"The right to buy weapons is the right to be free"
|The author at Tincknell Country Store this morning|
This is one of my favourite A. E. van Vogt books - classic pulp SF:
Pretty much any week there will be angst about the prevalence of gun-atrocities in America. If you google "Game theory gun control" the results don't fail to be atavistic and tribal .. yet there is something useful game theory can tell us via the obvious payoff matrix.
Basically if a population is not armed at all (the European dove-dove situation) the result is optimal - but unstable.
If everyone who wants to be is armed (the American hawk-hawk situation), that's stable but very sub-optimal.
The mixed-situation (hawk-dove) is non-equilibrium, spiralling to (hawk-hawk); the doves always lose against hawks.
What keeps the European (dove-dove) situation in place is draconian enforcement against personal gun-possession by the state. But as commentator Tom Foale observes,
"The UK and Australia have banned all but a few guns and have draconian gun ownership requirements. The limited availability of guns and ammo means that criminals wanting a gun are often limited to modified starter pistols and making their own ammo - they are more likely to blow their own hands off. Being caught with one illegally means a long prison sentence. Enforcement keeps the overall equilibrium stable, although there are still a few shootings.Lurking behind these general remarks are specific American conditions. In many of the vast rural areas, law enforcement is thin on the ground and reaction times much delayed. Homeowners under threat are reliant on their own means of defence .. and are very reluctant to be disarmed.
"The problem for the USA is that to shift from its current equilibrium (everyone can own a gun and very high homicide rates) to the better equilibrium (strict controls and low homicide rates) means making individuals feel less safe for quite a while, while the guns are removed. Unilateral disarmament is not a game-winning strategy for either a country or an individual if the risks (or the perceived risks) are high, so individuals will be reluctant to give up their guns. ...
"So I'm afraid that game theory says that the US is stuck with its current mess, unless something changes the game being played. That could be the establishment of large new 'gun-free' enclaves, where all guns (including law enforcement) are left at the entrances. This would require fences and border guards to enforce the rules, just like a small country. However, being as safe as the UK or Australia would make these enclaves very attractive, so I would expect more of these to be established over time.
"The cost of border security, distributed across all of the enclave's citizens, would drop as the enclave got bigger (by the ratio of the area enclosed, which grows in proportion to radius squared, to the circumference which grows in proportion to the radius), so it pays the citizens to encourage growth by inviting in the right sort of people. This might just lead to a scenario where general disarmament is possible."
In addition, American society is notably low on Asabiyyah - which raises the potential threat level - as compared to more homogeneous societies such as Canada, the Scandinavian countries and Switzerland, all of which have high levels of gun ownership but low homicide levels.
So there are some good reasons why the hawk-hawk equilibrium can't easily be unwound in the States.