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Why the Las Vegas shooting wasn't declared an act of domestic terrorism




Police form a perimeter around the road leading to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino after a gunman killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others when he opened fire Sunday night on a country music concert in Las Vegas.
Police form a perimeter around the road leading to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino after a gunman killed 59 people and injured more than 500 others when he opened fire Sunday night on a country music concert in Las Vegas.
Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

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The mass shooting in Las Vegas is the worst in modern American history. But law enforcement officials did not call it an act of "domestic terrorism," and they have not labeled the shooter a "terrorist." Why?

"All things that are terrifying that cause great fear and alarm are not necessarily terrorism," says terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins from the RAND Corporation. "There has to be a political component for it to fall into that category."

At the moment, the motive of the shooter is not known.

More interview highlights 

What is the legal definition of terrorism?

Where the criminal act of violence is intended to coerce government or bring about a fundamental change in public policy.

In other words, the end of the crime is not simply the death or destruction caused by that crime, but the crime is aimed at achieving something else.

Is race a factor? Some say if the shooter wasn't white or if his name sounded Middle Eastern, maybe terrorism wouldn't have been ruled out so quickly.

The investigators take a cautious approach on this and say, there's no immediate evidence that indicates that this is terrorism related but it's an ongoing investigation. ...

Since 9/11, there is a tendency where if this man were named Muhammad, a lot of the news media would say that this must be an act of terrorism.

But that would not necessarily make it one.

Does calling something a "terrorist act" make a difference legally?

In many cases, prosecutors simply prefer to go with the actual crime.

Timothy McVeigh, the man who set off the bomb in 1995 in Oklahoma City, was tried on 168 counts of murder. And that was more than sufficient to get a conviction, and as a matter of fact it led to the death penalty.

It it not specifically that a terrorism statute would necessarily enable a prosecutor to do something he otherwise may not be able to do.

Hear more of the conversation using the blue audio player above.