UVA Law Professor Talks “Viral Terrorism”

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Some of  the victims in the Orlando shooting Some of the victims in the Orlando shooting
Richard Bonnie, University of Virginia law professor Richard Bonnie, University of Virginia law professor
File Image: Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida File Image: Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida

Before a gunman killed 49 people in an Orlando, Florida nightclub Sunday, June 12, University of Virginia law professor Richard Bonnie helped shape policy reform following previous mass shootings. Bonnie is saying this latest violence reveals a threat more dangerous than the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Before Orlando, the Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook Elementary School attacks were at the top of the deadliest mass shootings list.

Bonnie chaired a panel reforming mental health law in the years after the Virginia Tech mass shooting. He also testified before a panel on the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.

He says the actions taken after Orlando need to target a different kind of threat.

“I think we are facing a threat that is even more substantial and more challenging than 9/11 was,” Bonnie said.

Bonnie calls that threat "viral terrorism.”

“You're dealing with this virus. You're dealing with a society that's so highly polarized where there are many, many young people who are angry and disaffected,” he said.

The FBI investigated the gunman in Sunday’s attack at the Pulse gay club for making inflammatory comments. At one point, the gunman was even on a terrorist watch list.

After Orlando, Bonnie says the United States needs to have a serious discussion about how deep the government reaches into free speech, privacy, and gun rights in order to protect public safety.

“How much freedom and privacy are we willing to give up in order to be able to try to reduce the risk these things are going to happen?” Bonnie stated.

Bonnie says policy reforms in the wake of Virginia Tech and Sandy Hook are helping make progress in preventing people with mental health issues from committing mass shootings.

“There's a balance that's being struck here between people's freedom and the interventions we should take to reduce the risk when they are at elevated risk of harming themselves or other people,” said Bonnie.

Bonnie believes this viral terrorism threat requires a nationwide conversation.

“I think that this threat is going to be with us. We're talking about decades or generations now,” he said.

Bonnie says the country faces a real struggle over protecting communities versus protecting constitutional rights. He believes that deserves more response from politicians than just polarizing sound bites.

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