Expert panel discusses recent rise in mass shootings

The panel discusses the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on "This Week."
6:11 | 08/04/19

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Transcript for Expert panel discusses recent rise in mass shootings
There have been more arrests and deaths in the United States caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years. Individuals affiliated with racially motivated violent extremism are responsible for the most lethal and violent activity. That's the top FBI counter-terrorism official. Joining us now Pierre Thomas is back with John Cohen, ABC news contributor and former department of counter-terrorism coordinator under both president bush and president Obama, and Shannon Watts, president of moms demand action. Pierre, I want to start with you. We see the news reports. We've become almost numb to these mass shootings, but what do the numbers show? How dramatic is the increase in these mass shootings? Jonathan, something pretty horrific has been happening. The FBI began studying active shooter incidents beginning in 2000. The country used to average about six active shooter incidents per year. 2017, the last year that we have data, the number was up to 30, five times more than when they began studying the incidents. If Americans have a sense that something different is going on even as the overall crime rate has gone down, it is. More people showing up in active shooter situations. And yet we've seen promises by political leader after political leader to deal with this problem. John Cohen, you have dealt with this issue as a federal official. You're still following it. Why are we going in the wrong direction? The short answer is, Jon, it's not a priority. There's a lot we should be doing and a lot we can be doing to stop these attacks but those programs or those efforts are not being funded. The rhetoric behind what this administration is doing doesn't make it a priority. In some respects, the language and the programs that are being promoted by the administration are feeding into the threat. How much of this is the white nationalism and extremism? I think it's a big part of it. As Pierre was just suggesting, the FBI is really concerned not only about the overall increase in these types of mass shootings but the number of mass shootings that are inspired by far right white nationalist caused. It's people who are mentally unwell, who are disaffected, who are searching for something to give themselves a sense of life meaning. They connect with a white nationalist cause or some other extremist cause and they use that to validate their attack. Jonathan, I recently went to an FBI briefing and they talked about since the tree of life synagogue massacre last October, that they were seeing a surge in hate crimes associated with white nationalists. Information coming in from local police departments about cases that they're seeing. So there's something afoot here. Law enforcement is extremely concerned about it. The other thing they're concerned about quite frankly is the notion of copycats. When all this type of activity is going on, people who are unstable, who have various issues see it as a time and as a chance to take action. Shannon, this is the second mass shooting in a week involving an ak-47. Yes. I know you've said that there's no one gun law that can stop this gun violence, but if you could see one law passed, what would it be? What is the first step that needs to be taken? We've been trying to pass background checks, moms demand action has, since 2013 since the sandy hook shooting. It would have closed that background check leap hole. This is an incredibly important part of the foundation of gun safety in this country, to require a background check on every gun sale. Texas doesn't do that. Ohio doesn't do that. The other thing that we need to do is pass a red flag law. In the states that red flag laws have passed we see fewer gun homicides, fewer gun suicides. They don't have those laws in Texas or in Ohio even though both legislators considered them. They rolled them back and didn't pass them. We heard from the acting white house chief of staff that he's all in favor of background checks, universal background checks, and we've also seen senator Lindsey graham just a short while ago talked about the importance of these red flag laws. So here you have what appears to be a bipartisan consensus on two of the top issues you've just mentioned. Yes. Is it finally going to get done? This is all legislation that has passed the house this year. We need Mitch Mcconnell to allow a vote. Citizens can text the word checks to 64433, call their senators, demand that this happens. They can save lives. These acts of gun violence are not acts of god. They're preventable and senseless and we can stop them. John, you heard the discussion with Mick Mulvaney about the president's rhetoric and he said these are sick people and it's wrong to blame the president. In fact, Julian Castro said it's wrong, that the only person to blame here is the shooter but how much does the rhetoric contribute to what we're seeing here? It absolutely influences it. I'm not suggesting that the president is directly responsible for these attacks but what the president and the white house needs to understand is that the polarizing, dehumanizing rhetoric that's being used influences and empowers disaffected people. So just as it inspires the political base, those same words can inspire a mentally unwell, disaffected, violence prone individual to go out and commit a mass casualty attack. The other thing we've heard the FBI talk about recently is these conspiracy theories that are spreading online. Absolutely. Again, it feeds into what John was just talking about. This cauldron of toxic rhetoric, people talking about the other, if you will, is inspiring people in the same way that you're seeing islamic radicals use social media to inspire people who are not affiliated with any group necessarily but they're reading and seeing this material and it sparks people to act. And what can people at home do? Well, the secret service has been doing a lot of research. They've been looking at all the mass shootings in the last year or so and the one thing that they say is overwhelmingly true is that all these people who do these shootings say something to someone about violence that they're considering. They write something, so they're telling the public, you have to -- If you hear anything like this you've got to report it. You've got to report it. Pierre, John, Shannon, thank you very much.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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