The Gun Problem

By now, it is no secret that the United States has a gun problem. In 2018 alone, there have been dozens of school shootings of varying severity. The problem stems from a number of things: the ambiguity of the aging 2nd Amendment, incredibly easy access to firearms, and lack of support for those suffering from mental health disorders. As a result, just about anywhere in the country, and eighteen year old high schooler with intent to do harm can walk into a retailer and walk out with a firearm the same day, with little to stop them. As a student, this frightens me, especially since there are a number of potential solutions to the issue that would appease all parties.

This is where Game Theory comes in. Game Theory is the analytical study of competitive and cooperative situations through assigning numerical values to different situational outcomes. By understanding its merits, caveats, and shortcomings, we can model a variety of situations and recommend strategies for each involved party.

Below you will find a game matrix modeling the issue that affects millions of students in the US, and which offers an interesting solution. This game matrix is relatively simple; each party can employ one of two strategies. Either they can A.) Oppose Common Sense Gun Reform, or B.) Support Common Sense Gun Reform. The opposing parties in this case are the American Republican and Democratic parties, which represent the large majority of US citizens’ beliefs in one way or another. Here we run into one of Game Theory’s first caveats: there are many different ways to model a single situation. When preparing this model, I considered a variety of matchups with different strategies, but settled on Party vs. Party because in Congress, members almost always vote along party lines, each party controls roughly half of Congress (with the Republicans holding the current majority), and each party represents roughly one half of citizens, with “swing” voters, people who lie towards the middle of the political spectrum, generally deciding elections.

When modeling a game, we are forced to make logical assumptions when considering outcomes. Using facts and these assumptions, we can gauge how good or bad a certain outcome is for either party. The matrix below was created under the following assumptions: First, that the Republicans are holistically pro 2nd Amendment (for a number of factors, including outside influence, but more so because of the extremists of their voter base), and the Democrats are holistically in favor of Common Sense Gun Reform (which is defined as many things, and will be touched on later), though very few or none of them outright denounce the 2nd Amendment. Secondly, I assume that each party’s goal is to gain or maintain control of the government, and this is valued nearly as much or more than actually helping citizens. This employs the swing voters, which usually decide the outcome of an election, and in the current political climate are assumed to favor common sense reform. Thirdly, I am assuming that the hardcore or loyal supporters of each party will not switch to the other party because of the conflicting values, but will instead vote out individual politicians and replace them with a member of their own party. Finally, I am assuming that each party genuinely wants to help protect the safety of its citizens. While each party may argue that it isn’t true for the other, and I sometimes doubt it given the dysfunction of our government, it seems appropriate here, and it turns out that it really doesn’t affect the outcome of the game unless the government really doesn’t care at all.

Assuming these things, payoffs for each outcome were assigned as such:

+5 for passing legislation to prevent shootings (This should ultimately be the goal).

+2 for pleasing loyal voters (individuals can maintain power within their party).

+4 for winning swing voters (since these voters decide elections. If you please loyal voters, but alienate swing voters, you still lose your seat, but to the other party. Swing votes are only won or lost if opponents disagree).

-2 for alienating loyal voters.

-4 for alienating  swing voters (Swing votes are only won or lost if opponents disagree).

Given these, the values of each party, and our assumptions, we obtain the following matrix:


Democrats A B
A (-2, 2) (-6, 2)
B (6, -2) (7, 3)

Payouts take the form (Democrats, Republicans). This game actually has a very simply solution compared to other situations. We employ a method called “dominance”, noting that all of the Democratic payoffs for B are better than A, meaning that the Democrats would have no reason not to play B. From there, the Republicans should play B meaning legislature is passed. Now let’s take a moment to examine the solution of (Support, Support) with payoff (7,3).

First off, this solution is a Pareto Optimal, simply meaning that it is the best numerical outcome for each party. Given the the current political climate (which this game attempts to model), the outcome makes sense. The Democrats should have no reason to oppose common sense reform, since their voter base favors it, as well as the swing voters. This puts the Republicans in a very tough spot. They, in a sense, must choose between alienating swing voters and potentially losing elections to the Democrats, or alienating loyal voters and risk losing seats to other members of the party, but still potentially maintaining control of the government. They are in a tough spot.

The outcome (A, B) would save the Republicans face within their own party, but potentially lose them control of the government. While this is not the only issue considered by voters, it is a very important one, and could arguably decide the election against the Republicans. Up until now, this is how the Republicans have been playing regarding this and many issues, and many analysts predict a similarly bad outcome for the party this November. What basic logic and this model tells us is that the Republicans should actually betray their values in order to save their control of the government, and to push their agenda on other issues. While this may leave the swing voters neutral on this issue, there are plenty of others to be considered.

There are a few caveats to considered and things that would affect the outcome of this game. The first is the sentiment of the swing voters. They are not all going to vote the same way every time, and their opinions change based on different current events. Next, unless the politicians literally do not care cat all about the safety of its citizens, the outcome of the game remains the same. Finally, we need to note the ambiguity of  “Common Sense Gun Reform”. This means a lot of things to a lot a people, and depending on how extreme or lax this reform is, the validity of the matrix is affected. For example, if the policies contradict the values of the Republicans too much, they risk the very existence of their party by going against them.

With all of this in mind, the strategy is simple. We all need to work together to resolve this problem and appease people of all political and social beliefs. It all boils down to the simple fact that gun violence affects everyone, regardless of political belief, race, or background. We are all in this together, and as sentimental as it sounds, we cannot fix anything without the use of compromise. I recognize that hardly everyone reading this has the same political beliefs, but we cannot deny that have a problem, a problem that is avoidable.

We are a split country, on this and many issues, both numerically and socially. We are deeply divided in what we believe, and it feels like hatred is rampant. So I encourage you to instead of promoting and propagating your own views, and denouncing those others, promote a message of unity in a time of division and turmoil. There are countless things I couldn’t touch on in this article, including corruption, geographical voting characteristics, scandals, and broken voting systems. Yet my message remains the same: we need to work together if we are going to create political and social change for the better in our country and around the world. And conversely, if we choose not to work together, we will accomplish nothing. So when you’re on social media, or talking with your friends, do not propagate hate for something as silly as politics. Instead, unite with them to promote resolution that makes our country safer for everyone.

Well, you made it to the end! Thank you for taking the time to read through this page. Please feel free to post your comments or questions below, regardless of your opinion. I will be checking back frequently to answer any questions. Additionally, I am hoping to gauge the accuracy of my assumptions through the following survey. While it doesn’t come close to representing the actual voting pool, I would love to hear what people our age holistically think about the issue, both within the US and around the world. You can take the one minute survey here. I look forward to having a discussion with all of you!


Share this project
  1. April 30, 2018 by Michael.Shade

    Oh boy – this can be controversial. But in the end, if everyone just talks it out, it will be fine. In the end, you can never change other peoples’ opinions, you can only alter your own. My opinion is that the genie is out of the bottle, and no matter what we do, there is no way to remove guns from the equation. Guns will be around regardless of more or less government regulation. In these shootings, it isn’t the safety checks that failed; it was the people who sold them the weapons. Even if all guns were illegal, there will always be a way to buy one, especially for malicious intent.

  2. April 30, 2018 by Carolinelayson

    I liked how you took on a daring controversial topic! I could bring my opinion into it and you could do but I think you did a good job just stating the facts!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.