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Clash of Interests Over Nashville Shooter's Journals

A court hearing over whether to publicly release the journals kept by the armed assailant who fatally shot three children and three adults at a private school in Nashville in March focused on who has legal standing to stake a claim in the dispute, but it has raised a host of larger issues as well, the New York Times reports. Journalists, a gun-rights group and others have sued to force the release of the writings found in the shooter's home and car, hoping to shed light on the shooter's motives. Caught in between the arguments about the constitutional right to access public records and a political dispute over gun-control legislation are the parents from about 100 families at the Covenant School who have made clear that they want the material to remain locked away, at least until the surviving classmates finish out the school year. The judge hearing the case, Chancellor I’Ashea L. Myles of the Chancery Court in Davidson County, promised a ruling by the end of Wednesday, noting the case represents "uncharted territory."

Officials have said that they will very likely redact some of the material should the court order its release, as they weigh First Amendment protections and the need for a public explanation against fears of inspiring more violence. The writings can also help build a growing body of research that examines patterns among similar attacks and traces the spread of bigoted beliefs. “One of the reasons we know as much as we know about mass shooters today — things we didn’t know in the past — is because of what perpetrators do and say,” said Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama who has studied mass shootings. But in addition to listening to survivors, he added, “the best argument for not releasing it is just saying, ‘We don’t want to give these perpetrators what they want.’” The Nashville assailant “considered the actions of other mass murderers,” the police said in early April, though they noted at the time that a motive remained unknown. The absence of a clear motive or significant social media postings by the Nashville shooter has already inflamed rampant speculation. After police officials said that the shooter identified as transgender, right-wing activists intensified their attacks on transgender people, claimed a connection between the shooting and the assailant’s gender identity without any evidence, and speculated about a conspiracy to cover up details about a killing at a Christian school.


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