Q&A: Terrorism from Sydney to Philadelphia suburbs

Charles Mosteller, Metro

Sandro Galea, is a physician and an epidemiologist who studies the effects of mass violence at Columbia’s University’s Mailman School of Public Health.

What motivates a person to carry out a mass killing?

It’s very complex. But data shows that mass killings or shootings tend to happen when there are more guns available.

What can be done to stop that?

The easiest way is to get the guns off the streets. Or at least to make weapons unavailable for people.

In Sydney, a man took hostages in a café and it was called domestic terrorism. In Pennsylvania a man kills six family members. Is that terrorism?

The use of violence against random people, society, or the public is terrorism. Often there are political or religious aims.

What are the lessons we should be drawing out of this? Is there anything you would like to add?

We will never have a society without violence, shootings or mass killings when weapons are easily available. We need to do as much as possible to make sure that those tools are not available and people aren’t able to hurt each other.

Maria Haberfeld is a professor at John Jay College in New York, and a specialist in police and terrorism issues.

What makes a person carry out a mass killing?

There’s no real answer for why people start shootings or mass violence. Often they are seeking for a few minutes of fame or personal gratification. Mostly it is cause oriented – it was religiously orientated in Sydney. Mostly it’s just another way of communicating their fear.

What can be done to stop that?

To stop mass violence or terrorism, whether its domestic or international, the media has stop covering it. Coverage perpetuates the goal to be known or to get a few minutes of fame. Terrorists are often not locked on a specific target. They want media coverage.

So would the Pennsylvania killings be considered terrorism?

Terrorism doesn’t need to be initiated by a religious or political purpose, it just needs a purpose. Religion, politics, even private issues could define an act as terrorism. The media often call political or religion-related violent acts terrorism, they hesitate to call “domestic terrorism” isn’t often called terrorism, maybe to avoid panic.

What lessons should we draw from this?

Look at history and you can see that terrorism can easily happen here in our country, at any time. And don’t forget the soft targets. You should not ignore the soft targets like cafes or other public spaces. It doesn’t have to be something like 9/11. You can see what happened in Sydney.

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