4 big questions about the Nashville school shooting: NPR
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Monday’s deadly school shooting sparked a familiar cycle of condolences, calls for action and open questions.
Police have identified Audrey Hale as the shooter who opened fire at Covenant School, a Presbyterian school in Nashville, Tennessee, killing three 9-year-old children and three adults. But the investigation into the why and how of the violence has only just begun.
Here’s an overview of some of the big queries and where they stand.
What was the shooter’s motive?
Hale, a 28-year-old man who authorities said used the pronouns he/him, was a former student of the school, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said Tuesday at a news conference.
The shooter left “a manifesto” Drake said it included a map of the school, with details of how Hale would enter it and lead an attack.
But police stressed there was “no evidence” that specific victims, such as the school principal, were targeted.
“That school — that church — was the target of the shooter,” Nashville police spokesman Don Aaron said. “But we have no information at this time that the shooter was targeting any of the six individuals who were murdered.”
When asked specifically if Hale had targeted the school for religious reasons, Drake said he couldn’t confirm. He added that the police were working with the FBI to fully examine Hale’s writings.
Could the police have confiscated the shooter’s weapons?
The shooter’s parents believed their child had sold Hale’s only gun and had no guns at home, Drake said.
In reality, Hale had legally purchased seven firearms from five local gun stores. Three of these weapons, including two assault-type guns – were used in the firefight.
Hale was under “doctor’s care for an emotional disorder,” Drake said, but “law enforcement knew nothing about the treatment.”
In some states, “red flag” laws authorize law enforcement to confiscate weapons from people due to mental illness or concerns from loved ones.
This is not quite the case in Tennessee: the police can take someone’s gun if a court finds the person mentally incompetent, if the person is “judicially committed” to a mental institution, or if the person is placed under guardianship.
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Similarly, being under the care of a physician alone would not have met the threshold to prohibit the sale arms in Hale. With respect to emotional distress, Tennessee law prohibits the sale of firearms only to persons deemed by a court to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Drake noted the lack of red flag laws in Tennessee, but added when asked by reporters that police would have “tried to get those guns” if they had received a report that Hale was suicidal or threatened to kill someone.
The Nashville Metropolitan Police Department has yet to return a call from NPR asking for clarification on what policies Drake may have been referring to.
Will the FBI or state agencies investigate this hate crime?
Police say Hale was previously a student at Covenant School and targeted the building, which is also a church.
On Tuesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., understood the attack was “targeted, that is, against Christians” and began calling on federal agencies to investigate the shooting as a crime of hate.
Hawley also introduced a Senate resolution formally condemning the shooting as a hate crime.
Hawley’s choice in the frame quickly spread to other Republican leaders. During a budget hearing on Tuesday, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked Attorney General Merrick Garland if he plans to open a hate crime investigation into the shooting ‘for the targeting of Christians’ .
“At this time, the motive has not been identified,” Garland said, adding that the FBI was working with local law enforcement on the investigation.
Without a living suspect or evidence of accomplices to charge, authorities would designate this as a hate crime largely for reporting purposes.
Just over 14% of hate crimes in the United States are religion-related, according to the latest FBI dataset.
Will lawmakers pass gun control measures?
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Monday’s mass shooting was just one of 130 recorded in the United States this year, according to Gun Violence Archive. And as with those previous shootings, lawmakers were once again quick to concede that Monday’s act of violence is unlikely to be enough to break the impasse over gun reform.
On Tuesday, President Biden followed his constant call for an assault weapons ban with a rhetorical question: “Why do I keep saying this if it’s not happening?” He asked. “Because I want you to know who isn’t, who isn’t helping put pressure on them.”
Republican Lawmakers, including Representative Tim Burchett of Tennessee, told reporters that gun laws “don’t work” to curb violence.
“I don’t see any real role we could play other than spoiling things,” he said on the steps of the US Capitol. “I don’t think you’re going to stop gun violence. You have to change people’s hearts.”
“We can all agree on one thing: that every human being has great value. And we will act to prevent this from happening again,” said Tennessee Governor Bill Leea Republican, in a video address Tuesday night.
He did not specify what that action would look like. Lee has been a vocal opponent of gun control throughout his tenure, calling on every school to have a resource officer on campus.
On the contrary, the ruby red state seems to rely more on its reputation as a gun-friendly state. As Nashville wept and protested Tuesday, a federal judge quietly paved the way for Tennessee to lower the minimum age at which residents can publicly carry handguns from 21 to 18.