Las Vegas shooting not labeled terrorism, local experts explain why

Posted on 3 October 2017 at 7:30pm

COLUMBIA - The Las Vegas shooting tragedy left more than 50 dead and more than 500 wounded, but President Donald Trump and major news outlets have not labeled it as a terrorist attack.

The possible reasons for this vary. 

Frank Bowman is a criminal law professor at MU and said it's impossible to legally label an action terrorism until a motive has been determined. 

"The thing that really distinguishes terrorism from any other offense is not so much the nature of the conduct, it is the actual or intended effect," Bowman said. 

Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock's motive has not yet been released by investigators. 

U.S. code defines "domestic terrorism" as an act "appeared to be intended-"

  • To intimidate or coerce an civilian population;
  • To influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or 
  • To affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping

Boone County Prosecuting Attorney Daniel Knight said he would bring 1st degree murder charges against Paddock if the shooting happened in Missouri, but no charges for "terrorism."

There are no statutes or definitions in Missouri which directly address the term "terrorism;" however, terroristic threats and "agroterrorism" are both defined specifically. 

MU Journalism Law Professor Sandy Davidson said journalists need to use other adjectives with the term "terrorism" if they do eventually use it.  

"The emotional content of some terms, I think, increases the duty of journalists to make sure indeed that is the term that is applicable," she said. 

Amer Ahmed is the director of intercultural teaching and faculty development at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. He spoke at MU Tuesday night on social justice issues.

Ahmed said the term "terrorism" has been used to racially profile people who look like him and white male shooters are only referred to "lone wolves."

Ahmed's website states he was born to Indian Muslim parents in Ohio. 

"We all get grouped in together, therefore suspicion comes onto people who look like me, and experiences of racial profiling and discrimination ends up being attached to people who look like me," he said.

The Las Vegas tragedy is still under investigation.