Before 2001, “terrorism” was uncommon in America’s violence lexicon.
Today, it’s commonplace and, over the weekend, the word emerged in a frightening, homegrown context. Two mass shootings in 24 hours left at least 30 people dead and injured dozens more.
These scenes are all too familiar. Enough is enough. It’s time for solutions.
In El Paso, Texas, 21-year-old Patrick Crusius, tore through a Walmart store with an assault rifle, killing at least 22 people. Minutes before the shooting, he posted a manifesto on the online message board 8chan, referencing an attack in response to the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.”
In Dayton, Ohio, 24-year-old Connor Betts swooped through the city’s lively Oregon District, killing at least nine people, including his sister. He wore a mask, body armor and hearing protection, and used a high-capacity assault rifle capable of 100 rounds.
Dozens of headlines referenced threats of domestic terrorism. If gun violence is a “terrorism” issue, then our elected leaders should swiftly implement safer systems, just as they did after the 9/11 attacks. Presence, awareness and coordination are the cornerstones of our counterterrorism policies — and the pipeline of guns in America lacks such attention.
Too often, the debate has been housed in two schools of thought. Guns are a protected U.S. constitutional right and must be left untouched, or guns are the scourge of society and must be taken away. Neither polarized view is the answer.
On Tuesday morning, President Trump reacted seriously and firmly to the carnage over the weekend.
“In one voice, our nation must condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy. These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” he said, a moment that we hope will prove to be a turning point — for him and the nation.
The fight against these factors is more nuanced than our longstanding battle over the modern meaning of the Second Amendment. The internet creates channels that stoke the potential for violence, the influence of foreign actors and the dangers of mental health issues, among other things.
Perhaps we could turn to NATO’s topic page on counterterrorism, which “focuses on improving awareness of the threat, developing capabilities to prepare and respond, and enhancing engagement with partner countries and other international actors.”
“[Terrorism] is a persistent global threat that knows no border, nationality or religion and is a challenge that the international community must tackle together,” the statement adds.
When two planes struck the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, our nation came together and adapted to new travel realities. Two months after the terror attacks, Congress and President George W. Bush created the Transportation Security Agency, required 100% baggage screening and put that responsibility in the hands of federal officials, not private companies.
As new threats emerged, our security systems adapted. In December 2001, a passenger attempted to set off explosives in his shoes. By 2002, new technologies were implemented to detect explosives in luggage. In August 2006, a plot involving several flights and liquid explosives prompted a ban on liquids, gels and aerosols from carry-on baggage. By September, the policy was loosened to the 3-1-1 rule, requiring clear containers of 3 ounces or less in a resealable plastic bag.
In 2001, we didn’t respond to “terrorism” by banning the sale of plane tickets, or asking everyone to carry their own guns on flights. We created better systems to keep the world’s skies safe — partnerships among law enforcement, airports, airlines and countries across the globe.
The shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, are desperate calls for action. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 36,000 people die of gun violence in the U.S. each year. That’s around the equivalent of one 9/11 attack per month. If a set of planes flew into our nation’s most prized buildings every 30 days, would it take us this long to react?
Bullets are flying into our neighbors’ bodies at the same rate — an image that should be taken just as seriously. In Virginia, legislators left the General Assembly last month with no movement on how to address a mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 people. That’s certainly not a solution.
When the Virginia State Crime Commission meets later this month, we hope the topic of gun legislation will be about more than just gun beliefs. Mass shootings have terrorized retail stores, schools, banks, nightclubs, municipal buildings and more.
This is a public safety crisis requiring better presence, awareness and coordination among all community levels. Government agencies and citizens must break through the silos that keep us divided and defeated on this issue.