sometimes the simple answer to a problem is the right one.

Since gun laws are unlikely to change, we need to look at another cause. There has been at least one example of gun violence on either the evening news or in the print media every day last week. The word epidemic has been used to describe the proliferation of death by guns in our nation. Perhaps that word epidemic is closer to the truth of why this phenomenon is occurring including the recent attacks by people with guns on those who have made a mistake. Deaths by guns has become contagious.

We can look at another crisis to see this possibility as the cause. Suicide is up 40% in preteens between 2009-2019. Experts feel that this too has a contagious aspect to it. The belief is that constant exposure largely through word of mouth and the social media has normalized the experience of taking one’s life. I believe that the same sense of contagion is the reason for the large number of gun deaths in our culture. The key word is that suicide and gun deaths have been normalized to the extent that the standard of behavior for use of guns or taking one’s life has become acceptable over time. It doesn’t shock us enough.

Two other issues that impacted changing cultural norms make my point. The divorce rate in the United States steadily rose over the course of the twentieth century when it became acceptable in the culture.

But one of the best examples of cultural norms affecting behavior is found in Roger Bannister finally breaking the four minutes mile in 1954. Since then, 1664 runners have broken it and set that as a new standard. That phenomenon impacted our culture in a positive way whereas the proliferation of gun shootings even when the person shot was innocent has impacted our culture in a negative way.

In my opinion, the number of incidents of mass shootings and gun violence is surely caused by increased access to guns. But there is a paradox that has not been addressed. The more gun deaths appear in social media, the more normal and therefore acceptable they become in the American conscience. One only has to look at Canada and New Zealand to see what works. The social media outlets may be well intentioned in keeping this in front of the public with the goal of reducing guns, but they have succeeded in making it an every day occurrence. It is a perfect example of “the way to hell is paved with good intentions.” The answer is to continue to cite statistics of gun deaths, but leave the videos and hype out. Refuse to even name the shooters. The worst thing that we can do is to create gun deaths as normal in our culture so that it loses acceptability. The problem is that social media knows that their coverage sells. They compete with one another for the best coverage of shootings.

It may help us to have good vibrations of making a cultural change that is just as important as reducing the number of assault weapons. Actually, reduction of guns and change in the culture should go hand in hand.

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