We Need To Change The Language Around Mass Shootings

someone shooting a rifle at a shooting range
Unsplash / Antonio Grosz

Anyone who has been keeping up with the Las Vegas massacre has surely seen the word “long wolf” flickering on television screens and tweeted by media outlets. What you won’t see? The word “terrorism”.

The mass shooting in Las Vegas was the worst in modern American history. And yet the media still finds a way to skirt around the words “terrorist attack”. They won’t even use the words “domestic terrorist” to describe shooter Stephen Paddock.

In reality, “domestic terrorism” does not exist. At least, it doesn’t exist under federal law. Instead, the word “terrorism” is reserved for international groups. But why?

Do you know who was considered a terrorist? Omar Mateen, the mass murderer who killed 49 people and wounded 58 at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Mateen was a Muslim man who claimed ties to ISIS. But Mateen was also an American citizen, born and raised on American soil — New York, to be exact. It wasn’t an Us vs. Them situation — it was an Us vs. Us. Does his ties to ISIS allow us to completely overlook the fact that he, like Paddock, was American?

This is the same reason why the shooting during a Congress baseball game in Virginia or the murder by a white supremacist in Charlottesville weren’t considered terrorist attacks — though both politically motivated, they were domestic, not internationally-linked. Should we note the correlation that the people we hesitate to label as “terrorists” aren’t Muslim?

It’s hard to believe that the way we approach talking about these individuals really just have to do with whether they are linked to international organizations or not. The fact of the matter is that when there’s a so-called terrorist attack by a Muslim individual, the entirety of the Muslim community is suddenly under attack — they become to focal point of hate and anger, seen as a “terrorist” community. But when a white American male is the perpetrator, suddenly we soften — these perpetrators aren’t like other white American males, who are presumably good people. Terrorists are the example, but domestic attackers are the exception.


Even the way we talk about the two is different. After the Orlando shooting, all the media talked about was Mateen’s relation to Islam and ISIS, as well as the claims that he was a perpetrator of domestic violence. But Mateen’s white counterparts are rarely talked about the same way — instead, the media focuses on mental illnesseses, past successes, and what “good people” they were, according to friends and family. They’re called “locals”. They are still, in terms of the media, Americans. They are not stripped of their citizenship, despite their heinous acts.

The fact of the matter is that we need to change the language around mass shootings. We need to stop finding ways to glorify some more than others. We need to stop talking about their families, their home lives, their professional lives, their childhoods. Our morbid fascination with understanding killers becomes political without most of us realizing that it has. We need to stop giving mass murderers the spotlights they never deserved.

Moreover, we need to stop making exceptions for some and needlessly demonizing entire groups in the name of the other. We need to stop giving unequal weight to different labels that, in the end, mean the same thing. And we need to consider Lone Wolves as equally deplorable as terrorists. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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