Everything Is Just Dandy!

Mass Shooter Prosecution Act would allow mass shootings to be prosecuted as terrorism

GovTrack Insider – Medium

Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA6)

Indisputably, mass shooters who survive their attack should be prosecuted; nobody argues that. But should they be prosecuted for terrorism specifically?


Currently, federal law defines “domestic terrorism” as an act “dangerous to human life,” which violated either a federal or state law, with one of three goals:

  • “to intimidate or coerce a civilian population”
  • “to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion”
  • “to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”

183 domestic terrorism prosecutions were filed in fiscal year 2020, the most since the government began tracking that annual number in the 1990s. That increase was largely due to the January 6 riot and attempted insurrection on the Capitol Building.

For context, 2002 marked the second-highest fiscal year ever, with around 160 such domestic terrorism prosecutions the year after 9/11.

What the bill does

The Mass Shooter Prosecution Act would allow mass shootings to be prosecuted as terrorism. For these purposes, a “mass shooting” would be defined as a shooter who uses a semi-automatic or fully-automatic weapon to kill at least three people in the same shooting.

It would also allow the prosecution of anybody who provides “material support” for such a mass shooting, potentially up to life in prison. This is similar to existing “material support” laws which allow for law enforcement to fully investigate an entire terrorist network.

It was introduced in the House on July 27 as H.R. 8537, by Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA6).

What supporters say

Supporters argue that such incidents are frequently referred to as terroristic colloquially, so it’s only fair that the law mirrors this understanding.

“The shootings in Buffalo, Uvalde, and Highland Park were nothing short of terrorism. The media, the general public, even the president call them that,” Rep. Moulton said in a press release. “But from a legal standpoint, we don’t currently prosecute mass shootings like the terrorist attacks that they are. My bill would… allow mass shooters to be legally treated like terrorists.”

The three aforementioned attacks — in New York, Texas, and Illinois — would all qualify as terrorism under the amended definition.

What opponents say

Opponents counter that mass shootings, horrendous though they may be, are distinct from actual terrorism as traditionally understood.

While not every mass shooting is terroristic in nature, some of them are: for example, the El Paso massacre was intended to put fear into immigrants and Latinos, while the Buffalo massacre was intended to put fear into black people. Opponents say the real issue with this bill is that it makes no distinction, labeling all mass shootings as terroristic.

“To distinguish terrorism from the crimes that terrorists commit to further their ideological and political agendas, the additional element of a terroristic intention — i.e., a political motive — must be attached to those crimes,” NYPD (New York Police Department) Deputy Commissioner for Counterterrorism Richard C. Daddario and RAND Corporation’s Brian Michael Jenkins wrote in a joint opinion column for Politico Magazine.

“Attaching the label of terrorism to criminal conduct committed without the essential terroristic intention would strip the term of its established legal and commonly understood meaning,” Daddario and Jenkins continued. “Terrorism would be any crime that causes or is intended to trigger extreme fear: extortion, armed robberies, severe assaults, rape and many other crimes would all arguably qualify as crimes of terrorism under such a loose, subjective definition.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted one cosponsor, a fellow Democrat: Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX16). It awaits a potential vote in the House Judiciary Committee.

Even if it doesn’t get enacted, mass shooters can be — and are — prosecuted and convicted under existing laws. Although many mass shooters die in the act, either by suicide or after getting killed by police, some survive and face trial for their crimes.

The Charleston, South Carolina church mass shooter was convicted and sentenced to the death penalty, which an appeals court upheld in 2021 (though the killer has not actually been executed yet). The Aurora, Colorado cinema mass shooter was convicted and sentenced to life in prison plus 3,318 years.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

This article was written by GovTrack Insider staff writer Jesse Rifkin.

Want more? Follow GovTrack by email, on Twitter, and for our “A Bill a Minute” video series — on Instagram, or on YouTube.

Like our analyses? Support our work on Patreon.

Mass Shooter Prosecution Act would allow mass shootings to be prosecuted as terrorism was originally published in GovTrack Insider on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.