Sunday, August 4, 2019

If mass shootings are "terrorism" . . .

If mass shootings are going to be called “terrorism,” then we should ask if common arguments about terrorism apply to mass shootings. One of those arguments is that the media and the public are too concerned about terrorism, which poses far less of a risk to the average American than car accidents do. (Neil deGrasse Tyson recently made that argument, and caught a lot of flak for it.)

But there are good reasons to feel differently about intentional massacres than car accidents. Intentional terrorist attacks or mass shootings against innocent people have no benefits, so the only goal that makes sense is to reduce them to as close to zero as possible. Cars aren’t like that; cars have a lot of benefits, and can even save lives (e.g. driving someone to the hospital). So the optimum goal is not to reduce the number of cars to zero. And as long as there are cars, there are going to be car accidents, no matter how careful we are. Still, for many decades, America has been taking measures to reduce car accidents, like traffic laws and car safety regulations. It shouldn’t be assumed that people don’t feel very strongly about cars; after all, those statistics on fatalities mean there are a lot more Americans out there who’ve lost a family member to a car crash than to a terrorist attack.

Another common argument about terrorism is that without at all excusing the atrocities, we should understand the root causes of terrorism, namely that economically oppressed people turn to terror as a last resort. Meanwhile, it’s often been observed that the most widely reported mass shootings in the US have usually been done by white men. So, are white men who grew up in the United States a particularly oppressed group? If you don’t think so, and you think the kinds of mass shootings we’ve been seeing lately are “terrorism,” then it’s time to question the idea that oppression is the root cause of terrorism.


Begonia said...

If we look only at the *motivation* of the shooter, I think that mass shootings are more akin to suicide by cop. Or pilot suicides like those documented in the recent Atlantic article about the Malaysian Flight:

On the other hand, if we look at the *effect* that they have on different groups, some of these mass shootings have the effect of producing fear in different populations. I'm on a jewish mom's facebook group and since the Pittsburgh/San Diego shootings, there are a lot more moms posting about their concerns about their synagogue/hebrew day school security protocols now. Those synagogue shootings have had a terroristic effect on the jewish population.

I would guess that the El Paso shooting would have a similar effect on latino populations. People feel targeted--because they WERE targeted.