Where were the parents?
We ask that question after every school shooting in America, as we did after Columbine and after Sandy Hook and after Parkland.
Where were the parents?
In Columbine, the parents were seemingly oblivious to the carnage their sons were plotting. At Sandy Hook, a parent ended up as a victim of the carnage. In Parkland, the shooter’s adoptive parents were dead at the time of the massacre.
We look to the parents when young people commit senseless acts of violence, wondering how this could have happened. But now we’re seeing something unprecedented.
In the school shooting in Michigan, prosecutors say the parents are to blame along with their 15-year-old son, who’s accused of killing four students and wounding seven people at Oxford High School on Nov. 30. On Friday, James and Jennifer Crumbley were charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, and police were searching for them.
The Crumbleys’ case will have to go through the judicial system. But if what authorities are saying is true, this isn’t a simple question of gun control. It’s a reflection of America’s gun culture and the adults who glorify weapons, failing to keep them out of reach of a teen who had shown signs of trouble at school.
Authorities say the father bought the 9mm pistol four days before the shooting and that social media posts from the parents confirm the gun was for their son. Days before the shooting, a teacher saw the 15-year-old using his cellphone to search for information on firearm ammunition. When contacted by the school about that, his mother texted him, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” On the day of the shooting, the Crumbleys were summoned to school after a teacher saw a drawing by their son of a semiautomatic handgun pointing at the words, “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” according to the Washington Post.
Much of the gun control debate focuses on how easily people can buy guns and what kind. But what happens when mass shooters don’t even have to swipe a credit card to access weapons to carry out massacres? That 9mm gun was in an unlocked drawer in the couple’s bedroom, Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald said.
When gun right activists talk about freedom to bear weapons, they must — at the absolute very least — include the personal responsibility for how these weapons are stored. But often that’s missing from their quest to protect the Second Amendment. A Washington Post analysis found that if children as young as 6 did not have access to guns, more than half of the country’s school shootings since 1999 would never have happened.
Michigan law doesn’t mandate that owners lock up their weapons. Florida law says they must “keep the firearm in a securely locked box or container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or shall secure it with a trigger lock.” Violating the Florida law is a misdemeanor, but only if a minor gains access to a gun without parental permission and exhibits it in a public place or “in a rude, careless, angry or threatening manner.”
Even with laws on the books, enforcement is lax. Plus, it’s nearly impossible to monitor the inside of people’s homes.
Every day, parents take their children shooting or hunting. Only a tiny number of kids become mass shooters. We know don’t know what prompted the shooting in Michigan. Some will blame it on mental illness, not on the guns.
But there was a gun involved and, if prosecutors are right, it was easily accessible. Let’s put two and two together.