ARGUMENT: DOMESTIC TERRORISTS PREFER GUNSHow Far-Right Terrorists Learned to Stop Worrying and Leave the Bomb

Published 9 January 2024

There used to be a time that domestic terrorists favored bombing as their preferred method. “Today, however, the terrorists’ preferred tactic is the mass shooting,” Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware write. “Assault-style rifles have replaced explosives.”

On Sept. 16, 1920, a horse-drawn wagon slowly made its way down New York City’s Wall Street. It came to a stop at the Financial District’s busiest corner, just opposite the J. P. Morgan bank headquarters. And exploded. Thirty people were killed and nearly 150 others wounded.

Bruce Hoffman and Jacob Ware write in War on the Rocks that for most of the ensuing century, bombing was the preferred terrorist tactic in the United States. They add:

During one 18-month stretch between 1971 and 1972, there were an astonishing 2,500 bombings. Many were committed by radical left-wing groups such as the Weather Underground, the Symbionese Liberation Army, and the New World Liberation Front. Others were orchestrated by such diverse actors as Puerto Rican independistas, Croatian separatists, anti-Castro Cubans, and a militant Jewish organization

Today, however, the terrorists’ preferred tactic is the mass shooting. As we argue in our new book, God, Guns, and Sedition: Far-Right Terrorism in America, assault-style rifles have replaced explosives. And the perpetrators come mostly from the far right. Eschewing the time-intensive preparations involved in the careful construction and placement of explosive devices — as seen in Oklahoma City in 1995 and at the Atlanta Olympics the following year — domestic terrorists now prefer shooting, a far simpler tactic that is facilitated by the Second Amendment and entails simply opening fire on a group of ordinary citizens going about their daily lives. 

The mass shooting — whether politically motivated (and therefore terrorism) or apolitical — has sadly become a regular occurrence in America. Armed attackers can now create havoc and bloodshed on a scale completely divorced from their training or expertise, in turn making terrorism more accessible to violently inclined persons with a political axe to grind. This threat calls for better enforcing existing gun control laws and enacting reasonable new measures to restrict access to specific types of weapons and ammunition.

Hoffman and Ware write that the shift towards firearms terrorism is intimately connected to at least three other developments in far-right terrorism.