The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The data is clear: There is no ‘clear epidemic’ of transgender mass shooters

Donald Trump Jr. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
6 min

“There is a clear epidemic of trans or nonbinary mass shooters.”

— Donald Trump Jr., in a video post, March 28

“One thing is VERY clear: the modern trans movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists.”

Benny Johnson, production chief at Turning Point USA, in a tweet, March 27

The mass killing at a small Christian school in Nashville has led to unfounded claims by right-wing personalities that transgender Americans are a potential vanguard of mass shooters.

Police have said that Audrey Hale, the 28-year-old they identified as the shooter who killed six people in Monday’s rampage, was transgender, citing a social media profile in which Hale used masculine pronouns. The Post has not confirmed how Hale identified.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had her Twitter account temporarily restricted after she posted a screenshot of a graphic that referred to a “Trans Day of Vengeance” in the wake of the shooting; she was referring to an event aimed at protesting anti-trans legislation. (The phrase refers to a meme that has been around in the trans community for some time; Twitter also removed tweets supporting the event.) During last year’s mass shooting at a Texas elementary school, Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) tweeted speculation — which he later deleted — that the shooter was a “transsexual leftist illegal alien.” (The shooter was none of those.)

Let’s look at the facts about transgender shooters:

The Facts

In his tweet, which received more than 10 million views, Johnson listed four shootings — “The Colorado Springs shooter identified as non binary. The Denver shooter identified as trans. The Aberdeen shooter identified as trans. The Nashville shooter identified as trans.”

In response, his tweet received a “!” tweet from Twitter owner Elon Musk. “These are straight facts,” Johnson responded to Musk.

Actually, these are facts without significant context, and the gender identity of the shooters in some of these instances has not been established definitively. Let’s take the cases in chronological order.

In 2018, in Aberdeen, Md., a 26-year-old shot and killed three people at a pharmaceuticals distribution center before turning the weapon on themselves. The sheriff said the shooter had been diagnosed as mentally ill in 2016, and The Washington Post reported that a close friend reported the shooter “suffered from bipolar disorder and struggled since early in high school with severe depression, partly connected to her feelings of not being accepted when she first came out as a gay teenage girl and later as transgender.”

The Denver incident involved two shooters who in 2019 opened fire at a public charter school focused on a math and science curriculum. One student was killed and eight were injured. Court documents said that one shooter, 16 at the time, told investigators he intended to target classmates who repeatedly mocked him because he was transgender.

Then, in 2022, five people were killed and 25 injured at an LGBTQ nightclub by a 22-year-old shooter who claims to identify as nonbinary and uses the pronouns they and them. However, a police detective testified earlier this year that the shooter ran a neo-Nazi website, used gay and racial slurs while gaming online and posted an image of a rifle scope trained on a gay pride parade.

And now of course we have the Nashville shooting. As we noted, police have identified the shooter as transgender, but that has yet to be confirmed.

In his video, Donald Trump Jr. noted that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveys indicate that transgender people make up 0.6 percent of the adult population — about 1.6 million people. A Washington Post-KFF poll released this month found “less than a third have used hormone treatments or puberty blockers, and about 1 in 6 have undergone gender-affirming surgery or other surgical treatment to change their physical appearance.”

So we need to evaluate the incidence of mass shootings using the metric that transgender people are 0.6 percent of the population.

First, we should note that there is no universal definition of mass shooting or mass killing, and how individuals and groups define the terms can create a huge discrepancy in the statistics used to describe the frequency of these events. The Washington Post defines a mass killing as an event in which four or more people, not including the shooter, have been killed by gunfire. The Post does not consider factors such as location or motive, but many databases exclude killings attributed to domestic violence or gang warfare.

Under the criteria for mass killing, just one of these tragedies — Nashville — would qualify for inclusion. The Violence Project counts 188 mass public killings since 1966. So with 0.6 percent of the population, transgender people would expect to be involved in about one shooting.

“Nashville is the first case of a trans male or trans female perpetrator in the database,” said James Densley, professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Metro State University and co-founder of the Violence Project. “We will likely update our gender coding when we code this case after more information has been released and verified.”

As for mass shootings, we will turn to the Gun Violence Project. Since 2018, the organization has counted 2,697 mass shootings under a definition of 4 or more shot or killed in a shooting incident, not including the shooter, in any circumstance. This methodology would allow inclusion of the Aberdeen and Denver cases cited by Johnson. With 0.6 percent of the population, one would expect at least 16 mass shootings to be conducted by people identifying as transgender. Instead there are just three possible cases cited by conservatives.

Trump and Johnson did not respond to requests for comment.

The Pinocchio Test

Far from any epidemic of trans mass shooters, the evidence shows that people identifying as transgender are not committing mass murder at a rate higher than their percentage of the population. Conservative commenters and politicians should not be so quick to make such claims without placing the facts in context.

Four Pinocchios

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