Game theory and gun control

I have seen game theory used in an argument for relaxing gun control.

The argument goes something like this:

If someone breaks into your home then they can either be armed or unarmed, you can also be either armed or unarmed.

If they are unarmed, then you are better off being armed. If they are armed then you are also better off being armed. Basically, either way you are better off having a gun to fight back with.

Criminals don’t tend to worry about the law, so whether there are tight laws on gun ownership or not, he will get a gun anyway. So, for a law abiding citizen, more relaxed laws on gun ownership are better because it means that more lawful people have guns to fight back against criminals who will have their guns whatever the law says.

There is one big flaw in this argument. It assumes that both the criminal and the law-abiding citizen are taking their actions simultaneously. Even if you carry your gun with you at all times then you probably won’t get enough warning to draw the weapon so the actions are not simultaneous. Effectively the intruder has a gun with them and ready to use, if you are surprised then you just have a gun somewhere in your home that you can’t use.

This is not an argument for or against gun control, it is just showing that it is important in game theory whether actions take place at the same time or not. There are more complicated game theory models about whether wider gun control might be effective or not which take into account the deterrent effect on the criminal and the risk of accidental injury if there are more guns.

Today’s takeaway: It makes a big difference if decisions are taken at the same time or one after another.

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2 Responses to Game theory and gun control

  1. Jubayer says:

    I wonder how this qualification applies to knife-control, too. After all, with a gun the situation can be over in a matter of seconds, with the assailant having much more impact with his/her first strike.

    However, the attacker must be much more up-close-and-personal with knives. It requires a lot more contact than a gun, so the dynamic could be very different.

    For example, if the assailant telegraphs his/her intentions (with you/victim suspecting he/she has a knife) they have no way of restraining you from a distance (as you can with a gun). In this type of situation is it therefore always better for the potential victim to be armed?

  2. Sirajul says:

    But the point is that the criminal does not know beforehand where you have placed your gun or how skilled you are at it in comparison with the criminal him/herself.

    If you have strict gun control the criminal can make a reasonable bet that the victim is unarmed. Therefore it provides an extra incentive not simply to be armed (as they will have the upper hand in the situation), but to commit the crime in the first place.

    I know you wrote:

    There are more complicated game theory models about whether wider gun control might be effective or not which take into account the deterrent effect on the criminal…

    but I feel this point had to be emphasised, as it really goes to the heart of the matter. The deterrent effect is not due to the information the victim has (e.g. placement of weapons), but the information the criminal lacks (i.e. the same).

    You have to look at these things from the point-of-view of the criminal, too.

    Note to mods: please print this one. Sorry about the others.

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