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GOP congressmen from Tenn. criticized for response to shooting, gun-toting family photo

Republican Andy Ogles on Aug. 4, 2022, after being declared the winner in Tennessee's 5th Congressional District party primary in Franklin, Tenn.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

After a shooter killed three children and three adults at the Covenant School in Tennessee on Monday, US Representative Andrew Ogles of Tennessee, who represents the Nashville district where the school is located, said he was “utterly heartbroken” by the tragedy.

But gun control advocates and Democrats quickly criticized a previous social media post by the Republican lawmaker: a 2021 Christmas photo of Ogles and his family flashing wide smiles and toting guns, including two of the children.

In the caption of the photo, which shows the family brandishing their firearms in front of a decorated tree, Ogles wrote “MERRY CHRISTMAS!”

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He also included a quote that is often falsely attributed to George Washington: “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place with all that’s good.”

After the mass shooting, many condemned Ogles’ ostentatious embrace of firearms, arguing that the attack in his district could have been prevented with stricter gun control policies.

Ogles, 51, is a staunch proponent of the Second Amendment. As Maury County mayor, he signed a resolution that declared his region a sanctuary community for the constitutional right to bear arms. When he ran for Congress, he vowed to fight to protect gun ownership rights. And in Congress, he has cosponsored legislation that would allow people to carry licenses to carry a weapon in any other state and that would prohibit the creation of a federal firearms registry.

“Disarming the people is the most effective way to enslave them, and we must remain vigilant when anyone seeks to erode our civil liberties,” his campaign website reads. “The rights of the people to keep and bear arms, protect themselves and their families, and prevent tyrannical rule is a fundamental liberty.”

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On Monday, Ogles said he and his family were “devastated” by the mass shooting, which police said was carried out by a former student of the Christian elementary school, and offered their “thoughts and prayers to the families of those lost.”

“As a father of three, I am utterly heartbroken by this senseless act of violence,” he said. “I am closely monitoring the situation and working with local officials.”

Critics were quick to pounce.

Fred Guttenberg, who became an activist against gun violence after his daughter, Jamie Guttenberg, was killed in the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, tweeted the Christmas photo of Ogles and his family and said the “tragedy of the latest mass shooting is listening to Tennessee politicians who refuse to call it a shooting but who engaged in behavior that caused this to be more likely when they glorify guns.”

“Tennessee Rep @AndyOgles, is this you with your family?” he asked.

US Representative Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas, also retweeted the picture, asking: “How much more bloodshed will it take?”

“It’s. The. Guns,” she said.

Ogles wasn’t the only Republican congressman from Tennessee under scrutiny.

While standing on the steps of the Capitol after the Nashville school shooting, US Representative Tim Burchett told a reporter “we’re not gonna fix it” and “criminals are gonna be criminals.”

Pressed on whether he believes Congress has a role to play in preventing shootings, Burchett demurred. He instead suggested that “we change people’s hearts” and called for a Christian revival.

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“I don’t see any real role that we could do other than mess things up,” he said.

Asked what should be done to protect children like his daughter, Burchett said, “Well, we homeschool her, but that’s our decision ... It suited our needs much better.”

Police are working to determine a motive for the shooting, the latest episode of gun violence in the United States.

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Shannon Larson can be reached at shannon.larson@globe.com. Follow her @shannonlarson98.