I was deeply saddened to hear that there was yet another mass shooting in wake of all the other gun-related tragedies that our country suffered in recent months. As I sit down to write this blog, I am listening to news sources blame causes from mental illness to domestic terrorism. All question when will it be “enough” before action is taken?
My thoughts on this matter are not politically based. Regardless of what your party affiliation is, gun violence is everyone’s problem- and worst nightmare. Growing up in Connecticut in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, I noted a drastic shift in statewide gun policy. Connecticut began working on legislation as far back as 1994 to curb gun violence. This effort worked well for the Nutmeg state but did not have an appreciable impact on nationwide gun violence beyond its borders.
With Left and Right politicians squabbling with each other over balancing the appropriate political response with protecting Second Amendment rights, many are left asking how long will it take before a compromise with action is reached to protect citizens going about their everyday life. Depending on whom you ask, the answers will range from 3 months to 3 decades to never.
While these politicians argue along partisan lines, there is room for Behavioral Economics to play a role in reducing the number of mass-shootings and gun related deaths across our country. Traditional economics focuses on supply and demand of the individual and the firm. Actors in this realm choose to maximize their own profit at every opportunity while maintaining a high level of utility per unit of goods consumed. Herein lies the problem- “rational actors” as they are known, focus on their interests and personal wishes, not towards their impact on society. An individual who chooses to exercise his or her own rights will fight tooth and nail to protect their stakes in the matter until there is a reason to shift their preferences or actions. Rational actors care about maximizing their own outcomes, often ignoring the actions of others. This concept is often known as following one’s personal dominant strategy.
Contrasting traditional economics is the field of Behavioral Economics. This field combines an understanding of economics and psychology to elicit change across multiple domains (healthcare, finance, marketing, etc.). Behavioral economics has been used to help individuals make better healthcare choices, save more money for retirement, eat healthier, and even live longer. Employing a solution based on Behavioral Economics is perhaps one of the only approaches to solve a social policy-based problem that takes into account the impact of initiatives on the individual and the society in which they live rather than focusing on a political solution, which has failed thus far.
The time to shine is now for those who champion behavioral and decision sciences in the for-profit industry to lobby for its inclusion in public policy initiatives aimed at curbing gun violence.
In this blog, I won’t speculate specifically what types of interventions would best solve this countrywide epidemic. I do believe there is a role for behavioral economics to create solutions. I will pose this question to my colleagues: What does our discipline tell us can be done to reduce the amount of gun-related deaths in this country when one follows the next in rapid succession with barely any time to recover from the last?
Let’s start the conversation until we can provide solutions that are not politically based and accepted by both sides as a step in the right direction. We must keep this dialogue going so we can live in safety without fear of experiencing these heinous acts of gun violence. I invite you to reach out to share your ideas of how we can leverage psychology and economics to help solve this problem. I look forward to bringing together the brightest minds in academia and industry to start hypothesizing successful interventions to solve this problem. Stay tuned for more pieces covering the responses and ideas that have been received since the posting of this article.