Apr 21 2013

Violence v Terrorism: Is There a Difference?

(10 am. – promoted by ek hornbeck)

In the aftermath of the bombing at the Boston Marathon and the failure of the Senate to pass a gun control bill that would tighten loop holes in the background check laws, the question of the difference between violence and terrorism has been raised . After the Aurora, CO shooting in a movie theater that killed 12 and injured 58, Andrew Cohen asked in an Atlantic article why there is a 1,000 to 1 spending gap on terrorism and gun violence:

My question now is simple: Why do we spend at least 1,000 times more money protecting ourselves from terrorism than we do protecting ourselves from gun violence? I’m not necessarily suggesting that we spend less on anti-terrorism programs. Like everyone else, I am grateful there have been no mass casualty terror events since 9/11. I’m just wondering, instead, what possible justification there could be for spending so relatively little to try to reduce the casualties of gun violence.

Surely the Second Amendment alone — and the United States Supreme Court’s recent rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago — cannot explain this contrast. Our government has asked us consistently since 9/11 to sacrifice individual liberties and freedom, constitutional rights to privacy for example, in the name of national security. And we have ceded these liberties. Yet that same government in that same time hasn’t asked anyone to sacrifice some Second Amendment rights to help protect innocent victims from gun violence.

If we can reduce the impact of terrorism to a trickle — good for us! — why aren’t we doing more to save some of those 31,000 people who die each year from gun violence? This is not a question for the advocates to spin. It’s not a question for the media to ponder. It’s a question for elected officials to answer. And it’s not apples and oranges, either. Those poor people in Aurora were plenty terrorized. And if they somehow some way don’t merit the same proactive government response that victims of traditional terrorism have received since 9/11, then at least they deserve an explanation why.

Yes, the people of Aurora were terrorized, so were the people of Tuscon, Newtown and Ft. Hood. Despite the greater loss of life none of these incidents were called an act of terror.

So what is the difference between an act of violence and an act of terrorism? Is there a difference?

Incidents like the Boston Marathon bombings, that appear to  be driven by unfettered hatred, shake us to our collective core. They make us think twice about entering public spaces: going out for a meal, taking public transportation, taking a dog for a walk. There is no doubt that the intended consequence of an act like the bombings at the Boston Marathon is to scare. But how should we characterize and define that fear? And what does this fear drive us to do? Does it drive us to suspend rule of law?

According to a Reuters poll taken two day after the bombings in Boston, “most Americans see the biggest threat to public safety coming from random acts of violence committed by other Americans, rather than foreign terrorism”.

Asked which events pose the biggest threat to the safety of average Americans, 56 percent of respondents said random acts of violence, such as mass shootings, committed by Americans; 32 percent said foreign terrorism committed by non-Americans; and 13 percent said politically or religiously motivated domestic terrorism committed by Americans.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents said they believed an incident like the Boston Marathon attack could happen in their area. A minority of respondents, 42 percent, said the Boston incident had left them more fearful for the safety of themselves and their families.

So what is the difference? Why are terrorist acts, which are far fewer in this country, treated so differently than every day random acts of violence that takes 31,000 lives every year in the US?  

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