In this screen grab from surveillance video tweeted by the...

In this screen grab from surveillance video tweeted by the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, Audrey Elizabeth Hale points an assault-style weapon inside The Covenant School in Nashville, Tenn., on Monday. The former student shot through the doors of the Christian elementary school and killed six people. Credit: AP

As always, the deadly mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee — this time at a private Christian elementary school — has been followed by a flood of recriminations and polemics about gun control, mental health, and measures to curb future tragedies of this kind. But this time, an added element has made the polemics much more acrimonious: the killer’s possible transgender identity. Audrey Elizabeth Hale, a former student at the school, had “he/him” pronouns listed on the LinkedIn social network and had apparently talked to some friends and relatives about transitioning. Now, some transgender activists claim the 28-year-old shooter, gunned down by police after killing three children and three adults at the school, was a victim of anti-trans bigotry — while some right-wing media figures hype the “transgender killer” angle.

It’s hard to say whether the debate on guns can lead to meaningful change. But the polemics about gender politics will definitely make the cultural climate worse.

While a wide range of people have been branded hateful bigots simply for disagreeing with some aspects of transgender advocacy, much of the rhetoric currently emanating from the right is indeed hateful. Some people, including Donald Trump Jr., have used dubious statistics to claim an epidemic of mass shootings by transgender people. A Catholic author in the conservative magazine National Review, Michal Brandon Dougherty, calls the transgender rights movement a “heresy” and compares it to the medieval heresy of the Cathars — which has disturbing implications since the Cathar sect was ruthlessly exterminated in a Church-authorized crusade.

But there have also been some bad responses on the left, including suggestions that the shooting represented a consequence of anti-trans “hate” in conservative Tennessee. While this argument can’t excuse the rampage, it comes close to giving it a rationale.

In a particularly tacky move, Josselyn Berry, press secretary to Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, tweeted a meme hours after the shooting that showed a film character pointing two guns, with the text, “Us when we see transphobes.” Whether or not this was meant as a comment on the Nashville tragedy, it was appalling. Berry appropriately resigned.

In fact, while conservative Christians and left-wing foes of religious conservatism have tried to link Hale’s murderous spree to an anti-religion animus, that linkage remains evidence-free. Hale had reportedly considered an attack at other locations, including a shopping mall, but chose the school due to familiarity with its layout.

Ironically, while some LGBT groups have portrayed the shooting as driven by anti-transgender bigotry, they have also opposed releasing the “manifesto” which may shed light on Hale’s motives. Nashville police have said that the document will be released; that’s a welcome step. While there are arguments for not giving mass shooters a platform, other shooters’ writings have been made public as a way to understand their actions. There is no reason to make Hale an exception.

There is another question to consider in this case: Should a clearly troubled person’s recently and inconsistently declared transgender identity (in messages to a friend shortly before the shooting, Hale used the name “Audrey” with “Aiden” in parentheses) be treated as a fact? Such a question does not dismiss all transgender identities as delusional, as some on the right do. It simply means that gender identity is a massively complicated, poorly understood area of human psychology. Simplistic explanations do everyone a disservice.

OPINIONS EXPRESSED BY CATHY YOUNG, a cultural studies fellow at the Cato Institute, are her own.

Newsday LogoDON'T MISS THIS LIMITED-TIME OFFER1 5 months for only $1Save on Unlimited Digital Access