If it wasn’t clear following last week’s mass shooting in Gilroy, California, this past weekend’s back-to-back weekend shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, respectively, exposed the nation’s lack of laws for domestic terrorism. But with officials announcing that the El Paso shooting that killed 20 people would be treated as domestic terrorism, the deadly gun violence also exposed which presidential candidates have thrown their support behind domestic terrorism legislation that has stalled in Congress.
Many politicians and pundits alike tend to use deadly episodes like the three mass shootings in the past two weeks as reasons to ramp up the rhetoric for tighter gun laws, but Senate Democrats have already taken that talk a step further by introducing Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin’s Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019 back in March. S.894 has 19 co-sponsors. But that number was only made up of half the presidential candidates who are also Senators: New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Bernie Sanders.
That’s right, Elizabeth Warren, the person who has been lauded for having a plan for everything, has not co-sponsored the fledgling legislation against domestic terrorism, an issue that has been pushed to the forefront in just one week’s time.
Warren did recently denounce white supremacy as domestic terrorism, but her efforts to get a law passed about it have been unclear aside from what appears to be her absence from being involved in the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019.
Meanwhile, the co-sponsorship by Booker, Harris and Klobuchar immediately gives them a ton of political capital on the topic that is bound to dominate future presidential debates and interviews as the country grapples with the fallout from a problem it doesn’t seem properly equipped to answer. However, since Klobuchar has become a fringe candidate whose campaign may not even last until the next debate, Booker and Harris — the latter of whom has flirted with being a frontrunner among Democrats — could emerge as difference-makers on helping to get the domestic terrorism law on the books.
There was also the House’s Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act of 2019 for which at least one prominent Congresswoman running for president has not signed on.
The idea of investigating the El Paso shooting as domestic terrorism was also interesting because even though mass shootings disproportionately waged by white American males have been on the rise for almost a quarter of a century, Esquire reminded readers in June that “the Department of Justice cannot label such acts as terrorism because there is no law under which they can do it.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, Section 802 of the USA PATRIOT Act expands “the type of conduct that the government can investigate when it is investigating ‘terrorism’” but “does not create a new crime of domestic terrorism.”
All of which emphasizes why Durbin’s bill was especially important in the wake of this weekend’s carnage that on face value certainly seemed deserving of being labeled domestic terrorism. The El Paso shooter, who police managed to arrest, reportedly left behind a racist manifesto that indicated he traveled more than 10 hours by car to the border town in order to kill “Hispanics.” Not only does that type of premeditation mandate a hate crime charge, but domestic terror also fits perfectly into that narrative.
Aside from the requisite “thoughts and prayers” offered by politicians following mass shootings, it will be interesting to see how sitting U.S. Senators try to explain why they did not co-sponsor Durbin’s bill that has now taken on an added sense of urgency.