With rights come responsibilities. I have never been able to understand why law enforcement has been so reluctant to hold the owners and purchasers of guns that are used in crimes criminally responsible when those weapons fall into the wrong hands. Maybe this case will finally be a tipping point, one that should have tipped long ago, and perhaps in other areas of parental negligence other than gun crimes.
Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old accused of murdering four students at a high school in Michigan (we are supposed to say that, but there is no question, and no doubt, that he’s guilty) have been charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutor laid out the reasons in a detailed statement. It seems awfully persuasive to me.
Among the facts cited in Oakland County, Michigan’s prosecutor Karen McDonald:
James Crumbley purchased the SIG Sauer 9-millimeter model SP2022 from Acme Shooting Goods in Oxford, Michigan on Noember26, 2021 with his son Ethan present. (The gun was considered an early Christmas gift.)
Ethan Crumbley’s subsequent social media posts included photos of a semiautomatic handgun, along with the caption, “Just got my new beauty today,” including an emoji with hearts.
The day before the shooting, a teacher at Oxford High School observed Ethan searching ammunition on his cellphone during class and reported this to school officials.The teen’s forbidden internet search was reported to Ethan’s mother viw phone, with no response. voice mail up with an email but received no response from either parent. Jennifer Crumbley texted with her so that day regarding his conduct, saying: “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
Hey, sharp ethics and civics instruction there, Mom! That’s the sure way to raise a sociopath.
- On Nov. 30, 2021, the morning of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s teacher discovered a note on Ethan’s desk. She took a picture of it, because the note included a drawing of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” It also included a drawing of a bullet with words above it reading, “Blood everywhere.” Between the the gun and the bullet was a drawing of a person has two bullet wounds and is bleeding. Below that a drawing of a laughing emoji, and below that are the words, “My life is useless” and “The world is dead.”
- The school administrators, alarmed, called James and Jennifer Crumbley in for an immediate conference, along with Ethan and his backpack. Ethan had already altered to note, scratching out drawings of the gun and the bloody figure, as well as the words, “Help me,” “My life is useless,” “The world is dead,” and “Blood everywhere.”
Nothing to be concerned about, then! All fixed!
- James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the original drawing as photographed by the teacher, and were told that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. The parents didn’t ask their son if he had his gun with him (he did) or where his gun was. (The SIG Sauer 9-millimeter handgun had been stored unlocked in a drawer in the parents’ bedroom.) They did not ask him to open his backpack. They also opposed their son leaving the school, so he was sent back to the the classroom.
Later that day, Ethan entered a bathroom wearing his backpack, then came out shooting. He killed four students, and wounded six more as well as a 47-year-old teacher.
- I believe Ethics Alarms first raised the the matter of holding gun-owners responsible for deaths and crimes resulting from their negligence in the post a few years ago about the woman killed when her toddler grabbed a gun from her purse and fired. Maybe there was an earlier post; I haven’t checked. In other school shootings, the shooter has taken guns that were owned by parents or relatives and insufficiently stored. I see no reason why such owners shouldn’t be held criminally liable for this. A right to own a gun does not include a right to be reckless with it.
- This is obviously an extreme situation, and in that regard, prosecution of the parents should have been an easy call.
- It is astounding that Ethan was allowed to return to class. The school administrators have to be held civilly liable, at least.
UPDATE: I think the parents are culpable and responsible, which is why I will stick with “good.” However, former U.S. Attorney Andrew McCarthy made a strong case on Neil Cavuto’s Fox News show that the prosecution won’t stand up to a challenge:
“I really think it’s outrageous, I mean I understand it because people are very hot, emotions are very raw, this was a heinous heinous act….It’s going to be the subject of a prosecution where the kid who did the shooting who’s going to be treated as an adult which the prosecutors have the discretion to do is appropriately looking at multiple life counts and attempted murder counts, you know he can’t live long enough to serve the number of years that are going to be imposed in this case but we’re not supposed to make criminal law on the fly…
And the state of Michigan has considered a number of times enacting a law, this child access prevention law that many states have adopted which would make criminal what happened here which was the that the parents allowed the child to get access to the weapon. But the state of Michigan has decided not to enact that law. And you can argue that that’s a good thing or a bad thing but the fact is it’s a thing and it’s up to the legislature to make the criminal law so what happened here is they don’t have a law to prosecute what the parents did even though the legislature’s considered it and not enacted it. So at a time when everybody’s hot and emotions are raw, prosecutors are creating a crime on the fly to attach to these parents. And if you think about it, it doesn’t make much more sense to accuse them of complicity in murder, any more than it makes sense to accuse the school officials of murder. I mean, yes, everybody dropped the ball here but let’s be real about who committed the murder and who didn’t….
I’ve never heard of a case where you see parents get charged under circumstances where there’s no evidence that they had any complicity in a plan or something where you know there was an actual objective to kill people and I’ve seen a lot of cases like this and they’re… You want to wring the necks of the people who are involved in them….I was involved, for example, in terrorism investigations where people sold components that were obviously components for explosives like explosive powder to people who were very suspicious characters and wanted to pay in cash and made you think that, you know, boy these guys must be up to no good. Nobody thought that once a building got bombed and people got killed that the store owners who lawfully sold these components to these suspicious characters should have been charged with terrorism crimes even though you wanted to grab each of them by the lapels and say what on earth were you thinking.”
McCarthy is a far more experienced and credentialed lawyer than I, and I defer to his analysis from a legal standpoint. Ethically, I would not be troubled at all to see the parents serve jail time, if a conviction survives appeal. But to be an ethical prosecution, the prosecutors must have a good faith belief that the conduct being prosecuted fits the law.
I hope they’re right.