Opinion: San Bernardino shooting just opened up a can of worms far bigger than gun control

FBI agents search outside a home in connection to the shootings in San Bernardino on Dec. 3 in Redlands.

FBI agents search outside a home in connection to the shootings in San Bernardino on Dec. 3 in Redlands.

(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

Yesterday’s shooting at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, which authorities have blamed on slain suspects Syed Rezwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, has grave implications beyond the traumatizing effects on families involved and the damage to America’s reputation for domestic safety and security. The dialogue around the mass shooting in Colorado Springs just five days ago focused specifically on domestic issues. For San Bernardino, guns, explosives and Muslim suspects are all a part of the mix, prompting a conversation about more than just domestic gun control, although guns is always a good start.

FULL COVERAGE: San Bernardino shooting | Shooting updates

For some – including President Obama -- access to guns make terrorism in the U.S. easier regardless of the motives.

Regardless of the motivation, the president said Americans have to get over feeling “as if there is nothing we can do about it.”

“We all have a part to play,” Obama said, including “legislators” in the list of those who must work to make it more difficult for violent people to get access to weapons.

"Right now, it's just too easy," he said.

Despite the fact that all guns involved were bought legally in California, which has the strictest gun control laws in the country, a mass shooting occurred. This has greater implications for how mass shooting occur so frequently, report Ian Lovett, Richard Pérez-peña and Michael S. Schmidt of the New York Times.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives confirmed that it had traced all four guns, and that two were purchased legally by someone linked to the investigation. But neither the senior official nor the bureau would identify either buyer by name, nor say which two weapons were bought by a suspect, or where they were bought.

California is among a handful of states that ban the sale or possession of many assault weapons, including the most common models, but there are exceptions in the law, and it is not clear whether the suspects’ guns were prohibited. It was not known where and how the suspects obtained their weapons, which might have been sold originally in other states, and might have gone through multiple owners. Overall, California has the strictest gun laws in the nation, according to the most recent report card by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

We should come together in a bipartisan basis at every level of government to make these rare as opposed to normal,” [Obama] said on CBS News. [Obama] said: “The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world. And there’s some steps we could take, not to eliminate every one of these mass shootings, but to improve the odds that they don’t happen as frequently.”

Not to mention that domestically purchased guns were not the only weapon of choice for Farook and Malik, according to an ABC News report by Meghan Keneally and Jack Date.

In addition to the two assault rifles and two semi-automatic handguns that were used in the shooting, all of which were purchased legally, according to law enforcement sources, investigators also found three pipe bomb-style devices that they believed to be explosive devices. They were disposed of by the bomb squad.

Law enforcement sources tell ABC News the IEDs found in the building were remote detonated devices. The devices were described by one source as “rudimentary.” Sources believed the bombs used radio controlled activation of the type used on toy remote control cars.

The galvanized pipe used in the bomb construction was shaped like an elbow and had metal end caps. Sources say the explosive filler was likely black powder or smokeless powder, commonly known as gun powder.

Accessibility to weapons is a problem, yes. But the greater question for all the mass shootings is the motivation behind why the weapons were purchased in the first place. Both suspects were Muslim, which makes an easy case for blaming the shooting on religious or cultural extremism against the U.S. Khaled A Beydoun of Al Jazeera America calls on the media to shy away from jumping to conclusions quite so fast. Because not everyone is a radical. And not everyone who is a radical is violent.

For decades in the United States, domestic terrorism has been defined almost exclusively along racial and religious lines. The legal term, which ties violent acts to political ideology, is consistently supplanted by the political construction of terrorism - reserved overwhelmingly for incidents involving Muslim culprits.

The media discourse around terrorism has noticed modest progress. It is becoming more frequent for the US media outlets to label mass killings not involving a Muslim culprit as acts of domestic terrorism.

The government response to domestic terror attacks, mass shootings, and even foreign tragedies - such as the Paris Attacks - will disproportionately punish Muslim-American communities, and bolster anti-terror and counter-radicalisation programmes that conflate Islam with threat.

The government's counterterror arms will be extended deep into Muslim-American communities; regardless of whether one or all of the San Bernardino shooters are Arab or Muslim, white or Christian, citizens or non-citizens. History, time and again, reveals that the identity of the shooter matters little to the sweeping dragnet that follows.

The past week has been trying for both the emotional and analytical sides of the U.S. Domestic gun control, international safety, and questions around religious motivations are the perfect combination to assume, point fingers, and get absolutely no concrete answers. It will be the test of the next leader of the free world to see if there is a solution that can address all of these issues as they become more prolific, politicized, and frequent around the world.

The post-shooting comments by some of those vying for to be said leader drew a front-page scoff from the New York Daily News. Citing tweets by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) that called for prayers in the wake of the massacre, the Daily News' headline blared, “God Isn't Fixing This.”

But over at the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway wasn’t so sanguine about the saving power of the “god of government.” Compiling a list of liberal pundits and politicians who criticized those who offered prayers instead of policy ideas, she wrote, “The people who are the problem are the people who are praying. Airtight logic!”

Here are a few more links worth exploring:

Shootings this year:

Washington Post: 351 Shootings in 334 Days,

PBS: Maps of Mass Shootings for 2015

Cited List of Mass Shootings 2015


Press Enterprise: Guns Legally Purchased as Verified by ATF

Media Matters: Clinton and O’Malley as 'Gun Control Hoes'

MSNBC: Media Reaction to Guns

Stances of the presidential candidates:

NY Daily News: Prayers from Candidates

Time: Candidate Tweets

Huffington Post: Candidate Call to Action

Kingsley is a Coro Fellow at The Times, and Healey is the paper's Deputy Editorial Page Editor.

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