I struggle to make sense of these attacks on their own terms or any other. In each case the offender couldn't really be called a madman. Each one seems to have been aware that he was killing a nightclub full of human beings, or two police personnel, rather than (say) because he believed either was persecuting him particularly (I'm happy to be corrected on the point, of course). Both men considered themselves to be acting for a cause larger than their own desires or grievances, which means one can't really say they were simply criminals like Martin Bryant or Al Capone.
Acts of war then? This isn't a terribly satisfactory description either. Certainly, indiscriminate killing has been used in warfare for millennia, but even when it was intended to spread terror, it was for reasons which were rational, at least in their own terms (barbaric and evil on anyone else's). At the trial of Radovan Karadžić for crimes committed during the Bosnian War -
The Judges also found that between April 1992 and November 1995 Karadžić participated in a [Joint Criminal Enterprise (JCE)] to establish and carry out a campaign of sniping and shelling against the civilian population of Sarajevo, aimed to spread terror among the civilian citizens (Sarajevo JCE).
During this period the Army of Republika Srpska (VRS) deliberately sniped and shelled civilians in Sarajevo on an almost daily basis throughout the conflict. “Sarajevo civilians were sniped while fetching water, walking in the city, and when using public transport. Children were sniped at while playing in front of their houses, walking with their parents or walking home from school” said the Presiding Judge Kwon.
The Chamber found that Karadžić significantly contributed to the Sarajevo JCE, both as the highest political authority in RS and Supreme Commander of the VRS. Having control over the VRS throughout the conflict, he was directly involved in military matters in Sarajevo and issued many orders at the strategic and at the operational level. Karadžić used the campaign of sniping and shelling, causing terror among the civilian population in Sarajevo, as a means of exerting pressure on the Bosnian Muslim leaders and the international community in pursuit of his political goals.
The judges concluded that Karadžić is guilty of unlawful attacks on civilians, murder and terror.Even the Nazi obliteration of the village of Lidice at least had a discernible purpose - the punish the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich and and to deter further attacks (as an aside, forgetting that event rendered Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds an unforgivable lèse-histoire; in reality, the sequel to the film would have been about Albert Speer and Dietrich von Choltitz carrying out the Nero Decree).
But Orlando and Paris? Even the most committed jihadist can't have imagined that even a double-digit bodycount carried enough terror to make gay people in America deny their sexuality? That killing two police officers bring the French state to a grinding halt? Ninety-four years have passed since the very early horror film Nosferatu. I suspect our culture is no longer so easily terrified (as opposed to being shocked, startled, or stirred up to great whirling gusts of emotion).
I think the real explanation is in the dead bodies of the attackers: Like Herostratus burning down the Temple of Artemis, their crimes were a means of securing both their own death and their place in a pantheon of heroes. Both conservatives and liberals, then, are wrong in their response. Conservatives blaming Islam are at best blaming an accelerant for an already burning fire. Liberals blaming guns concede that the killings must simply be lived with and that the only interesting issue is means. And out here in the real world where real people turn up to face real weapons and tend real casualties, both sides are as irrelevant as shit. Real problems crave real solutions: stop the person doing the killing if you can, and bind the wounds of the injured where you can't. Nothing else matters.