Column: The threat of terrorism is not just foreign

A hand-painted American flag is seen near the building, top right, where Wednesday's shooting rampage took place, at the Inland Regional Center, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015, in San Bernardino, Calif. The FBI said it's investigating the massacre in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 and injured 21 as a terrorist attack. (Jae C. Hong/AP)

It seems far too recently that I wrote about the terrorist attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead and over 350 people wounded. And now violence has struck at home. Just seven days after President Obama told the nation there were no credible reports of “a plot on the homeland,” a man stormed a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs and murdered three people. Shortly afterwards, another massacre occurred in San Bernardino, California that claimed the lives of 14 and left about 17 others wounded. 

The common thread linking these seemingly disparate acts of violence is that the perpetrators in both cases were armed to the teeth with assault rifles, pistols and other gear. According to The New Yorker, the couple who committed the atrocity in San Bernardino had in their possession two semi-automatic assault rifles and two handguns, along with over a thousand rounds of ammunition. And that was just what they carried with them in their escape vehicle.

Upon searching their home, police discovered nearly five thousand additional rounds of ammunition along with another rifle. If the sheer amount of firepower at their disposal was not enough to shock you, consider this: all of it – every last bullet – was purchased legally. 

Now, these two senseless acts make Obama’s confident security statement ring hollow in hindsight, but there is no real reason to doubt the honesty of the president’s words. He, along with the government’s intelligence and counterterrorist organizations, genuinely believed they had the situation under control, and that because they did not see any indications of a threat, Americans were safe. It is clear that they were wrong. 

The fact of the matter is that all of the information that is collected, their best guesses and estimates, were not enough. They never were and never will be. For all attacks that are thwarted, a few will inevitably slip through the cracks. This is not to completely disavow the efficacy of such intelligence programs, but to recognize that they have limitations, because humans are inherently unpredictable. 

Still, arguments are being made to the contrary, that such attacks are fundamentally due to a lack of information. Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush said, “the first impulse I would have, rather than talking about gun control, is to make sure that we protect the homeland – and last week the metadata program was ended.'" I agree that these types of attacks occur, in part, because of a lack of intelligence, but not of the sort that the NSA stores on servers.

The problem is that there appears to be, paradoxically, a disconnect between terrorism and guns in the United States. In America, the image of a terrorist that is conjured is that of a Middle-Eastern religious zealot with an inconsolable rage against Western “infidels.” Undoubtedly, these views are bolstered by the fact that ISIS has laid claim to the attacks in Paris as well as the recent massacre in San Bernardino. But this is a dangerously misinformed belief—one that is used as a tactic by politicians and those lobbying to keep guns in the hands of Americans.

One only needs to look at the facts to observe the broader threat. The shooting in Colorado Springs, the violence at a church in Charleston, the massacre at a school in Newtown—all of these were done by American citizens. It is time to recognize that terrorism does not hide beneath a hijab, but reveals itself indiscriminately. 

Politicians and lobbyists need to stop deflecting these atrocities solely toward the Middle East and recognize that they are homegrown as well. Inciting Americans’ fears about a tyrannical government disarming its citizenry helps nobody. If they at all love their country, it is time to shift the conversation towards the heart of the matter—the ease with which guns can be obtained in America. For so long as firearms flow like water in the United States, there will continue to be violence.


Vinay Maliakal is associate opinion editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at vinay.maliakal@uconn.edu.