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The real threat 

All mass shootings have two things in common: madmen and guns

When I woke last Sunday to news of the worst-ever mass shooting in the history of the United States, I found myself hoping that the shooter wouldn’t turn out to be Muslim, that the shooting wouldn’t be one tied to “Islamic terrorism.”

While it may seem obvious to wish that such terrorism fails to take hold on our shores, the deeper reason for such hope rests in my firm belief that each and every one of these horrible mass shootings is, regardless of perceived motive, terrorism. Placing more specific labels on them offers a distinction without a difference. Was Dylan Roof any less a terrorist when he shot nine black people dead inside a Christian church last year? 

Who really cares whether a killer was Muslim or Christian, white, black or brown, young or old? In every instance, terror is unleashed on society. In every instance, people find themselves living in fear. In every instance, simple acts like going to the movies or to school or to a nightclub become acts of undeniable courage.

To the victims of terror and their survivors—not to mention the rest of us, who are only a day, a minute, a moment, really, away from suffering similar horror—what difference does it make whether our killer’s name was Dylan or Omar? What difference does it make what some madman’s reasons were for cutting us down? Some of us are dead; some of us are maimed; the rest of us are left to live with loss and horror in the aftermath.

The fact is that even today, in the bloody wake of Orlando, a majority of these mass killings don’t stem from Muslim terrorism at all. Every single one of them however, whether in Newtown or Tucson, San Bernardino or Blacksburg, Colorado Springs or Ft. Hood or any other town beset by similar tragedy, shares two common qualities: madmen and guns.

To paint this latest, worst-ever mass shooting simply as “Islamic terrorism” masks the real trouble in our society. It makes it easy to isolate the incident from all the other murder and mayhem plaguing our society. The label of Islamic terrorism offers us a scapegoat, an easy opportunity to blame someone or something foreign for our woes, and to look upon others in our vastly diverse nation as deserving of suspicion rather than acceptance.

To paint these killings solely as Islamic terrorism gives the demagogues in our communities the opportunity to make speeches and pass laws that will do nothing to make us safer, because the speeches that need to be made and the laws that need to be passed are politically impossible to be made or passed. Like characters in a story by Edgar Allen Poe, we are trapped in a nightmarish reality of our own creation. That reality is the overwhelming, devastating prevalence of the gun. 

The gun is the killing machine that has brought terror to America. The gun is the instrument drowning us in blood. For whatever reason, it seems America has chosen to tolerate this terror, to live and to die with it. For whatever reason, be it a fascination with guns or the hopelessness of ever getting rid of them, America has chosen to live with the fear that any moment here could be our last. We’d apparently rather live with that terror than transform our culture.

Make no mistake, nothing is going change in the wake of Orlando, not when it comes to guns anyway. Just like nothing changed in the wake of Sandy Hook. Thanks to the Islamic terrorism angle though, we’ll hear new calls for scapegoating and racial profiling. 

We won’t make it any harder to get a gun, but more Muslims will be singled out, pulled aside, and patted down. We won’t impose stricter background checks or ban assault rifles, but Muslims will find it harder to walk down the street or sit next to someone on an airplane without arousing fear and suspicion. 

Meanwhile, some guy named Jake or Bryan or Mark just lost his job or his girl or his mind. He’s angry and he’s got a gun and he’s looking for people to blame. It happens nearly every day in America. It could happen tomorrow. Or today. And that’s the real terrorist threat facing our nation. 

Jim Mallon wrote his opinions on guns and terrorism from San Luis Obispo. Send comments to the editor at or write a letter to the editor at

-- Jim Mallon - San Luis Obispo

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