The trouble with labeling mass violence

The U.S., as a collective, needs to rethink its approach to violence
Posted Thursday, November 16, 2017 - 1:13pm

Over the last month and a half, Americans suffered from a bad case of déjà vu. Three mass killings occurred in the span of five weeks and with the current political and social climate, this trend doesn’t appear to have a solution in sight. While it is tricky to bring politics into the fray during troublesome and grief-stricken times, discussions brought on discourse amongst both sides of the political aisle and tested already murky waters.

The topic of gun control is almost always brought up in the aftermath of mass shootings, and the divide between both sides of the debate seems to grow even wider as such talks progress.

One side insists that gun law reforms are needed to come up with common-sense solutions to curb the growing instances of large-scale gun violence. Those on the other side of the debate feels that any change amounts to an infringement of the Second Amendment, leading to guns being taken away from law-abiding citizens. There hardly seems to be any middle ground on this issue, so any proposals made ultimately sputter out before they can hit the Senate or House floor.

In other instances of mass violence, especially in regard to terrorism, the legitimacy of the culprit’s status in the country is oftentimes called into question. Whether it is a matter of immigration reform or other perceived law enforcement deficiencies, the rhetoric surrounding terrorist behavior conjures up images of ISIS and other groups notorious for threatening and attacking the United States.

There is no doubt that these individuals should be taken seriously, and their motives investigated to the fullest extent, but the biggest problem with post-terrorist attacks is that the concept of religion and race is often in the forefront and creates more unnecessary fear and violence.

Another wrinkle to these post-attack discussions is the responses President Donald Trump has publicly made and his different tones taken.

After the Las Vegas shooting, which claimed 58 lives, Trump called the incident “an act of pure evil,” and that the shooter’s “wires were crossed pretty badly in his brain.” Following the attack in New York City, which killed eight, Trump struck a stronger tone, calling the driver an “animal,” in addition to ramping up his demands for stricter vetting of immigrants. His comments regarding the Texas-church shooting echoed those that he made after the one in Vegas, once again asserting that the killing was “a mental health problem at the highest level,” not a gun problem.

The common denominator of the Vegas and Texas shootings is the shooters were white males, whereas the attacker in NYC was an immigrant. Trump’s tough talk about terrorist attacks in this country is becoming racist. In 2015, after an attack in San Bernardino, California, Trump prematurely labeled the suspect a radical terrorist, then added, “I mean, you look at the names, you look at what’s happened. You tell me.”


This type of talk creates a divided nation and it also furthers the double standard held between what mass violence is versus what is considered terrorism.


According to the FBI, “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force or violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The last part of this definition can be open to interpretation, but the majority of occasions that “qualifies” an attack as an act of terrorism is one that is based on radical Islam or other hostile Muslim organizations.


In instances of the Las Vegas shooter, the shooter in the Texas church and other attacks unaffiliated with terrorist groups, the same basic principles applied. So why is it that one attack that kills eight people can be labeled terrorism, when a mass shooting that kills 58 is not?


The U.S., as a collective, needs to rethink its approach to violence and the language used to classify it. Unfortunately, the country is under attack from its own citizens more so than it is from notorious terrorist groups. It shouldn’t be acceptable to label one person as an “animal,” while dancing around another instance using mental illness as an excuse. When a person, or group of people, premeditates, attacks and kills Americans, it is an act of terror, regardless of religion or affiliations to any organization.

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