The Vast Gulf Between Attempted Mass Shooting and Attempted Material Support

42 Pages Posted: 20 Mar 2019

Date Written: March 19, 2019


Attempt law is inherently fraught with difficulty – predicting who is going to commit a crime or become a terrorist is almost impossible. Therefore, the law generally requires the individual to come as close to committing the act as possible, “a substantial step” in addition to intent before prosecuting them. However, in the terrorism realm, material support laws were enacted to catch terrorists before they have acted and even if they have not engaged in or attempted a terror act at all. Rather, ‘material support’ encompasses giving money or aid that could help a designated terror group more generally. Therefore, with the concepts combined, we have the murkiest of laws – attempted material support. Many of the cases follow a similar pattern: an individual tweets or writes something positive about ISIS on social media, they are then contacted by an undercover FBI informant, and they discuss plans to join ISIS. When the individual then buys a ticket to a country that can be a conduit to Syria or goes to an airport, they are arrested, charged with attempted material support, and can go to prison for up to twenty years. There are themes of young, misguided, or mentally ill individuals who do not fit the terrorist label at all. In sharp contrast, similarly young, misguided, or mentally ill individuals can plan a mass shooting, discuss it on-line, buy handguns, rounds and rounds of ammunition and often law enforcement cannot do anything. They have done nothing illegal. This article questions why is there this divide? Do we accept mass shooters in a way we do not accept ‘terrorists’? Is this potential bias because of race or religion? In an era where gun reform seems unlikely, should the laws be changed so that there is an attempted mass shooting law to bridge this divide especially when in many of the ‘terror’ cases the targets are not really terrorists at all.

Keywords: terrorism, social justice

Suggested Citation

Gilchrist, Heidi, The Vast Gulf Between Attempted Mass Shooting and Attempted Material Support (March 19, 2019). University of Pittsburgh Law Review, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Heidi Gilchrist (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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