Heartbreaking scenes unfold Monday outside Covenant Elementary School in Nashville, Tennessee. Frightened children leave the school building, which has become the scene of the crime, in long lines, holding hands.

On their faces: fear, horror, bewilderment. They are escorted by their teachers and police officers to buses that are supposed to take them to a safe place. Because her school is no longer a safe place: shortly before, a heavily armed woman shot dead six people here, including three children aged eight and nine. She used to go to school here herself.

The police were called to the scene of the crime around 10 a.m. (local time) on Monday morning. “When officers got to the second floor, they saw a gunman, a woman, shooting,” said Don Aaron of the Nashville Police Department. “We know she was armed with at least two assault rifles and a handgun.” The 28-year-old was then shot dead by the emergency services. This prevented worse things from happening, Nashville Police Chief John Drake later made clear. According to the police, the three adults killed are school employees and their age is stated to be in their early 60s.

Around 200 children go to school

Covenant Elementary School is a private Christian school located on a green hill in Nashville – the capital of Tennessee with a population of almost 700,000. The gray stone school buildings are set in a tranquil grove. On this Monday in March, the sun is shining in the sky, cherry trees are in full bloom. The school teaches children from the first to the sixth grade. There is also a kindergarten there. According to the local newspaper “The Tennessean”, around 200 children are cared for here. The facility advertises with a Christian mission statement and with offering the children a safe place where they can develop freely.

The investigators are now evaluating material that could provide information about the motive of the shooter. “We have a manifesto, we have some writings that relate to that day, that incident, that we’re evaluating,” said Police Commissioner Drake. Maps of the school were also found, on which, among other things, surveillance cameras and entrances were drawn. The shooter smashed through an outer glass door, gaining access to the school. Police released surveillance camera footage showing them entering the school with their guns raised. According to police, the woman was still carrying several rounds of ammunition and may have wanted to target other crime scenes as well. A car parked near the school provided clues to the identity of the perpetrator, Drake said.

According to the police, it is a woman from Nashville, a former student at the facility. She graduated from a college in the city with a degree in art and design last year. Authorities say she self-identifies as transgender. This is the name given to people who do not – or not only – identify with the sex that was documented at their birth. The investigators said nothing about any connection between the life story of the shooter and her crime. “There’s a theory at the moment that we might be able to talk about later, but it’s unconfirmed,” said Drake. Police say the woman bought her guns legally.

Gun violence is the number one killer of children and young people

In the USA, shootings and even rampages are part of the sad everyday life. Such “mass shootings” very often use assault rifles such as those used by the military, with which many bullets can be fired in a short time. Most of the perpetrators are men. While in many countries an elaborate procedure has to be followed in order to obtain a weapon, in many parts of the USA it is easy to obtain a weapon – even ones that were actually developed for war. More guns are in circulation in the United States than anywhere else in the world, according to the Small Arms Survey research project. By far.

This also creates gloomy records elsewhere: According to data from the CDC health authority, around 20,000 people were shot in the United States in 2020 alone – more than 50 a day. In the same year, gun injuries became the number one cause of death for children and young people in the country for the first time, ahead of traffic accidents. According to the White House, more school students have died from gunfire than active-duty police officers and soldiers combined over the past two decades.

Even elementary schools become crime scenes with terrifying regularity – as in December 2012, when a 20-year-old shot 20 children and six teachers in Newtown, Connecticut. At that time, too, there was great horror in the country, but other, no less incomprehensible atrocities followed: In May 2022 in Uvalde, Texas, an 18-year-old shot dead 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school. And now such a case again, this time in Nashville.

The gun lobby blocks tightening of the law

After the new attack, US President Joe Biden immediately called for tightening of gun laws in the country – once again. But his predecessors repeatedly failed in attempts to persuade the parliament, which was riddled with party-political rifts, to ban assault rifles and other effective protective measures. Biden is no different. That’s why he makes do with minor interventions, for which he is not dependent on Congress. Without a substantial reform of the gun law, however, experts see no chance of real change.

In order to implement this, Biden and his Democrats would have to rely on the willingness of the Republicans in Congress to cooperate – but that is not in sight on this topic. Efforts to introduce stricter gun laws have been in vain for many years – mainly because Republicans are opposed to them. And because the gun lobby, led by the powerful National Rifle Association (NRA), vehemently opposes any attempt to regulate gun ownership more closely. The devastating rampages at primary schools have not changed that.

A passer-by, who spontaneously hijacked the microphone that was still set up in front of the media cameras on Monday after a police press conference in Nashville, also expressed her desperation: “How is it that it’s still happening, that our children are still dying?” Asked she. She herself survived the shooting at the July Independence Day parade in Highland Park, Illinois, and is visiting family in Nashville. “These mass shootings will continue to happen until our lawmakers take action and pass gun safety legislation.”

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