California Mathematicians Develop Equation to Prevent Shootings

Two mathematicians used statistical data to create an equation evaluating effects of gun control.


The study focused on one-on-one shootings because the majority of reported firearm deaths come from individual scenarios.

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In an attempt to bring a scientific and data-driven approach to the debate surrounding gun control, two mathematicians from the University of California, Irvine have designed an equation based on statistical data that says reducing the availability of guns will reduce shooting deaths in America.

The husband-and-wife team, Dominik Wodarz and Natalia Komarova, used statistical data from existing studies on gun violence to create different measurements for their equation to predict what is the best method to prevent shootings. After plugging in numbers for different situations, the duo came to the conclusion that, at least for one-on-one shootings, gun control is the more beneficial option. Their findings were published on Friday in the journal PLOS ONE.

"We have now developed a scientific framework where we can argue about scientific data and assumptions, rather than having an emotional debate," Wodarz told U.S. News. "The framework has identified exactly what needs to be measured statistically in order to make these predictions."

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Wodarz and Komarova evaluated factors such as the number of people who own guns, how many of those people carry a gun with them, and the likelihood that a person could avoid death by using a gun as defense. The team also looked at studies that evaluated the effect of reduced gun availability on the number of guns in the criminal population. Just as a navigation system in a car uses factors such as distance, speed limits and traffic conditions to find the optimal route between two points, the couple used these statistical measurements to devise the most ideal method to prevent firearm deaths.

"These sort of parameters can be statistically measured in the field," Wodarz says. "You plug the numbers into the calculations, which will tell you which is the better path to reduce death."

The couple focused their study on one-on-one shootings because, as Komarova explained, the majority of reported deaths related to firearms come from individual scenarios. However, Komarova and Wodarz also looked into how gun control could affect the outcomes of "one-against-many" scenarios, such as the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., and at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

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In examining mass shooting scenarios, Komarova told U.S. News that the results were very similar to individual shootings, but that they could say so "with less certainty."

Wodarz says there are complications involved in evaluating the effects of gun control on mass shooting outcomes. Their model says, for example, that if there are many people who could shoot an attacker, that may be beneficial. But at the same time, the equation would have to account for collateral damage.

"If you're in a dark movie theater and people start shooting at what they think is the attacker, they may actually cause more deaths than save lives," Wodarz says, referring to the shooting in Aurora. "Things like that shift it more in favor of gun control."

Another factor, Wodarz says, is whether people who own guns are properly trained to use them.

"If people are well-trained and actually know what they are doing, maybe in a mass shooting people could protect themselves," Wodarz says. "But a reality in this country is that a lot of people who have guns are not trained."

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Still, Komarova says that in order to properly assess the effects of gun control on mass shootings, they would need more extensive data to address these complications.

Moving forward, the couple says they also want to look into measurements involved with the controversial "stand your ground" laws that exist in many states. Under the law in Florida, for example, a person can use deadly force in self defense without a duty to retreat.

Though George Zimmerman, the Florida man who received a "not guilty" verdict in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin on July 13, did not invoke the laws in his defense, they served as a backdrop throughout the trial. Martin supporters are urging legislators to amend, if not abolish the laws, and his mother Sybrina Fulton claims "stand your ground" was responsible for her son's death.