Nearly a week after tragedy struck in Atlanta, flags in the United States were briefly raised. Less than two days later they returned to half-staff following yet another mass shootings. The US has seen at least 34 mass shootings over the last five years, with 365 people killed and many more injured. The nation saw a brief reprieve from mass shootings as states went into 2020 Covid-19 lockdowns. However, these attacks remind Americans that this type of violence is disturbingly common. With domestic terrorism on the rise in the United States, it is important that legislation targets the perpetrators of these attacks.
These crimes represent a unique phenomenon that stymies policymakers who try to legislate and prepare for these unpredictable events. Ideologically driven crimes which endanger human life in the United States are defined as domestic terrorism. Despite the United States’ history of domestic terrorism attacks, there are no specific federal statutes in place to prosecute it.
Mass shootings are becoming more frequent and more deadly. 20% of mass killings that have occurred in the last 50 years, have taken place in the last 5 years. 2017 and 2018 were the deadliest years on record for the US. Following a single mass shooting, there is a 15% increase in the number of gun control bills introduced into legislation. However, gun control bills lack bipartisan support to actually enact change.
Racial motivations behind the recent killings in Atlanta are under review. On March 16th Robert Long, a 21-year-old white man, bought a handgun hours before his attack on three different Asian-owned spas in Atlanta, Georgia. The deadly rampage took eight victims, six of whom were of Asian descent. The attack has not yet been classified as a hate crime by the officials investigating. However, attacks on Asian-Americans are on the rise, particularly since the beginning of 2020 and the rise of Covid-19.
On March 22nd 21-year-old Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa opened fire on unsuspecting grocery shoppers at King Sooper’s supermarket in Boulder, Colorado. 10 victims lost their lives during the violent assault. Alissa bought the assault-style weapon on March 16th. Alissa’s motive for the attack has not yet been identified.
Research has identified hundreds of extremist groups categorised as white nationalists, within the United States. In 2019, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported an increase in white nationalist groups for the second year in a row, with a 55% increase since 2017. With domestic terrorism on the rise, there are many examples of these deadly attacks. In 2015, Dylann Roof murdered 9 Black parishioners inside an African Episcopal church in South Carolina. Patrick Wood Crusius killed 23 people in a deadly anti-Latino hate crime in 2019. Violent extremism is a significant threat in 2021, and the pandemic has only stressed an increasing number of anti-government attitudes. Growing racial tensions and political demonstrations have only increased the United States’ susceptibility to radicalisation.
Following the insurrection at the Capitol, it has come to light that there are no federal domestic terrorism laws in the United States. The lack of consensus on the topic and the unwilling to regulate weapons in the United States impacts new legislation. Those identified as terrorists are another point of contention preventing bipartisan support. Numerous countries have taken the step to write clear statutes that allow prosecutors to charge perpetrators with domestic terrorism. For instance, in Canada Statute 83.18(1) identifies anyone who is participating in the activity of a terrorist group. To better target and prosecute individuals and groups with these murderous intentions, the US needs to come to a consensus on what is and isn’t terrorism within its borders.
Domestic terrorism, mass killings, and ideological extremism have proliferated the landscape of the U.S. Commenting on the killings in Boulder, a Chicago-area teen told CNN, “I’m horrified to tell you I feel nothing, […] This kind of trauma feels so normal.” Unlike the United States, countries around the world have implemented aggressive gun control legislation following similar attacks. In 2019, two attacks took place in New Zealand both were mass shootings at mosques. Prime Minister Ardern announced a ban on assault style weapons 5 days after the terrorist attack.
In order to address extremism, swift action must be taken by legislators. Gun control measures implemented around the world have shown a decrease in domestic violence. Legislative impasse is not a foregone conclusion. Common-sense solutions exist and have support from the American electorate. Policymakers need to measure their tolerance for normalized violence, listen to American voters, and begin the process of codifying solutions to prevent the next mass shooting or act of domestic terror.
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