A Strange Definition of Success…

Nob Akimoto

Nob Akimoto is a policy analyst and part-time dungeon master. When not talking endlessly about matters of public policy, he is a dungeon master on the NWN World of Avlis

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50 Responses

  1. Will H. says:

    What strikes me as odd is this:
    With everyone down on “the media,” there sure seems to be an awful lot of it.Report

  2. Stillwater says:

    Nob, I think it’s a definition that assumes that a naturalistic level of gun related homicides/suicides/rampages/etc, so anything less than the “natural” level is a success. What’s the natural level? I’d suggest two definitions of that and you can take your pick. 1) It’s the level that would increase if we imposed imposed any additional gun control measures. 2) It’s the level that would decrease if all citizens were armed and trained-up, and if we would only teach young people to rush the shooter at the instant they see a gun.

    Heh. I kid.Report

  3. dhex says:

    “Does this strike anyone else as an odd definition of success?”

    as per the original false narrative, one dead versus three or five dead or whatever…kinda? it’s definitely a less-bad ending.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to dhex says:

      The Vikings are losing by 43 points. Late in the fourth quarter they stop the Packers from a final touchdown and limit them to a field goal, changing Green Bay’s final point total from 56 to only 52 points.


      • dhex in reply to Stillwater says:

        so the additional people are only worth a point or two each? wouldn’t it be the difference between losing by 7 and losing by [touchdown and +1 for each additional victim]?

        (yes this is a terrible analogy but we’re stuck with it)Report

  4. Will Truman says:

    This hasn’t gotten many comments (yet), but I thought it was a good post, Nob. I think that there is something to be said for mitigated losses. But mitigated losses to not make a win. They might make a success, depending on what the metric is.

    Stillwater uses a sports example. It’s not uncommon for fans to feel like they have a “moral victory” from a loss. And just as common for people to say it’s a stupid concept. But I know that when my team has lost by a much smaller margin than I would have guessed or had feared, I can come away from the TV feeling okay.

    So… a bad situation that could have been worse. A lot of it, I guess, is going to depend on what we consider the alternative possibilities. Does the initial shooter not have the gun because we have tighter gun control regulations? Then it’s more of a loss. On the other hand, if we take for granted that such people will have guns, then I can see it as being a gain.Report

  5. Rod Engelsman says:

    My question is how does or should this affect the stats on “mass” shootings? If we take the report at face value it seems that the shooter intended to kill more than one person, possibly many more.

    This relates to a comment some time back by Kazzy (IIRC) to the effect of why we treat attempted homicide differently than actual homicide. Why should someone get a lighter sentence just because they weren’t very good or got unlucky during the commission of the crime? After all, intent is what distinguishes murder from accident from self-defense, right?

    I guess my point here is if we’re investigating causes and motivations of mass killers then this should count as a data point just as much as if it had been carried to completion, no?Report

  6. James Hanley says:


    I don’t think it’s that strange a definition of success at all. It’s not a perfect outcome, but it’s a better outcome than what could have happened.

    That’s not to say I’m taking any position at all on this in terms of policy implications. Just that I think limiting the number of deaths to X instead of X+ is indeed a success story–at least for those folks who are the +. In fact deriding the idea that there is a success here, or comparing it to a football game as someone did above, seems astoundingly callous toward those + lives. (Based on the Snopes account, the shooter did pursue restaurant employees into the theater and continue firing at them, so while we can’t know for sure whether he would have managed to cause any more injuries/deaths, it seems clear that he was trying to, and that consequently there was an unacceptably high probability he might succeed.)Report

    • It feels to me, that all too often in cases like this, the fact that the +s are valued, but the X is set aside as “something that happened ahead of time” makes me cringe. That is to say, it betrays a certain attitude toward victims of domestic violence within society, and you can even see it in the Newtown massacre with regard to the way the number of victims were counted and how Nancy Lansa is considered toward the larger picture.

      It strikes me as a symptom of a larger societal problem describing violence.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        It’s not that we should ignore the X and not seek solutions to prevent future Xes. But it’s always important to remember that the past is past (sunk costs and whatnot), and at any given moment we have to think about what can we do from this moment on.

        I don’t think it betrays any kind of attitude toward the victims, just a recognition that we can’t change the past, no matter how ugly it is.

        Maybe this analogy helps make my point clear. Assume there’s a big flood, and lots of people die. After lots have already died, but while the flood is still occurring, somebody realizes that more people are likely to die and figures out how to save them. If we are gratified by that person’s action, and grateful for the lives that person saved, does that mean we don’t care about those who died prior to that action? I don’t think that follows at all. Policywise, does it mean that we shouldn’t promote that action in the future? I don’t think that follows at all. Does it mean we should only promote that action, and not make efforts to prevent future floods? I don’t think that follows at all (although I suspect you are worried that some people will take that as the lesson, and I would concur with that concern).

        Here’s what I think follows. If we downplay the saving of whatever lives were actually saved, then we’re implying that their lives don’t matter, or that they at least matter less than the lives that weren’t saved. I think that does follow from your argument. I don’t think you mean it (more specifically, I am absolutely positively sure you don’t mean it), but I think it follows nevertheless.Report

        • When we’re discussing whether or not a prescriptive policy solution (ie more armed people in general) it’s important to discuss what the root causes of the violence are.

          In this case (and indeed in the case of Adam Lansa) there was an initial domestic/family dispute that escalated after the confrontation into a more general attempt to increase the amount of carnage.

          The assumption of arguing that it takes an armed individual to take down a shooter after he’s revealed himself to be out to cause danger, suggests that the initial targets of the shooter are unavoidable casualties.

          The underlying assumption here is that there will always be a sunk cost, and that sunk cost is a cost that society is willing to bear, whereas the additional costs are not.

          In a flood analogy, it follows that you’re assuming there’s always going to be flood damage that can’t be mitigated by policy and that the ideal policy would be to simply promote the heroic actions to save people caught in the flood. At least insofar as there’s a policy prescription at work with the narrative being sold here.Report

          • Glyph in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            But – and leaving aside the whole gun debate to begin with – isn’t nearly any initial, single murder almost by definition extremely, extremely hard to prevent?

            That is – if I had motive to kill, the means and opportunity for me to kill any single initial victim are nearly infinite. I can attempt to kill you in the study with the candlestick, and it’s highly unlikely anyone can do much about that attempt before the fact.

            Once I have made my intentions clear by making the attempt, at that point, meaningful action to prevent further carnage is much more possible.

            So is it surprising we focus our attention on the deaths that *maybe* could have been prevented, rather than the one that would have been much much more difficult to prevent (a mentally ill and enraged 20-year old can almost certainly kill his middle-aged mother, even with just his hands and no gun)?Report

            • Gaelen in reply to Glyph says:

              ” if I had motive to kill, the means and opportunity for me to kill any single initial victim are nearly infinite”

              I don’t know if this is quite accurate. Many, if not most, victims are acquaintances of the perpetrator (see below, though the data is far from complete). And even those situations–such as gang killings or robberies gone wrong– where there is no prior relationship can sometimes be prevented. I mean, we can be talking about macro level prevention such as lead exposure, economic opportunity, social norms, etc, or micro level such as police presence, gun control, and policing priorities, but the murder rate rises and falls based on the interplay of these and other factors.

              I realize the point your making is in regards to whether we consider killing the shooter a success, but the way it is phrased has broader implications with which I happen to disagree.


          • M.A. in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            The real analogy that’s been presented by the gun nut crowd would be:

            It’s pointless to:
            – build levees, embankments, and other features to limit the effects of flooding or chances of a truly catastrophic flood occurring
            – create sensible gun laws that help keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm to others and help keep responsible gun owners truly responsible and mindful of gun safety so they don’t do things like shooting their own 7 year old son

            But instead we should:
            – Require all citizens to have a blowup raft, paddles, and other safety equipment on hand at all times and legally obligate them to paddle to neighbors who don’t
            – Require as many people in society to run around arms “in case” a broken gunman with a gun decides to open fire.

            The problems here are all involved in confirmation bias. The incidents of someone snapping and going on a shooting spree are, on the whole, rare. The amount of carnage and effect they have on a whole community, in what they do to grieving friends, parents, family, and the shattering of a community’s feeling of safety, are outsized compared just to the death statistics.

            On the other hand, incidents of guns being used for “self defense” are much, much less common than guns being used to harm someone or being involved in accidents. But since the argument for “self defense” is what the NRA and Rambo types currently rest their case on, they want to see these played up. More to the point, against all logic and statistical validity, they imagine they will be the ones who get lucky enough to do it. It’s Rambo winning the PR lottery, getting to be the “hero with a gun.”

            In the flood analogy, the “heroic rescuers” are more likely to get themselves harmed than to manage to rescue others. Likewise, the statistics show that the “guns for self defense” crowd are more likely to be harmed by their own gun than to successfully use it to “defend themselves.”

            There’s a lot of confirmation bias going on in the debate in that regard. It’s much like the arguing from some people about how the might have a 1 in a million chance of being thrown from a car, to safely land in mud or grass, if only their seat belt didn’t hold them in the car’s seat and therefore seatbelt laws should be repealed… an anecdotal story of how it once happened to someone who won the Luck Lottery being their “proof” ignoring all the safety testing, studies, and other incidents where the seat belt kept someone from greater harm.Report

            • Bill Kilgore in reply to M.A. says:

              —On the other hand, incidents of guns being used for “self defense” are much, much less common than guns being used to harm someone or being involved in accidents.—

              Citation please.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Bill Kilgore says:



                6. Guns in the home are used more often to intimidate intimates than to thwart crime.

                Using data from a national random-digit-dial telephone survey conducted under the direction of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, we investigated how and when guns are used in the home. We found that guns in the home are used more often to frighten intimates than to thwart crime; other weapons are far more commonly used against intruders than are guns.

                Publication: Azrael, Deborah R; Hemenway, David. In the safety of your own home: Results from a national survey of gun use at home. Social Science and Medicine. 2000; 50:285-91.

                Second option:


                If you have a gun, everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide.

                Furthermore, there is no credible evidence that having a gun in your house reduces your risk of being a victim of a crime. Nor does it reduce your risk of being injured during a home break-in.Report

              • Bill Kilgore in reply to M.A. says:

                Phone surveys? Seriously? Neither of those links- irrespective of the issues they have- support the claim of yours I quoted. They don’t even address the specific claim you made.

                From the first link—To believe fully the claims of millions of self-defense gun uses each year would mean believing that decent law-abiding citizens shot hundreds of thousands of criminals.—

                That statement is so stupid it should come with a free bowl of soup. Ignoring the inane description, the link doesn’t even attempt to provide a number of gun uses for self defense- neither of your links do- how can you expect such links to support your claim? You introduced a specific comparison, either introduce the specific data that supports the comparison or withdraw it and admit its rectally sourced.

                You don’t have to shoot someone to use a gun for defense. To state as much is to announce that you aren’t seriously engaging the discussion. FFS, what you wrote was false, and obviously so. If you want people to take your arguments seriously, you shouldn’t make false claims. When someone calls you out for making false claims, you shouldn’t cite studies that are sort of on point- but not really- and aren’t exactly the zenith of scientific inquiry.

                There are some legitimate issues that should be discussed regarding the use of weapons- particularly firearms- for self-defense. You do not appear to be someone who is capable of discussing them.Report

              • M.A. in reply to Bill Kilgore says:

                Even more:

                That you are dishonestly trying to pooh-pooh the research shows you’re just trolling.Report

              • M.A. in reply to M.A. says:

                Worse still, using a gun in self-defense is extremely rare (most instances involve using a gun to defend against animals): studies place defensive gun use at about one percent in home invasions and 0.1 percent in sexual assaults. Moreover, police reports suggest a lot of these uses involved inappropriate use of the gun.Report

              • Bill Kilgore in reply to M.A. says:

                I’m pooh-poohing nothing, save for your dishonest attempts to avoid supporting your claim.

                You posted a specific claim. I’ve asked for the data on which the claim is based. You have provided nothing of the sort because you are unable to do so.

                While I appreciate your ability to google David Hemenway and link to all of his articles, such is not equivalent to the presentation of data that supports your claim.Report

            • James Hanley in reply to M.A. says:

              Funny how we had a nice polite disagreement going on, without rhetoric or pejoratives, then M.A. has to enter and immediately make it about “gun nuts.” Helpful fellow, that M.A.Report

          • James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            The assumption of arguing that it takes an armed individual to take down a shooter after he’s revealed himself to be out to cause danger, suggests that the initial targets of the shooter are unavoidable casualties.

            No, the assumption is that it’s not possible to prevent every shooter, so in those cases where we can’t, we need a secondary–post-initial-shot–plan.

            Whether allowing folks to walk around armed is in fact the proper secondary plan is something I’ll refrain from commenting on. But I’ll say that those who focus on just that are obviously only looking at part of the solution, but likewise those who focus only on the prevention are also only looking at part of the solution (since we know that perfect prevention–of anything at all in the whole world, and neither restricted to nor excluding violent action by emotionally/mentally unstable people–is an impossibility).Report

            • Gaelen in reply to James Hanley says:

              I agree that stopping further carnage can reasonably be viewed as a success, but would quibble with your blanket condemnation of both sides of this debate.

              It feels like you are drawing a false dichotomy between those dealing with the effects of violence, and those seeking to prevent the occurrence of said violence. I would hazard a guess that both sides see their respective position as both preventing violence, as well as dealing with the inevitable outcome (through citizen initiative and less dangerous gunman, respectively). Most people probably see the primary issues are those of emergency management, police response time, budgeting, criminal justice priorities, etc. and view their respective gun control positions as supplementary to these measures (this may be less true of the pro-gun position).

              Again, your point on the inability to prevent all violence is well taken, though I would argue that the killing of a women in a domestic (or semi-domestic) situation is the issue which we should always be focused on. Chalking up this woman’s death as almost unavoidable seems to be giving the game away, while focusing on preventing the (usually rare) mass shooting is possibly counterproductive (and could lead to bad policy).Report

              • James Hanley in reply to Gaelen says:

                It feels like you are drawing a false dichotomy

                Nothing personal, Gaelen, but I have to admit that I think the false dichotomy meme here at the League is getting overplayed to the point of meaninglessness. It seems to me that lately every attempt to say there are two sides to a story, or that neither camp is wholly pure, is met with the response of “false dichotomy”! I’ve come to believe that “false dichotomy” most often means “don’t gore my ox, gore theirs!”

                I’m not saying you’re using it that way, or that your claim of it is necessarily inappropriate/inaccurate. It’s just that it’s been so over-used lately that now when I see it I get a gut reaction that it’s probably being used to protect someone’s ideological position.

                That’s not necessarily fair to you, of course. Your use just happened to be the one that finally caused me to vent (and my venting may not be related to the appropriateness, or lack of, of your use of the phrase). So my apologies for venting that in response to your post–I don’t remember any prior interaction with you, so I have no reason to assume bad faith on your part–but I just needed to get that out there for all to see.Report

              • Gaelen in reply to James Hanley says:

                Fair enough. I wan’t aware of that particular rhetorical devices overuse around here (I haven’t been reading LOOG lately), and thanks the civil tone after I pressed one of your buttons.Report

            • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to James Hanley says:

              Or, to work with M.A.s analogy, levees & dams & flood channels are all a good idea, but they can also all be overwhelmed, so it’s also a good idea if each person has a raft & paddles & emergency equipment in areas prone to flooding (BTW this is exactly what the whole C.E.R.T program is about. All crisis management operates at 2 levels, macro & micro. Macro is better social services, professional first responders, etc. Micro is people trained, equipped, & ready to respond to a crisis, even if only to protect themselves & allow macro resources to deal with larger issues.Report

  7. One complicating factor in the policy implications of the narrative, at least according to the details Nob has provided (I haven’t followed the links), is that the person who put a stop to the shooting was an off-duty cop.

    I can see this fact being spun different ways. One might be the “an armed society is a polite society” way: an armed citizen put a stop to a rampage that was on its way to happening. One might be the “police are professionals and only they should have guns” way: the off-duty cop, presumably, had some training in such situations and it’s unclear from the few details I have that a civilian would.

    I’m not saying these acts of spinning are the only ways to arrive at policy implications, or that they’re not (at least potentially) a little disingenuous. But the policy implications are not clear to me.Report

    • The off-duty cop portion is one I deliberately avoided, simply because it has the possibility of sending the discussion far off the rails.

      That said, the officer in question makes note that her training was what helped her take the actions she took in an interview after the fact.Report

      • Interesting fact. Of course, it might have been otherwise, an armed civilian stopping a rampage. (I’m more inclined to the view that an armed civilian would likely have less facility in stopping the rampage, but I must admit it’s a possibility.)Report

  8. Artor says:

    Funny, I remember hearing about this when it happened. I don’t absorb news by osmosis like some people, so I must have heard it from…wait for it…the media! But how could that be, if the media isn’t covering it? Of course, there’s been a number of mass-shootings lately, and honestly, the news cycles are getting a little overwhelmed. It’s not possible to treat every instance of a gun nut gone wild like it’s a new Newtown, so of course some cases are going to get less coverage. I am a bit surprised that this instance hasn’t been used as a bludgeon by the armed-cop-on-every-corner faction, even considering it’s less-than-effective message, as outlined above. The gun lobby has never restricted themselves to self-consistent messaging before.Report

  9. LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

    After Sarah Jane Moore and Squeaky Fromme both tried to assassinate President Ford, Doonesbury had a cartoon where Ford was asking his staff, “So, what you are saying is that these women represented small isolated incidents of people?”
    And his aides reply, “Yes, Sir, you will notice that the whole crowd didn’t open fire.”Report

  10. Jib says:

    There is another part to this. The reason the killer was a threat at the theater was because he had a gun. You needed some one with a gun to stop someone with a gun. A crazy man with a knife or club would be much less a threat to a crowded theater. This narrative makes clear sense only if you accept that there is nothing we can do to reduce the number of people carrying guns.

    Yesterday a man with a valid conceal permit accidentally dropped his gun in a crowded store and it went off. Luckily, no one was hurt. Police released him with no charges saying he was no a threat to any one, which is wrong. Clearly as an idiot who can not secure his weapon in public, he is a threat to anyone he stands next to. But we are suppose to accept that risk because you never know when a crazy man might walk into a store and start shooting?

    Gun accidents killed over 600 people in 2010 and caused over 200,000 injuries. All these X died but X+1 were saved discussions ignore the Y that will be killed and the Z that will be injured accidentally by mishandled guns when we dramatically increase the number of people carrying guns.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Jib says:

      To be fair, his case was forwarded to the DA for consideration of pulling his permit (I would hope) or filing charges of reckless endangerment.

      It is one of my personal criticisms of the WA CPL program – no training requirement. I appreciate some peoples fears that a training requirement will be crafted that would be so expensive or onerous that people would be unable to afford it, or complete it, but I don’t know of any state that has such a requirement, & I doubt such a requirement would stand up in court.

      What do we want?
      When do we want it?