Strange bedfellows: Agendas collide over school shooter’s ‘manifesto’

Betty BeanKnox Scene

When Republican politicians and gun lobbyists line up on the same side of a red-hot issue as the state’s most influential newspaper, questions are begged and answers demanded. That’s why it’s surprising that there’s been so little public conversation on this end of the state about the boiling dispute in Nashville over the Covenant School shooter’s writings, which gun rights supporters are calling a manifesto.

On March 27, 2023, Audrey Elizabeth Hale, 28, shot and killed three Covenant students and three school personnel before she was taken down by Metro Nashville police sharpshooters on the second floor of the school. She had two assault-style rifles and a handgun with a pistol brace.

A former student at the school, Hale was initially identified by her female birth name. That changed when Nashville police announced that Hale identified as a transgender male and had changed their name to Aiden. She lived with her parents, who knew she had mental health issues, but said they were unaware that she’d acquired an arsenal.

And just like that, the conversation shifted from firearms to the dangers of gender reassignment. Republicans started conjuring up images of raging transgender killers hopped up on hormone therapy loosed on society, and those images went national. U.S. Rep. Tim Burchett, in one of his infamous ambush interview pronouncements from the steps of the Capitol, called for the manifesto’s release and was joined toot suite by a chorus of gun lobbyists and assorted right-wingers seeking to deflect blame.

GOP legislators who oppose Gov. Bill Lee’s call for a special summer session to consider a limited palette of measures to make it (slightly) more difficult for known abusers to acquire guns jumped on the manifesto bandwagon.

It is unsurprising that the Nashville Tennessean, which prides itself on being the state’s newspaper of record, supports making the manifesto and any other supporting documentation of the crime public. That’s what newspapers do, regardless of the situational bedfellows who might pile in with them. They are joined in this case by the National Association of Police.

Covenant, a very conservative, fundamentalist private church school, might be expected to support the cause of exposing Hale’s non-conforming gender issues, but it does not. Instead, the school has gone to court to oppose making the manifesto public in order to safeguard the privacy of the victims’ families.

Early this month, Hale’s family, who also opposed releasing the journals, transferred ownership of those papers to the victims’ families.

There’s another potential issue that might (or might not) affect the matter. Without getting into rumors and gossip surrounding the case, one of the school’s founders, John Perry, a ghost writer for former governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, was a church officer who operated a “safe house” for abused children during the years when Hale was a student there. A police investigation implicated him in child sex abuse but ruled that the allegations had surfaced after the statute of limitations had run, making prosecution impossible.

That the Covenant School shootings were unspeakably evil is without question. But that’s where consensus ends. We’re fighting over the lessons we need to learn and the direction we need to take to safeguard the lives and well-being of children, and spreading crackpot rumors that endanger the lives of transgender people won’t get us where we need to be. It is ludicrous to attempt to assign blame for this evil crimewave on the basis of one case.

There had been 291 mass shootings in the USA this year on this column’s June 14 deadline.

And June 14 is Day 165 of 2023.

Betty Bean writes a Thursday opinion column for

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