Local authorities characterized the shooter as a young female teenager in the immediate aftermath of Monday’s gun rampage at a private Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee, which killed three nine-year-old children and three adults.
Within hours, the description had been modified to a 28-year-old lady. Soon after, officials shifted gears, stating that the gunman, Audrey Hale, had recently identified as a transgender male on social media, including a LinkedIn account.
The Covenant school shooter’s identity issue was caused by the fog of confusion that often descends on the scene of gun rampages in their immediate aftermath.
Yet, in this case, it pointed to another factor: the shock of an incidence that, according to all documented statistics, is extremely rare.
One of the indisputable facts of the US mass shooting epidemic is that these heinous crimes, which tear families and communities apart, are committed overwhelmingly by cis males.
The Violence Project (TVP) reports that men are responsible for more than 97% of all public mass shootings.
TVP, a nonpartisan research organization, has been tracking mass public shootings in the United States since 1966. Its database classifies such shootings as events where four or more individuals are killed with firearms in a public location.
According to this definition, there have been 190 such disasters in the last 57 years, with 185 of those 185 carried out by shooters who were born male.
Only five people, including Hale, were born female. Two of them went on murdering sprees with their male partners.
“Men perpetrate over 90% of homicides worldwide,” said TVP’s Jillian Peterson. “Explanations for this focus on biological, social, economic, and cultural factors, including societal expectations and gender roles.
When it comes to mass shootings, perpetrators often see themselves in previous perpetrators and identify with them, which can contribute to copycat shootings.”
The FBI employs a slightly broader definition of “active shooter incidents,” focusing on persons who kill or attempt to kill people in a restricted and congested place.
Its database contains more cases – 277 between 2000 and 2018 alone – yet even here, the proportion of female perpetrators at birth is relatively low – 12, or just 4%.
Shooters who are trans or gender nonconforming are rare, putting Hale in an almost unique class. The only other known member of this category in recent years is the 22-year-old shooter who killed five people in a gay bar in Colorado Springs last November and is non-binary, according to defense lawyers.
Dr. Jason Silva, an assistant professor at William Paterson University and co-author of one of the few studies on the tiny number of mass shooters who were assigned female at birth, remarked that there is still a lack of knowledge as to why the vast majority of mass shooters are cis male.
“We can consider the nature vs nurture debate: are males primarily naturally pushed toward violence due to testosterone, or have they been groomed into being more violent by our culture and society?” We don’t know for sure, but both seem feasible.”
The extremely unusual nature of a not cis male shooter is unlikely to deter far-right agitators from exploiting Hale’s trans identification to further culture war objectives. Within hours of the massacre, Charlie Kirk, a Donald Trump-affiliated extreme agitator, called for a ban on “gender-affirming care for children.”
Such corrosive reactions to the shooting will likely flourish in some segments of Tennessee society. The state’s Republican leadership has been at the vanguard of the anti-trans legislation push that has swept the United States.
Tennessee became the first state to outlaw drag shows earlier this month. Its legislature sets the tone for at least 16 Republican-controlled states mulling similar harsh legislation.
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