Attack in Las Vegas: Terrorism or crime?

by Allison White

On Sunday, October 1, the unthinkable occurred in Las Vegas. Thousands of fans were attending the closing act of the Route 91 Country Music Festival, singer Jason Aldean. Enjoyment quickly turned to terror as the crowd was assaulted by bullets from above. Fifty-nine people died and over 500 were seriously injured in the deadliest mass shooting in modern United States history.

Dr. Frank Jenista, professor of international studies at Cedarville University, concurs with the investigating authorities that more information is needed before this is classified as an act of terrorism.

“It is important to be precise in your terms,” he said. “Terrorism always has a political purpose. That is what distinguishes terrorism from crime. Crime is committed for one’s own personal reasons.”

The gunman was 64-year-old former IRS agent Stephen Paddock. He occupied a room on the 32nd floor in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, across from the concert venue, for 3 days before the attack. The attack was premeditated: Paddock brought in a total of 10 suitcases that contained various parts for semi-automatic weapons which he then modified. He also set up cameras in the hallway to monitor what was happening outside his room.

The attack lasted about 10 minutes. A SWAT team closed in on Paddock’s room, where he opened fire through the door on the authorities before he fatally shot himself.

Authorities have not speculated publicly about what Paddock’s motive might be. He does not meet any typical criminal profiles and he has no known record of mental health issues or a history of aggression. The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that Paddock converted to Islam six months ago, but this is thus far unproven. Paddock’s girlfriend Marilou Danley is a “person of interest” in the investigation.

Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said that he is “absolutely” confident that authorities will determine Paddock’s motive.

Jenista speculated that this may have a significant effect on security in the future, both in terms of securing large, outdoor mass gatherings and sparking the debate over gun control. He mentioned that indoor stadiums may become the preferred option due to the safer perimeter.

“The … danger is copycats,” he said.

Deadly mass shootings have become increasingly more common in the United States. There have been 521 mass shootings in the past 17 months. This could be in part due to the copycat effect, which has led to increased discussion over gun control in the United States.

Jenista suggested that, as we process the tragedy in our own minds, we should not live in fear of the future.

“In the grand scheme of things, we need to remember the odds of this happening to any one person are infinitesimal … the threats to any one individual are tiny,” he said. “As Christians, we have a completely different approach to it — we know we are in God’s hands.”

Allison is a junior organizational communication major and arts and entertainment writer for Cedars. She enjoys learning about cultures, traveling, and petting as many dogs as she can.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story)

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