Throw the Book at Them

Another news cycle — and yet another mass shooting incident in America.

The horrific murder last week of at least four students at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit and the wounding of several others by 15-year-old fellow student Ethan Crumbley once again has brought unspeakable tragedy to a community in our country.

However, there is an additional twist to this story, which we will compartmentalize as follows, based on the facts as we know them:

— The semi-automatic handgun used by Ethan Crumbley was brought for him as a Christmas present by his parents a few days before the shooting;

— When a teacher became aware that Ethan Crumbley was drawing photos depicting violence by gunfire during class, Crumbley was taken to the office of a guidance counselor;

— The guidance counselor called Crumbley’s parents, who came to the school, because of his disturbing images;

— The parents never informed any school authority that they had bought their son a handgun as a “Christmas gift”;

— The parents insisted that Ethan remain at school that day.

The parents have been charged with four counts each of involuntary manslaughter for their alleged role in the murders. The local district attorney has conceded that the prosecution of the parents presents novel questions of law.

If it is true that the parents did not divulge to the school authorities that they had bought their son a handgun, the question will be whether that omission makes them criminally liable for what transpired shortly after they left the school without their son.

No right-thinking person would deny that the parents are morally-culpable for not disclosing to school personnel that they had bought their son a gun, even if they believed that the gun was in a locked box at home. 

We also believe that if they had made that fact known, the student’s backpack and locker would have been searched immediately by school personnel and the tragedy could have been avoided. But does this make the parents criminally-liable?

Whether Michigan law encompasses a charge for involuntary manslaughter given the facts of this case ultimately will be decided by that state’s highest court, but we support the decision by the district attorney to bring the charges.

If nothing else, hopefully it will deter like-minded parents from buying guns for their children. And if the courts determine that the parents are not criminally-liable, perhaps legislatures will pass laws that do so in circumstances such as these.

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