Over the last week after two mass shooting incidents in the United States and numerous close calls, many have sought the Federal Government to take a more active role in the investigation and prosecution of domestic terrorism in our country. But while the FBI has stepped in for both California and El Paso law enforcement, most likely if charges are every brought, they will be done so under state law and through state courts. In large part, this is due to a loophole in the Federal Criminal Code that lacks an enumerated crime for domestic terrorism.
Most define domestic terrorism as “acts meant to intimidate or coerce a civilian population and affect government policy.” But while the FBI has made that determination in the two instances mentioned above, they have yet to do so with the recent incident in Dayton, Ohio. However, because a domestic terrorism statute is not in the Federal Code, the Justice Department will rely on the individual state jurisdictions’ laws for murder, hate crimes, and firearm offenses to build their cases.
Many proponents of such a change in the code believe it would assist in finding justice for those murdered and their families from these mass shooting incidents. Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino believes, “Calling something for what it is is an important first step in combating this problem.” By creating a federal law, additional resources could be used by the Federal Government in the investigation, prosecution, and ultimate resolution of these cases.
However, some are worried that this kneejerk response could unfairly target white supremacist groups. While a majority of Americans despise what these organizations stand for, some civil rights advocates feel unfairly targeting one group over another undermines the very principles we are trying to protect. According to Daryl Johnson who is a former senior domestic terrorism analyst for the Department of Homeland Security, a double standard could be created. “We should be calling all ideologically motivated violence terrorism, whether it comes from the white variety or the Muslim variety.”
Both shooters in the Ohio and Texas incidents were white. However, the criminal in California self-identified as Iranian and Italian through the internet. Regarding the El Paso cases, law enforcement believes the twenty-one-year-old gunman displayed anti-Hispanic writings online before his shooting spree occurred. The nineteen-year-old attacker from California created a “target list” based on religious groups and political parties. Yet the case in Ohio has not been designated as an act of domestic terrorism even though the shooter was Caucasian.
Ultimately, it would seem in this climate where the mere mention of gun legislation invokes entrenched stances, it would seem the passage of a federal domestic terrorism law would be something everyone could get behind. In an atmosphere where citizens are demanding their elected officials to do something, this could be a positive step towards achieving that goal.