To stop the next attack, El Paso needs to be described as terrorism - analysis

Due to the gun lobby and the Right’s position on the Second Amendment, it is extremely difficult to enact real change.

By
August 4, 2019 23:58
2 minute read.
Flowers are seen at the site of a mass shooting where 20 people lost their lives at a Walmart in El

Flowers are seen at the site of a mass shooting where 20 people lost their lives at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 4, 2019. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ)

Hours after the shooting on Saturday in El Paso, Texas, US President Donald Trump took to Twitter to send his condolences for a “shooting” he branded as an “act of cowardice.” Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell described the incident as “senseless violence” and “terrible violence.”

Now, imagine that the shooting in El Paso had been perpetrated by a Muslim, originally from Syria or Iraq, and not by Patrick Crusius, a 21-year-old white man. Would Trump have called the murder of 20 people a “shooting” and an “act of cowardice” or would he have referred to the incident as a “terrorist attack” and an “act of terror”?

We can all guess the answer.

Today, gun violence and mass shootings in the US are viewed through political prisms. Due to the gun lobby and the Right’s position on the Second Amendment, it is extremely difficult to enact real change.

Instead, as has been the case after previous such attacks, politicians and commentators conjure reasons for why the shooter carried out the attack. They will tell us that he has a history of mental illness, that he was a white supremacist, that the gun laws shouldn’t be changed because of isolated incidents or – as one senior journalist wrote Sunday – he was just a “lone loser” who made himself deadly with an assault rifle.

The choice of language is all the more important in this era of political polarization. Each side will use the shootings in El Paso and Dayton to advance their political agendas. The Democrats will say that the shooter’s alleged manifesto against Hispanics was inspired by Trump’s anti-immigration policy. The political Right will repeat the usual rhetoric of how it is important to defend the constitution and a person’s right to bear arms.

This is a mistake. The attacks that took place in El Paso and Dayton need to rise above the regular political rhetoric to be able to prevent future attacks.

An example that often comes to mind after attacks of this kind is the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, where 26 people were killed, most of whom were children. Half a year later was the Boston Marathon bombing, which killed three people. It was described as terrorism and paralyzed a city. Sandy Hook was written off as just another mass shooting by someone who was mentally ill.

This distinction distorts reality. If attacks like the one in El Paso were defined as terrorism, they would receive the same resources and attention that Islamic terrorism gets from the administration, Congress and the American people.

Using the term would get the country to fight white supremacy, domestic extremists and antisemitism the same way that it fights an ISIS cell, operating in the US or somewhere abroad.

The use of language is key, and is the first step needed to effectively combat this wave of gun violence. It’s time to call these attacks what they are – terrorism.


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