The 15-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting his classmates at Michigan’s Oxford High School in November is inching toward a trial to determine his guilt on 24 felony charges. One of them — committing an act of terrorism — has rarely been applied in mass shootings. The move has reignited a debate over whether such violence should be treated as terrorism in the eyes of the law, The Trace reports. Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald acknowledged that the terrorism label was unusual, but said it captured the gravity of the event. "What about all the children at home right now who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school?” McDonald said. “Those are victims, too, and so are their families and so is the community. And the charge of terrorism reflects that.”
While supporters have hailed McDonald’s decision as a blueprint for prosecutors, some experts fear that treating mass shootings as terrorism will expand the vast U.S. counterterrorism apparatus into a new domestic realm. Critics say the system has been ineffective at preventing attacks and has unfairly targeted people of color and other marginalized groups. “They target entire populations based on bias rather than objective evidence of wrongdoing,” said Michael German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow at New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice. “Expanding that problematic program to cover other kinds of crime is only going to create more problems.” Criminologist Mitchel Roth of Sam Houston State University said redirecting counterterrorism resources toward mass shooting investigations and prosecutions could undermine constitutional rights and student welfare without much of a payoff. The alleged Oxford shooter was charged under a 2002 Michigan anti-terrorism law. At least 33 other states and the District of Columbia have also enacted anti-terrorism statutes, though some have a narrower definition that makes them difficult to apply to mass shootings.