After every mass shooting it comes: recordings of pleading calls to 911, photos of the scene, damning evidence released by law enforcement. This tsunami of investigative details could save lives, but it causes fresh agony to the families of the dead.

More and more, survivors are asking: What does the public have a right to know about the deaths of their loved ones, and at what cost to them?

Grieving families in Nashville sought these answers in court. After the March 27 shooting death of six people, including three 9-year-olds, at Covenant School in the city’s Green Hills neighborhood, about 100 family members of the victims and their classmates want a judge to block public release of the shooter’s handwritten journals and other information.

“It is not a compelling state interest to give a voice to a terrible criminal,” the parents said in recent court filings.

A group including The Tennessean newspaper, the Tennessee Firearms Association — whose legal effort is backed by the conservative group Judicial Watch — and a state senator say release of the information is required under state public records laws. The City of Nashville and its police department say the release of the writings could jeopardize an ongoing investigation. The families, school and church add that the release would deepen the pain of the survivors, and could encourage imitation attacks.

“It’s certainly true that often mass shooters learn and take their cues from past events, strategies and manifestos,” said Bruce Shapiro, executive director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, which encourages new approaches to reporting on violence and conflict.

“But as a journalist dedicated to reporting that makes mass shootings less likely, I fear that states or courts blocking access to basic evidence, facts and background about these brutal acts could lead us to ineffective, inappropriate or dangerous policies.”

The judge, chancellor I’Ashea L. Myles of the Court of Chancery Court in Davidson County of Tennessee, called the fight “unexplored territory”, while judging that the families stand in the case. The news outlets and organizations are appealing that decision, which postponed a hearing before Chancellor Myles, originally scheduled for this summer, probably until at least the fall.

The defenders of freedom of information question the presence of the school in the case on the part of the families. The shooter used to attend the school.

“It should be a warning sign when an institution that may or may not have done everything to protect its student body tries to cut off access,” Mr. Shapiro said.

Lawyers for the families of the Covenant say that the case represents “a unique opportunity after a mass murder in an elementary school to prevent the writings of the shooter and anything else that is likely to inspire future attacks from being released and causing pain and suffering to the victims.”

The same debate convulsed Connecticut a decade ago, after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Besieged by conspiracy “researchers” after the massacre, officials struggled to protect the families of 20 slain first-graders and six educators in the face of demands for records they were legally required to provide. A Newtown clerk refused to release death certificates, in defiance of open records rules.

Shortly after the shooting, Colleen Murphy, executive director and general counsel of the Connecticut Freedom of Information Commission, received a call from a state lawmaker convinced that filmmaker Michael Moore was looking for crime scene photos of the children. But Ms. Murphy told the lawmaker that her office, which handles all public records requests, had received no such inquiry.

The concerns were sparked by a blog post in which Mr. Moore, whose documentary “Bowling for Columbine” focused on the 1999 Colorado high school massacre, believed that releasing images of the victims could spur action on gun control. He noted Mamie Till-Mobley’s 1955 decision to display the brutalized body of her 14-year-old son Emmett Till, who had been tortured and lynched by two white men in Mississippi, at his open casket funeral and in JET magazine photos. The images helped ignite the civil rights movement.

Some Sandy Hook families interpreted Mr. Moore’s remarks as “a terrible campaign to release the crime scene photos,” wrote Jennifer Hensel, whose 6-year-old daughter Avielle Richman died. The Register of New Haven. “We cannot bear the thought of seeing the graphic depiction of our child’s death promoted to serve anyone’s political goals.”

Mr. Moore publicly explained his opinion that no one publish photos without the permission of the families. But the families circulated a change.org petition and rallied in Hartford for legislation that would prevent the release of photos, video or other digital recordings depicting any victim without permission from the immediate family. The Connecticut legislature has begun work in secret on legislation that would have effectively ceded control over the release of homicide records commonly available under public records laws to victims’ families, including tapes of 911 calls in which victims are heard or identified. The proposed measure faced strong objections from First Amendment advocates, Ms. Murphy and media organizations, including The Hartford Courant, who fought in court for five years before gaining access to information about the shooter that had been collected by state police.

The legislation was later scaled back. Yet even today those requesting Connecticut homicide records must demonstrate that the release does not constitute an “unwarranted invasion of privacy.”

“We’re still struggling with that,” Ms. Murphy said in an interview. In Nashville, she added, “what struck me at first is the scope of it. You’re not just looking at family members, but a pretty wide circle of people” seeking to ban the release of the gunman’s writings.

While the judge appears to be trying to spare the community further pain, she said, “on what basis would she not order disclosure? Would it be on the basis of privacy, the basis of public policy or the basis of morality?”

In the Sandy Hook case, Lenny Pozner, the father of 6-year-old Noah Pozner, who died in the shooting, released Noah’s death certificate and post-mortem examination to counter the conspiracy theories plaguing the families.

But he waited more than a year after the shooting to do so. Today he prefers a similar waiting period.

“There’s no great need for everything to come out at once,” especially during an investigation, he said in an interview. “It won’t bring back the dead, and all it does is re-wound those who are hurt the most.”

Mr. Shapiro of the Dart Center said surviving families rarely agree on what information should be released and when. At first, the Covenant families asked that at least the gunman’s writings not be released until the end of the school year — now a moot point since school is out for the summer and the hearing has yet to begin. Last month the family of the Covenant shooter said they had given legal possession of the shooter’s journals to the parents involved in the suit, but the documents themselves are still in the possession of Nashville police.

“Time is a legitimate argument to have in newsrooms and part of the set of journalistic decisions we have to make,” Mr. Shapiro said.

“We should listen to survivor voices when we make our decisions about time. But I also don’t think the state or courts should dictate that.”

Emily Cochrane contributed reporting from Nashville.

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