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Gun Free Zones - A Life Saver Or A Trap?

Irina Vakatova, Bachelor’s programme "HSE/NES Programme in Economics" 2016 alumna implies game theory to the problem in order to see what should be a scientifically justified  answer from the legislators and society to the crisis of school shooting in the USA

Concealed Carry Weapon Laws and College Campuses*

All 50 states allow citizens to carry concealed weapons if they meet certain state requirements. Currently, there are 18 states that ban carrying a concealed weapon on a college campus: California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Wyoming.

In 23 states the decision to ban or allow concealed carry weapons on campuses is made by each college or university individually: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and West Virginia.

Because of  recent state legislation and court rulings, eight states now have provisions allowing the carrying of concealed weapons on public postsecondary campuses. These states are Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. Not included in above list, Arkansas and Tennessee allow certain faculty members to carry weapons on campus but these laws do not extend to students or the general public.  

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*According to NCSL (National Conference of State Legislatures)

Irina Vakatova: - The worst act of terror in the US since 9/11, the mass-shooting in Orlando, happened at June 12, 2016. A couple of days earlier I defended my thesis, the main aim of which was to find out if so-called gun-free zones, among which this certain club was, are safer or more dangerous places.

All the schools and preschools in the US are federal-level gun-free zones, while policies regarding colleges and universities vary among the states. Starting from 2013 and till today 186 shooting occurred in American schools, 176 of which happened in gun-free zones. 60% out of these 176 were intended to injure or kill person another than the shooter.

This unfortunate statistics led me to the question if gun-free zones really make area of implementation safer. The debate on the topic is mostly opinion-based at the moment, and there was absolutely no theoretical base potentially helpful to answer this question. That's why I decided to build game-theoretical model of interaction between people inside the institutions which are to become gun-free zones and potential shooters. I used Social Planner to decide on policy to be implemented instead of a majority vote to look first at the case of colleges and universities which are eligible to decide on campus policies regarding guns on their own, as political equilibrium is not always applicable to them. That's why I introduced "All-Good, All-Wise" Planner to the model.

The results are rather straight-forward. First, the probability of attack increases with the shift from shall-carry laws to gun-free zone in the-most-reality-resembling equilibrium type (mixed-strategies Nash Equilibrium). That is somewhat logical, as claiming out-loud that people in the certain area are unarmed and unable to effectively resist attackers attracts "criminals", who otherwise would think if they want to put themselves at risk of being shot by their own victims in armed area. Second, it's almost never beneficial for society to implement the gun-free zone, even if we do account shooters satisfaction from crime committed in social welfare. Only under very limited restrictions on price of weapons it may be beneficial, when shooters chances of successful attack decrease so much with implementation of shall-carry laws but she wants to do it so badly (her "happiness" from killing is so high) that society doesn't receive enough "compensational" utility from victim staying alive. However, as there's usually more than one victim of such shootings and as this decision of Social Planner is rather unethical, I decided not to account for shooters utility in social welfare in this, either way very rare, case to eliminate this type of the outcome. This made gun-free zone never strictly beneficial for society, and thus questioned the entire policy implemented in many of the US school zones.

To get more helpful results, I'm planning to try to collect the data on mass-shooting, probably in schools but may be in other places, too, and run an empirical research on the topic to find out if the relationship claimed by my model holds in a real life. I believe this is important, as the right choice of policy may save many lives.

Thesis Advisor Alexey Zakharov: Gun violence and mass shootings is a sad and widespread phenomenon in a number of countries. How should the government respond to this threat? Should gun-free zones be implemented, or it will lead to more violence, as people will not be able to defend themselves? Irina’s work uses formal model to understand the incentives faced by the people involved, and to forecast their decisions. Given the set of assumptions made in Irina’s work, it is found that policies affecting a criminal’s costs in case of an armed attack are usually more effective than those targeting availability of firearms in general.

Paper Title: To Shoot or Not to Shoot? Modeling Incentives of Agents in Gun-Free Zones

Abstract

This is a work on the topic of gun-free zones and their influence on social welfare and public safety, particularly concerned about the US situation. The game-theoretical approach is taken to model the interaction between the law-abiding citizen inside the institution (referred as Student) and potential shooters (referred as Criminal) under both shall-carry laws and gun-free zone implementation on campus, with Social Planner to decide on which option to choose between these two based on social welfare. The results showed the probability of attack on Students to increase with the shift from shall-carry laws to gun-free zone. Almost under no circumstances is that beneficial for Planner to implement the gun-free zone, particularly, in mixed-strategy equilibrium, the one most resembling the real-world situation, it's strictly beneficial for society to guarantee licensed individuals the right to carry weapons for self-protection. Policies affecting the Criminal’s costs in case of an armed attack are found the best to be chosen to both decrease the probability of attack and increase social welfare, while the ones targeting availability of firearms in general seem to produce the opposite effect.