Barr: Anti-Terrorism Strategies Could Curtail Mass Shootings

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Attorney General William Barr at his confirmation hearing in January. Photo by Michael Thielen via Flickr

Attorney General William Barr says law enforcement could “apply” strategies adopted in the nearly two-decade-long fight against international terrorism in the current struggle to contain firearm violence.

In a memo to the 94 U.S. Attorneys and federal law enforcement agencies, Barr called for a December summit to confront the continuing threat of mass shootings, as part of a federal law enforcement campaign to “refine our ability” to identify attackers before they strike, reports USA Today.

“Targeted killings of innocent people are senseless and cowardly, and demand the full attention of the United States government,” Barr said

“While we are cognizant that irrational acts of violence by lone actors are very challenging to prevent in every instance, quiet professionals in the department have a strong record of swift action in meeting these threats…”

Barr’s announcement comes during a year when a succession of mass shootings have left communities across the country reeling, from El Paso and Dayton to Aurora, Il. and Virginia Beach, Va.

Law enforcement officials have expressed repeated frustration with their inability to intervene even as the FBI has warned for months that the assaults, often animated by racial animus and religious discord, represent the nation’s most pressing security threats.

“When the public says something to alert us to a potential threat, we must do something,” the attorney general said.

In the years since 9/11, the U.S. has taken aggressive steps to prevent terrorist acts in the name of the Islamic State, al-Qaeda and other international terror groups. Potential domestic attackers, largely untethered to specific organizations and protected from police scrutiny by free-speech rights, have proved more difficult for the government to investigate.

It’s not clear what such a summit will entail, but other observers have argued that a nationwide exploration of the roots of urban violence is long overdue.

In a recent book, Thomas Abt, a senior research fellow at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, argues that urban violence is often a driver, rather than an outgrowth, of structural disadvantage.

Discussing his book with The Crime Report, Abt, a former Deputy Secretary for Public Safety to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and a former Obama-era Department of Justice administrator and Manhattan prosecutor, argued that urban violence should be first on America’s domestic agenda.

Recent polls however also suggest that some of today’s violence is exacerbated by heated or aggressive rhetoric from politicians.

A report released in June by the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of Americans believe such rhetoric from elected officials makes violence against targeted groups more likely

A similar majority, 73 percent, believe elected officials should avoid heated language because it encourages violence.

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