Prisoner’s Dilemmas- I: Gun Control in Arizona

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There is a battle brewing in Arizona. The municipal government of Tucson is looking to enact gun control ordinances that are contrary to Arizona state law. The city passed a resolution requiring federal gun laws to be followed within Tucson’s city limits.  From a superficial standpoint, this does not sound so radical. As any careful observer of the Arizona political scene can tell you this outright rebellion. Arizona has always been a very 2nd Amendment friendlily state. Back in April, Governor Doug Ducey signed HB 2111. The bill prevents any institutions from utilizing state resources or promulgating rules that violate state gun laws.

“…Specifies that pursuant to the sovereign authority of this state and Article II, Section 3, Constitution of Arizona, the state of Arizona and its political subdivisions are prohibited from utilizing any financial resources or state personnel to administer, cooperate with or enforce any law, act, order, rule, treaty or regulation of the federal government that is inconsistent with any law of this state regarding the regulation of firearms…”  (HB 2111).

Many outside spectators may view this measure by Arizona lawmakers a superfluous or even paranoid. Objectively, there has been a precipitous erosion of gun rights over the decades. Generally resulting from a tightening of federal gun regulations. One only needs to look towards the  Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act (1994) and subsequent laws to see this pattern emerging. Although, most gun enthusiasts would most likely reason that this pattern emerged before 1994. However, this legislative game of red rover isn’t an illusion caused by the slippery-slope fallacy. It is also important to not frame the legislative encroachment of the 2nd Amendment as devolving into a frenzied conspiracy climaxing to a dystopian gun grab campaign.  

Arizona lawmakers not being quite so sanguine about the Biden administration’s respect for gun rights is understandable. Especially when you consider his platform regarding gun safety, which seeks to impose more restrictions. It is well known that the City of Tucson has been at odds with state gun laws for a while, being an uncharacteristically left-wing city in a conservative state. The state legislator fearing that Biden would tighten up federal gun regulations they drafted HB 2111, effectively making Arizona a “2nd Amendment Haven”. The state of Arizona is not alone in drafting us preemptive measures as several other states have drafted similar bills.

The officials of the City of Tucson have stated that if the state government intervened they would take it up with the federal courts.

“….Steve Kozachik, the councilman who introduced the resolution last month, said he believes the state’s sanctuary law to be unconstitutional. 

“Let them challenge us,” he told The Arizona Daily Star….” (Business Insider).

Insinuating that under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution the city would have the higher ground from a legal standpoint. Because the Supremacy Clause states that federal law supersedes state law. Even the causal jurist knows that U.S. Law is complex and riddled with a plethora of loopholes. Holding such an axiom as unwavering is at best an overly simplistic interpretation of the law. It should be noted that the Supremacy Clause was intended to apply to the promulgation of laws in the scope of congress’s enumerated powers. After re-reading Article I, Section 8 several times, I simply could not find a sentence, never mind a paragraph conferring the power of formulating gun control laws to the federal government! Nevertheless, when Tucson petitions their complaint to the SCOTUS it will make for an entertaining case, to say the least.

It is important to remember that the state government does have a very compelling bargaining chip for negotiations. That is state tax dollars. The city of Tucson does receive a portion of tax revenue from the state (like most municipalities do), the state of Arizona could very well withhold these funds as a condition of noncompliance. It is estimated by going rogue on the gun issue, the city stands to lose “… half of its state shared revenue..”. The conflict here is the typical example of conflicting political interests at various layers of the political hierarchy. Mirroring the conflicts between the federal and state governments. Because both factions have divergent interests, rather than compromise both groups prefer fighting to the bitter death. Gun control like most wedge issues has a winner-take-all payoff. Primarily due to political polarization. However, losing ground policy-wise does turn into a slippery slope quickly. Incrementally evolving into long-term losses.  

Since the incentives structure is skewed towards winner-take-all payoffs, neither party can trust the other in the event of a compromise. Completely dispensing with any good faith bargaining; leaving logrolling off the table. This lack of good faith between the state government and the city of Tucson creates fertile ground for a Prisoner’s Dilemma. A Prisoner’s Dilemma is a concept in game theory where individuals working together could produce better results than working against one another. In certain situations, if both parties lack trust, they will defect and work against the other individual. Paradoxically, both actors would be better off if they worked in unison. If both Tucson and the state government brokered a deal with some carefully considered concessions, everyone would be happier. Instead, they both would rather hardball a gluttonous attempt to have all of their policy preferences fulfilled. Does nothing more than waste resources and generate more drama.