Michigan school shooting: Why were the suspect’s parents charged?

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Last week’s deadly US mass shooting has sparked a debate about gun safety rules and minors’ access to firearms.

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Authorities have said the parents of a 15-year-old accused of killing four students at a high school in southeast Michigan last week “could have prevented” the mass shooting but decided not to act.

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That prompted local prosecutors to file involuntary manslaughter charges against James and Jennifer Crumbley, which observers say marks the first time the parents of an accused mass shooter in the United States face criminal charges. Is kept.

The Crumblies, who pleaded not guilty, are expected to have a harsh defense, but analysts say the charges against him send an equally powerful message to a country struggling to stop deadly gun violence in schools. .

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“There are two reasons to prosecute someone” [pronged]Jameel Khoja, a criminal defense attorney and former assistant prosecutor in the Detroit area, told Al Jazeera, “To punish for what the person has done, it is also to deter others.”

“So, the message is: ‘Hey, if you have guns, you need to turn them off and make sure your kids don’t have access to them without your knowledge.'”

timeline of events

Authorities say Ethan Crumbley “lawfully” opened fire at Oxford High School north of Detroit on November 30, killing four people and wounding seven others in a planned attack. He is facing multiple charges, including terrorism and first-degree murder.

While he is looking at the prospect of spending the rest of his life in prison, his parents could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Khoja said it is ultimately up to the prosecuting attorney – also known as the district attorney in some parts of the US – to make criminal charges, a decision often based on whether the available evidence is a valid one. Can secure punishment.

Prosecutors say James Crumbley bought the gun for his son on November 26 and his mother took him to the shooting range a day later. Authorities say Jennifer Crumbley even dismissed her son for looking at ammunition on his phone during the school days before the shooting. “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught,” he said in a text message, according to prosecutors.

On the day of the shooting, Crumbley’s parents were called to the school when a teacher discovered a note on the teenager’s desk showing a man had been shot, a gun, a bullet and “blood everywhere” and The words “help me”. , The parents were asked to seek counseling for Ethan, but left after the meeting because the teenager was allowed back to class.

“I think what this prosecutor did was he looked at the evidence – some text messages and social media posts, the reckless attitude [the parents] Had guns with her kid – and said, ‘He should be held accountable’,” Khoja said.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Ethan Crumbley’s parents last week [File: Carlos Osorio/AP Photo]

‘There must be accountability’

In Michigan, each county elects its own prosecuting attorney. Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald, a former judge, was Selected in Oakland County as a Democrat in 2020.

In announcing the charges against the Crumbleys last week, McDonald’s said the couple’s conduct was not only “unconscionable” but also “criminal.”

She told reporters that the decision to file charges also serves as a deterrent to others. “These allegations are intended to hold the individuals who contributed to this tragedy accountable and also to send the message that gun owners have a responsibility,” she said.

However, lawyers for the Crumblies said during the couple’s first court appearance last week that the gun used in the shooting of Ethan Crumbley was “really locked”, arguing that it was more than what the prosecutors told the court. “Its going on”.

Still, the move to bring charges against the couple was welcomed by gun control advocates, including the Michigan chapter of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, which belong to the Everytown for Gun Safety Advocacy Network.

“When gun owners fail to fulfill their responsibility to store their firearms safely and tragedy strikes, there must be accountability,” Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said in a statement. “We must both inform gun owners of their obligation and responsibility to store their guns safely, and pass and enforce laws that hold gun owners accountable when they fail to do so. Huh.”

Students hug each other outside Oxford High School in Michigan on December 1 [File: Paul Sancya/AP Photo]

access to guns

According to a 2019 report, most American school shooters acquire their guns from home (PDF) by the US Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center, which analyzed incidents of targeted school violence between 2008 and 2017. The report said that “many firearms were unsafe”.

So far in 2021, there were 229 gun-related incidents, including nine active shooter situations, in US schools, according to the Naval Postgraduate School. Center For homeland defense and security. 39 people have died on the school property in the violence.

Rebecca Sokol, an assistant professor at Wayne State University’s School of Social Work in Detroit who studies youth exposure to adversity, said stricter child access prevention laws appear to prevent firearm injuries and deaths to youth. There are.

But gun laws vary by state, and Michigan does not have a gun storage law, which requires gun owners to “unload and store their firearms when they are locked,” according to the Giffords Law Center, a gun control organization. According to the advocacy group.

“Safe storage laws promote responsible gun-owning practices by requiring gun owners to take off and take off their firearms,” ​​the center said in a statement. fact sheet Support of such legislation “The purpose of these laws is to help prevent unauthorized users, including children, from accessing and using firearms, which may reduce tragedies due to suicide, unintentional discharge, and gun theft.”

Prosecutor McDonald has called Michigan’s rules “extremely inadequate” and the Oxford High School shooting has called for stricter gun laws in the state and across the country.

“What we do know is that having access to a firearm is one of the biggest risk factors for a young firearm injury,” Sokol told Al Jazeera. “And we know that most of these firearm-related injuries in teens happen with a firearm that the teen acquired at home or from family or a friend.”

Sokol did not specifically address the Crumblies case, but did say that efforts to end gun violence should include limiting minors’ access to firearms.

“how to watch” [the Oxford shooting] It’s affecting the community, it’s heartbreaking, it’s causing anxiety, it’s causing disruption in everybody’s lives — people are scared,” Sokol said. “And I think that It highlights the need for further research into what the best solutions are – and I say solutions, plural – to prevent this type of tragedy from happening in the future.”

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