Las Vegas Shooting: “Terrorism” or Not?


The answer appears to be “yes” under Nevada law, but only a “maybe” under federal law — the debate continues about whether to label such an act, perpetrated by a man with no known ties to Muslim extremism, as “terrorism.” 

The act of ascribing meaning to such an act is reassuring for the public, however, it is a powerful label whose definition has vastly different legal and operational ramifications.
For instance, according to Nevada’s state law, an “act of terrorism” is defined as “any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population.”[1]  A separate state law describes a terrorist as “a person who intentionally commits, causes, aids, furthers, or conceals an act of terrorism or attempts to commit, cause, aid, further or conceal an act of terrorism.” 
On the other hand, under federal law, a terrorist is someone with ties to a foreign entity who uses tactics of intimidation or violence for political motives and intents to affect not just the immediate victims, but a larger group. 
By the legal, federal definition, it cannot be determined whether this act could be considered terrorism, as it is unknown whether the attack was politically motivated.
Currently, there is a criminal statute for international terrorism, but not domestic. 
To be charged with terrorism, a person has to be suspected of acting on behalf of one of nearly 60 groups that the State Department has declared a foreign terrorist organization.  A person who carries out a mass attack and survives can face a range of charges, but unless the person is linked to one of the banned groups, a federal terrorism charge will not be one of them.
There are complex arguments against drawing up a comprehensive definition of domestic terrorism in law.  First Amendment concerns arise in legal discussions about making domestic terrorism a crime.  Many worry that the federal government would criminalize speech, religion, or ideology.
There is clearly a significant difference between domestic terrorism and international terrorism – or what is being referred to as Islamic terrorism.  Until we can have a good understanding of what “terrorism” is, “domestic terrorism” and its definition, will continue to be a point of debate.

Best regards
und viele Grüße aus Charlotte
Reinhard von Hennigs