A day after a gunman killed six people at a Christian elementary school in Nashville, Sen. Josh Hawley took to the Senate floor to denounce the shooting as a hate crime against Christians.
“We must also tell the truth about what happened yesterday in Nashville,” Hawley said. “This murderous rampage, this taking of innocent life, was a horrific crime, but more specifically, it was a hate crime. A crime that according to Nashville police, specifically targeted, that’s their word, targeted, the members of this Christian community, the members of this religious institution.”
Under federal law, a hate crime is one motivated by race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.
Nashville police have said the shooter “targeted” the Covenant School, which is a private Christian school, according to the Tennessean, and are reviewing a “manifesto.” But police have not offered specific details about the reasons the school was targeted. The shooter, who police say was a 28-year-old transgender man, attended the school when he was a child.
The Nashville shooter was killed by police, and is therefore unable to face legal charges.
Hawley’s comments are part of the deadlocked debate over gun laws in America, where the aftermath of a shooting often feels as if it’s playing out according to a script.
Gun control advocates, and many Democratic members of Congress, renewed their call for more restrictions on guns after reports that the shooter used two assault-style weapons (a pistol and a rifle) and a handgun. There have been 130 mass shootings already this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are wounded or killed, not including the shooter.
But Republicans have remained steadfast in their opposition to efforts to tighten gun laws, like the assault weapons ban being pushed by President Joe Biden. In 2021, Sen. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, introduced a bill called the Disarm Hate Crimes Act, which would prevent someone who has been convicted of perpetuating a hate crime from owning a firearm. The bill had no Republican co-sponsors.
Instead, Hawley appears to be adopting the rhetoric often employed by Democrats after a shooter targets a minority community — like shootings at an LGBTQ club, or in a neighborhood with a high population of Asian Americans — and placing it in the larger context of the culture war.
“I would call on those corporate partners, who are so quick to weigh on social issues,” Hawley said. “Now make your voice heard, condemn this crime as the hate crime that it is. This is a time to be heard, this is a time to be clear about what has happened and is unfolding before our very eyes.”
Along with sponsoring a resolution to denounce the shooting as a hate crime, Hawley wrote a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and FBI, calling on them to investigate the shooting as a hate crime. He said people need more evidence and facts about the motive of the shooter.
The FBI pointed to a Monday tweet from its Tennessee field office that it was assisting local law enforcement, but it did not comment directly on Hawley’s request. DHS also did not respond to Hawley.
In 2021, Hawley was the only senator to oppose legislation intended to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans in the wake of an uptick of racist attacks during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawley said at the time the bill was too broad.
Hawley’s speech echoes some of the response to the shooting in conservative media, where commentators have latched onto the identity of the shooter, who was transgender, adding fuel to a push by conservatives to restrict transgender rights, a movement often influenced by religion.
He did not mention that the shooter was transgender, and instead used female pronouns to describe him.
Hawley said the Senate has to condemn “rhetoric about days of vengeance and genocide, rhetoric directed against religious believers of whatever background, whether they’re Presbyterians, like the students and teachers and employees targeted yesterday, or some other Christian affiliation, or orthodox Jews, or Catholics or whatever background.”
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