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A quick look at why the Las Vegas shooting is not being called 'domestic terrorism

"Domestic terrorism" does not apply in the recent Las Vegas shooting because, regardless of how deadly the attack is, motive is the key factor for designating an act as "terrorism." But authorities have not found anything to indicate gunman Stephen Paddock's motive. (Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images)

What's the story?

There has been a great deal of controversy and confusion in recent days stemming from authorities' reluctance to label the recent Las Vegas shooting as "domestic terrorism." Here is a quick look at the historical definition of domestic terrorism and why law enforcement has not yet put the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history on that list.

What is 'domestic terrorism?'

Federal law defines terrorism as “the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.”

In other words, regardless of how deadly the attack is, motive is the key factor for designating an act as "terrorism."

Have investigators found a motive yet?


Further, the authorities have not yet found anything to indicate Stephen Paddock, the gunman, was politically motivated or trying to influence policy. Authorities could designate the shooting as a terrorist attack later once they find a clear motive, if it fits the criteria.

What about Nevada state law?

Nevada state law is more broad, defining terrorism as "a person who intentionally commits, causes, aids, furthers or conceals an act of terrorism or attempts to commit, cause, aid, further or conceal an act of terrorism."

Does that matter?

Nevada’s statute doesn’t define how the federal government investigates crimes. States commonly define crimes more broadly so that they can have extra leverage in charging criminals and negotiating plea bargains. But that does not change how the word “terrorism” has been historically understood, nor how it is classified by the federal government.

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