Facepalmz: More gun control thoughts (Part 1)

My last post got a little snarky toward the end, so I’m going to try to stick to purely behavioral or game theoretic arguments in this installment.  I can already tell you I will fail.  Without further ado, into the Thunderdome (of game-theoretic gun control arguments).

1 ) If they charge them, they will win

Megan McArdle is basically a bad person for even making this argument, but why stop there when we can take feelings out of it and disprove her with behavioral science?  For those who haven’t seen what I’m taking about, here you go.  Just scan to the quoted section, it’s what I’m focusing on.  If you want to read the whole thing, I hope you have brain cells to burn because you will come away without them.

Ok, so we train children to charge down gunmen.  It totally works when we train Special Air Services commandos to do it (relevant content starts at 40 seconds), so what could go wrong if school children did it?  Before we get to the collective choice problems, let’s control for some variables (the x’s)…if you don’t have an interest in statistics, skip ahead:

yi: y-Intercept

x1: You have guns

x2: Cover fire is provided to comrades who are charging

x3: This is a dummy variable indicating you are a soldier

x4: This is a dummy variable indicating you are a school child, and thus lack guns and cover fire

e: error term

P(StMS): this is our dependent variable, the probability of stopping a mass shooting

Our regression equation for the probability of successfully stopping a mass shooting [P(StMS)] probably looks like this:

P(StMS) = yi + Bx1 + Bx2 + Bx3 + -Bx4 + e

I bolded, italicized and underlined Bx4 since it’s our dummy variable for “you are a school child.”  This is important because it’s negative.  Chances are being a school child means that a military-style charge will probably not work and indeed could lead to your slaughter, and is thus negatively correlated with stopping a mass shooting.  

But enough statistics.  This was supposed to be about game theory and collective action.  Speaking of, a mass charge is an example of collective action.  None other than Mancur Olsen himself has some stuff to say about such things.  Basically, collective action is hard to pull off.  This is because free-riding will occur in cases where non-participants benefit from the collective actions of the group.  Why would someone participate in a collective action if they can derive the benefits of the action without the sacrifice?  The higher the cost of participation the lower the likelihood of participating; the only way to solve this is to exclude non-participants from the benefits of participation.

A charge into a hail of gunfire, as a collective action, comes with a rather high risk: death.  This makes it a collective action that is unlikely to materialize.  “But soldiers do it” one might say.  Well, yes…they’re also trained adults making a rational choice, working as a team, with extensive training and some symmetry of firepower.  Six-year-olds take minutes just to line up to go to lunch under the best circumstances (another example of collective action); organizing a charge, under fire, would work until the risk of participation became apparent and the children opted to ‘free-ride’ by say, running.  It should be noted, all the kids that were bundled into closets in Sandy Hook survived.  In this case, the evidence points to hiding as an optimal strategy.

If we ignore the fact that following McArdle’s advice would lead to children being slaughtered and just focus on the analytics of her advice on collective action, I think the esteemed Dr. Olsen might laugh at her, like this:


Except it’s not jolly laughter; it’s sad laughter at how dedicated we are to our worship at the altar of our Moloch, the gun, that we would even publish an idea as ridiculous as Ms. McArdle’s.

2 ) If there are just enough publicly financed armed guards/police in schools there will be no more shootings

I was made stupider by this video.  The part where he reaches his piece de resistance but then can’t seem to get it out was the part where I hoped he was just choking to death on his tongue would realize that he was at the bottom of a moral pit and would quit talking.  Unfortunately for humanity he was just having trouble being well-spoken.  Watch it if you want, or get the highlights here.

Holy crap. Aside from the political economy problems, LaPierre’s ideas are completely disconnected from any understanding of tactical decision making or probabilistic statistics.  I’ll get to this in my next post…stay tuned.


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