Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Monday’s deadly school shooting set in motion a familiar cycle of condolences, calls to action and open-ended questions.
Police have identified Audrey Hale as the shooter who opened fire at a Nashville Presbyterian school, killing three 9-year-olds and three adults. But the investigation into why and how the violence unfolded is only just beginning.
Here’s a look at some of the knowable queries, and where they stand.
What was the shooter’s motive?
Hale, a 28-year-old who used he/him pronouns, was a former student of the school, Nashville Police Chief John Drake said at a news conference Tuesday.
The shooter had left behind “a manifesto,” Drake said, which included a map of the school, with details about how he would enter and carry out an attack.
But police stressed there was “no evidence” that specific victims, such as the head of the school, had been targeted.
“This school — this church building — was a target of the shooter,” said Nashville police spokesperson Don Aaron. “But we have no information at present to indicate that the shooter was targeting any one of the six individuals who were murdered.”
When asked specifically whether Hale had targeted the school for religious reasons, Drake said he couldn’t confirm. He added that police are working with the FBI to fully examine Hale’s writings.
Could police have confiscated the suspect’s guns?
The shooter’s parents believed their child had sold Hale’s only gun and didn’t have any firearms at home, Drake said.
In actuality, Hale had legally purchased seven firearms from five local gun stores. Three of those weapons — including two assault-style firearms — were used in the shooting.
Hale was under “a doctor’s care for an emotional disorder,” Drake said, but “law enforcement knew nothing about the treatment.”
In some states, so-called “red flag” laws empower law enforcement to confiscate weapons due to mental illness or concerns from relatives.
That’s not quite the case in Tennessee: Police can take someone’s guns if a court deems them mentally incompetent, they’re “judicially committed” to a mental institution or placed under a conservatorship.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Similarly, being under a doctor’s care alone wouldn’t have met the threshold to prohibit the sale of weapons to Hale. When it comes to emotional duress, Tennessee law only prohibits the sale of guns to those found by a court to pose a danger to themselves or others.
Drake noted the lack of any red flag laws in Tennessee, but added when questioned by reporters, that police would’ve “tried to get those weapons” had they received a report that Hale was suicidal or threatening to kill someone.
The Nashville Police Department has not yet returned a call from NPR asking for clarification on policies Drake may have been referring to.
Will the FBI or state agencies investigate this as a hate crime?
Police say that the suspect was previously a student of the Covenant School and targeted the building, which is also a church.
On Tuesday, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., took that to mean the attack was “targeted, that is, against Christians” and began calling for federal agencies to investigate the shooting as a hate crime.
Hawley also introduced a Senate resolution to formally condemn the shooting as a hate crime.
Hawley’s choice in framing caught on quickly with other Republican leaders. In a budget hearing on Tuesday, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked Attorney General Merrick Garland whether he planned to open a hate crime investigation into the shooting “for the targeting of Christians.”
“As of now, motive hasn’t been identified,” Garland said, adding that the FBI was working with local police on the investigation.
Without a living suspect or evidence of accomplices to charge, authorities would designate this a hate crime largely for data reporting purposes.
A little over 14% of hate crimes in the U.S. are connected to religion, according to the FBI’s most recent data set.
Will lawmakers pass gun control measures?
Stefani Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images
Monday’s mass shooting was just one of 130 tracked in the U.S. this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. And, as with these previous shootings, lawmakers were once again quick to concede that Monday’s act of violence likely won’t be enough to shake off the stalemate on gun reform.
On Tuesday, President Biden followed his consistent 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 doing it, who isn’t helping, to put pressure on them.”
Republican lawmakers, including Tennessee Rep. Tim Burchett, told reporters that gun laws “don’t work” to curb violence.
“I don’t see any real role we could do other than mess things up,” he said on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. “I don’t think you’re going to stop the gun violence. You’ve got to change people’s hearts.”
“We can all agree on one thing, that every human has great value. And we will act to prevent this from happening again,” said Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, in a Tuesday evening video address.
He didn’t clarify what that action would look like. Lee has been a vocal opponent of gun control throughout his time in office, calling for every school to have a resource officer staffed on campus.
If anything, the ruby red state appears to be leaning further into its reputation as a gun-friendly state. As Nashville mourned and protested on Tuesday, a federal judge quietly paved the way for Tennessee to drop its legal carry age from 21 to 18.