Tennessee lawmaker defends 2021 Christmas card of children brandishing guns in wake of Nashville shooting

Tennessee congressman Andy Ogles has defended his controversial Christmas card showing him and his family posing with guns, after he came under severe criticism in the wake of the school shooting in his district this week.

Mr Ogles represents Tennessee’s 5th congressional district where six victims were gunned down in a shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville on Monday.

In December 2021, he had posted a photo to his Facebook showing himself, his wife, and three children posing with four guns. At the time, Mr Ogles was serving as mayor of Maury County.

“Merry Christmas! The Ogles Family,” the post read.

“The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference – they deserve a place of honour with all that’s good.”

The post has since been deleted from his social media profiles following a severe backlash.

But, when asked if he now regrets the photo this week, the pro-gun congressman has doubled down on the image.

“Why would I regret a photograph with my family exercising my rights to bear arms?” he told Sky News.

Mr Ogles refused to explain why the photograph was removed from social media after the Nashville shooting and not in the wake of previous school attacks.

Mr Ogles’s Christmas card resurfaced and went viral on social media this week after three children and three adults were fatally shot at the school shooting in his district.

Gun control activist Shannon Watts tweeted the Ogles’s Christmas photo in the hours after Monday’s massacre.

“THIS is last year’s Christmas card from Tennessee Rep. Andy Ogles, a Republican who represents the district that Covenant School is in [sic] Nashville,” Ms Watts wrote.

In response to the shooting, Mr Ogles released a statement saying he and his family are “devastated by the tragedy that took place at The Covenant school” and send their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims’ families.

“As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence,” Mr Ogles said.

But gun activists continued to criticise Mr Ogles for posing with firearms while expressing devastation for the victims and their families.

Fred Guttenberg, a gun control activist whose 14-year-old daughter was killed during the 2018 Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida wrote: “The tragedy of the latest mass shooting is listening to Tennessee politicians who refuse to call it a shooting but who engaged in behaviour that caused this to be more likely when they glorify guns.”

Twitter user Treat tweeted, “I don’t think he is the best example of a role model.”

The Independent has reached out to Mr Ogles’s office for comment.

The shooting unfolded just after 10am on Monday morning when accused shooter Audrey Hale allegedly drove to the elementary school heavily armed.

There, Hale – a 28-year-old former student at the christian school – broke into the school building by shooting through the glass side doors and climbing inside.

Once inside, the shooter stalked the corridors, killing the six victims.

Andy Ogles and his family pose for a 2021 Christmas photo with firearms in an image published on his Facebook page (Facebook / Andy Ogles)
Andy Ogles and his family pose for a 2021 Christmas photo with firearms in an image published on his Facebook page (Facebook / Andy Ogles)

Responding officers fatally shot the assailant at 10.27am – 14 minutes after the first 911 call reporting an active shooter came in at 10.13am.

Six victims were killed in the shooting including three staff members Katherine Koonce, Cynthia Peak and Mike Hill.

Three students Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney, all aged nine, also died in the attack.

Police have identified the suspected shooter by their name at birth; Hale reportedly was a transgender man who used he/him pronouns, though law enforcement officials initially described the suspect as a woman in the aftermath of the shooting. Police did not provide another name but on the suspect’s social media accounts they refer to themselves as Aiden.

Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said Hale does not have any previous criminal record. Chief Drake said police found a “manifesto” and map of the school grounds at Hale’s residence.