Why the Las Vegas shooting isn't being called terrorism


At least 58 people were killed and more than 500 injured after a gunman opened fire on a densely packed crowd on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday.

The incident is the deadliest mass shooting in modern US history. But authorities were quick to point out that they are not labeling the incident an act of terrorism.

"We do not know what [the gunman's] belief system was at this time," Joseph Lombardo, sheriff of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, said Monday. "Right now we believe it is a sole actor, a lone-wolf-type actor, and we have the place under control."

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The most devastating images from the Las Vegas concert shooting
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The most devastating images from the Las Vegas concert shooting
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: A man lays on top of a woman as others flee the Route 91 Harvest country music festival grounds after a active shooter was reported on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 2 people dead. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was hear on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: A cowboy hat lays in the street after shots were fired near a country music festival on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People run for cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01:  A person lies on the ground covered with blood at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01:  A person lies on the ground at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: (People carry a peson at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People take cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: A man in a wheelchair is taken away from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
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Despite the unprecedented number of casualties, the incident doesn't qualify as terrorism under federal law, which defines terrorism as the "unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives."

In other words, if we don't know the gunman's motivations, it's too early to call something an act of terrorism.

"We have the tendency to label anything we abhor as terrorism," Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University director of security studies and expert on terrorism, told Business Insider. "But the fact is, even if it may cause terror and generate profound fear and anxiety, it's the political motive that is salient in determining whether it's an act of terrorism."

At a press conference on Monday, FBI special agent Aaron Rouse said his agency has discovered "no connection" between the gunman and international terrorist groups.

However, the federal definition of terrorism seems to differ with a Nevada statute that defines the term more broadly. The state law defines terrorism as "any act that involves the use or attempted use of sabotage, coercion or violence which is intended to cause great bodily harm or death to the general population."

Prematurely labeling an incident terrorism can have "enormous legal and operational ramifications," Hoffman told Business Insider. But the label can change, he said, as investigators uncover more details about the gunman's history and potential clues into his political ideology.

40 PHOTOS
Route 91 Harvest country music festival shooting in Las Vegas
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Route 91 Harvest country music festival shooting in Las Vegas
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: A cowboy hat lays in the street after shots were fired near a country music festival on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: ( A person lies on the ground covered with blood at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01 People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01:  A person lies on the ground at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People dive for cover at Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People tend to the wounded outside the festival ground after an apparent shooting on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People run from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was hear on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People take cover at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: A person runs from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: People scramble for shelter at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 20 people dead and more than 100 injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: A man in a wheelchair is taken away from the Route 91 Harvest country music festival after apparent gun fire was heard on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. There are reports of an active shooter around the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers run down Tropicana Ave. near Las Vegas Boulevard after a mass shooting at a country music festival nearby on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, killing over 20 people. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot dead. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 01: A man lays on top of a woman as others flee the Route 91 Harvest country music festival grounds after a active shooter was reported on October 1, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, leaving at least 2 people dead. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: People hug and cry outside the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: UNLV student Ajay Narang (L) and a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer use Narang's skateboard to help deliver bottled water to people at the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting are temporarily staying at the center. A gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer helps deliver blankets and food to people at the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting are temporarily staying at the center. A gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: People are directed to rides outside the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting are temporarily staying at the center. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: Concert-goers wait for a ride outside the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting temporarily stayed at the center. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer helps deliver bottled water to people at the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting are temporarily staying at the center and residents are donating supplies. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: Concert-goers wait for a ride outside the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting temporarily stayed at the center. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department officer helps deliver bottled water to people at the Thomas & Mack Center after a mass shooting at a country music festival on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. People who could not go to hotel-casinos that were closed after the shooting are temporarily staying at the center and residents are donating supplies. The gunman, identified as Stephen Paddock, 64, of Mesquite, Nevada, opened fire from the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on the music festival, leaving at least 50 people dead and hundreds injured. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
A pair of cowboy boots is shown in the street outside the concert venue after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: Police officers stop a man who drove down Tropicana Ave. near Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Ave, which had been closed after a mass shooting at a country music festival that left at least 2 people dead nearby on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The man was released. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Metro Police officers pass by the front of the Tropicana hotel-casino after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 02: A Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer stands in the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Ave. after a mass shooting at a country music festival nearby on October 2, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. A gunman has opened fire on a music festival in Las Vegas, killing over 20 people. Police have confirmed that one suspect has been shot dead. The investigation is ongoing. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Las Vegas Metro Police officers work near the concert venue after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
A body is covered with a sheet in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Las Vegas Metro Police and medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
An ambulance leaves the concert venue after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
An ambulance heads to a hospital after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. early October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Las Vegas Metro Police officers gather near the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. early October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Las Vegas Metro Police officers confer near a staging area in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. early October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Las Vegas Metro Police and medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Las Vegas Metro Police officer stands by at a staging area in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. early October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
Las Vegas Metro Police and medical workers stage in the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard South after a mass shooting at a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. October 1, 2017. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
 Police form a perimeter around the road leading to the Mandalay Hotel (background) after a gunman killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 200 others when he opened fire on a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada on October 2, 2017. Police said the gunman, a 64-year-old local resident named as Stephen Paddock, had been killed after a SWAT team responded to reports of multiple gunfire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, a hotel-casino next to the concert venue. / AFP PHOTO / Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)
Metro Police officers speak with a man near the concert site on October 2, 2017, after a mass shooting during a music festival on the Las Vegas Strip in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. REUTERS/Las Vegas Sun/Steve Marcus
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