Why Are Mass Shootings Not Regarded as Terrorism?

By Logan Barrett

            Mass shootings seem to be happening at a higher rate nowadays. The definition of domestic terrorism in the United States is an act “dangerous to human life" that is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or a specific state, and if the act appears to be intended to: “(i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping” and if it occurs “primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States”.

            This definition seems a bit broad for mass killings, but there’s a surprising low amount of people convicted for or charged with terrorism. One example of domestic terrorism is a mass shooting in Oaks Creek, Wisconsin where Wade Michael Page killed six and injured four Sikhs in their temple. Page was a discharged Army veteran and white supremacist that wanted to start a “racial holy war”. He killed himself after being injured by a police officer and the incident was handled as a terrorist attack.

            Surprisingly, school shootings are not considered terrorism. Columbine, Virginia Tech, and Newtown are all not considered terrorist attacks even though these are the attacks incite fear in Americans the most. For example, the Columbine shooters were motivated through anti-Christian behavior and bullying. They asked one of their victims if they believed in God before killing them and were ostracized all throughout high school. They wanted to disrupt how the government and American society work by inflicting chaos through carnage. They wanted to dwarf the Oklahoma City Bombing in comparison to what they would do. They also wanted to intimidate a civilian population, in this case Christians and their peers, but for some reason it was never considered an act of terrorism.

            Even if we were to disregard those as terrorism, how was Dylann Roof not charged with terrorism? Roof was the Charleston church shooter who killed nine African-American church members including a state representative. He was a white supremacist and even said that he was trying to start a race war, just like Page, but he wasn’t charged with terrorism. Roof’s intent was to intimidate African-Americans and he committed an act “dangerous to human life”, but instead of branding him as a terrorist, he’s charged with hate crimes and murders. He also wanted to influence the policy and conduct of America. He has said that “I hate the sight of the American flag. Modern American patriotism is an absolute joke” and “many veterans believe we owe them something for ‘protecting our way of life’ or ‘protecting our freedom’. But im not sure what way of life they are talking about. How about we protect the White race and stop fighting for the jews”. This shows that he wanted America to focus on white people rather than taking care of our veterans. Roof is an example of someone that fit all three parts of the definition. He’s still spending life in prison, but they did not charge him with terrorism. This might’ve been to make sure that the prosecution could convict him on the murder charges.

            The problem with charging people with terrorism is that most terrorist are killed or kill themselves so they don’t make it to the charging process. Expanding the definition of terrorism to include mass shootings of schools would make it look like law enforcement is taking these things more seriously and punish these people accordingly. It may not do much to prevent mass school shootings, but it would hold the perpetrators accountable and make sure they spend life behind bars.

About the Author: Logan is an intern at Reid Law Firm a rising senior at Auburn University majoring in Public Relations with minors in Business and Political Science. Logan may be reached at logan.reidlawfirm@gmail.com. 

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