Inevitably there will be a debate over what happened at the military installations in Chattanooga and how we should describe them. Prejudiced minds will presume that some in authority will be reluctant to describe the murder of four Marines as terrorism, and it's most likely that a few will hesitate to use the word because of the potential consequences for innocent co-religionists of the shooter, an American citizen who had immigrated from Kuwait with his family when he was a small child. Neither side should worry. Unless we learn something that proves his outburst a pure amoklauf, driven by purely individualist compulsions and hangups, I think it's most reasonable to describe his attack as guerrilla warfare of the lone-wolf sort apparently encouraged by the self-styled Islamic State or other militant Islamists, especially since he targeted the military. He seems to have been less interested in striking terror in the populace than in counting coup and earning prestige in the afterlife. He probably will have proved to have struck terror in us anyway. Almost certainly he will have made life more miserable for American Muslims -- but pity (never mind "political correctness") should not deflect us from necessary questions. This is the other side of the Charleston coin. After that atrocity, I said that if we feel a need to investigate the sources in Islam and Muslim communities of terrorism, we should also feel it necessary to investigate the sources, including the intellectual enablers, of racist violence. So if it is appropriate to place white supremacists and segregationists under scrutiny after Charleston, it's apporpriate to place at least Islamic media under scrutiny after Chattanooga. If this shooter was at all encouraged to take the offensive, we need to know by whom or what. What we do about it is another question, but at a minimum we need to know. We don't need to outlaw Islamism any more than we ever needed to outlaw Marxism, but if there are Islamists in our midst saying, "Kill!" something has to be done about that just as something had to be done about the Weather Underground and similar violent groups in the Seventies.
Meanwhile, wouldn't it be interesting if this was the moment when the NRA tide began to ebb? How many people tonight are wondering whether Muslims really ought to have guns? With every such question, however unfair or simply bigoted, gun-rights absolutism may begin to die, especially if it could be argued that no denial of Second Amendment rights to Muslims could stand constitutional scrutiny. And the moment some of us decide that certain beliefs disqualify someone from gun ownership, how long will it be before others argue that other beliefs -- white supremacy or Neo-Confederatism, for instance -- are likewise disqualifying? For others still, of course, it will matter less that this was a radicalized Muslim with a gun -- lately radicalized if reports of a DUI arrest last spring are correct -- than that yet another American nut had a gun and used it. These people of consistent principle might be reluctant to emphasize this shooter's religion, but if this murderer were to become the face of American gun ownership, it wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing.