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What the Crumbley Convictions and Safe Storage Laws Mean for Parents

Jennifer Crumbley trial Ethan Crumbley school shooting
Defendant Jennifer Crumbley enters the courtroom for her jury trial at Oakland County Courthouse, Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, in Pontiac, Michigan. (Clarence Tabb Jr./Detroit News via AP, Pool)

By Justin Heinze, University of MichiganApril M. Zeoli, University of Michigan, and Frank E. Vandervort, University of Michigan

 

During the recent trial of James Crumbley, the father of the Oxford, Michigan school shooter, prosecutor Karen McDonald demonstrated the use of the cable lock that federal law mandates sellers provide with the 9 mm handgun used in the mass shooting.

Installing the lock took about 10 seconds.

Had Crumbley or his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, used the cable lock, the simple act of securing the weapon might have saved four teenagers’ lives, spared seven others from being shot and avoided traumatizing many more people. It also might have prevented their 15-year-old son from becoming a murderer and being sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.

semi-automatic pistol gun lock safe storage
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In the end, James and Jennifer Crumbley were both convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to prison because their actions enabled their son to access the handgun he used to kill his classmates.

We are professors of public health and the law who study how to limit gun violence in American homes, schools and communities. Currently, we are collecting data about how well common tactics – from social emotional learning and behavioral threat assessment to metal detectors and security cameras – work to make school buildings safe.

Some commentators have applauded the Crumbley verdicts, suggesting that they will encourage parents to be more careful, with others wondering if the result presages a new wave of parental convictions.

We believe the results will be more muted. Here’s why:

Parents have a duty to protect

While the verdict illustrates the importance of limiting children’s access to firearms to keep communities safe, holding parents responsible is not new.

U.S. law, through both statutes and court decisions, has long imposed on parents an obligation to protect others from the harms their children might inflict, and ensuring that children do not have access to firearms is part of this duty.

This responsibility covers both a child’s civil harms and their criminal acts, either of which may involve property damage or injuring a person.

Historically, these parental responsibility laws included prohibitions against contributing to the delinquency of a minor, which have been part of state criminal codes since the early 20th century.

The most recent wave of laws were introduced in the 1980s and 1990s in response to a rise in youth gun violence, much of it fueled by adolescents’ access to firearms during the crack cocaine epidemic.

states that have enacted safe storage laws

The Crumbley parents’ cases fit within this legal tradition. What is unique, however, is that they were charged with more serious and more substantive crimes. Why? Likely due to the unusual and, one hopes, utterly unique circumstances of the case.

Youth gun access starts at home

Even while school safety advocates celebrate hard-earned reductions in bullying, fights and even weapons brought to school, school-related shootings have increased over the past 10 years in both frequency and severity.

By one estimate, over 80% of firearms used in school shootings come from the home of the shooter’s parents or relatives. Kids are aware of firearms in their homes and can access them more easily than parents think.

The unfortunate truth is that even though safety is the most common reason Americans cite for keeping a firearm at home, without proper precautions firearms can be among the greatest dangers to children.

When it comes to serious injury and death among children and teens, firearms are more dangerous than cars, abduction, drugs or disease – all those harms we parents worry so much about.

Safe storage options can make homes safer for children without restricting firearm access for self-defense purposes. Beyond cable locks, trigger locks, gun safes, lock boxes and disassembling firearms are other easy and affordable ways to prevent unintended access by children.

In part due to the Oxford high school shooting, in 2023 the state of Michigan enacted a law which mandates that individuals store firearms in a way that is inaccessible to children.

Under this new law, adults can be charged with a misdemeanor if a child gains access to a firearm that they improperly stored. However, if the child injures or kills someone with the firearm, adults can be charged with a felony crime that carries a potential prison sentence. Importantly, this statute applies to all households, even those where children do not live but only visit.

The Michigan law is not alone in its approach. Currently, 26 states and Washington D.C. have laws that mandate the safe storage of firearms and impose criminal penalties for failure to comply.

These laws are in place to encourage responsible firearm ownership, which includes keeping children safe from firearms. In Michigan, legislators expressed their hope that the law will encourage more responsible behavior.

Safe storage prevents harm

The Crumbley verdicts could lay the groundwork for how other parents who fail to secure their firearms might be charged if their child commits a shooting. At least two other recent cases involve parents who were criminally charged when they allowed their child access to a firearm that was used in a shooting.

It is unlikely, however, this will become the norm. In each of these cases, the facts were extreme. The parents either took no action to prevent access to a gun or actually acted to facilitate the child’s access to the weapon.

Fear of a fine or imprisonment is also unlikely to be what will drive parental behavior. At the end of the day, most parents want to keep their children and others safe. Finding a solution that works for families is possible – securely storing a firearm is fast, easy and cheap.

Think it over: 10 seconds could make all the difference.The Conversation

 

Justin Heinze, Associate Professor of Health Behavior & Health Education, University of Michigan; April M. Zeoli, Associate Professor of Public Health, University of Michigan, and Frank E. Vandervort, Clinical Professor of Law, University of Michigan

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

2 Responses

  1. “Safe storage prevents harm”

    *Explicitly* ruled unconstitutional in the ‘Heller’ ruling :

    “(3) The handgun ban and the trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violate the Second Amendment. ”

    – and,

    “Similarly, the requirement that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock makes it impossible for citizens to use arms for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/District_of_Columbia_v._Heller

  2. “During the recent trial of James Crumbley, the father of the Oxford, Michigan school shooter, prosecutor Karen McDonald demonstrated the use of the cable lock that federal law mandates sellers provide with the 9 mm handgun used in the mass shooting.

    Installing the lock took about 10 seconds.

    Had Crumbley or his wife, Jennifer Crumbley, used the cable lock, the simple act of securing the weapon might have saved four teenagers’ lives, spared seven others from being shot and avoided traumatizing many more people. It also might have prevented their 15-year-old son from becoming a murderer and being sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison.”

    Ok, lets put this in context for this case and this cable lock thing:

    First, the kid, like 100% of all ‘mass shooters’, was already driven to kill by mental illness. And this kid like almost 100% of such ‘mass killers’ had given ‘signals’ he was in trouble. In the kids case the signals were to others, with his last bit of remaining will and desire to resist the overwhelming mental illness drive to kill he even wrote it down for them with a note on a drawing at school – the school knew this kid was in trouble but did nothing to get him help. The parents knew he was in trouble too but did nothing to get him help.

    OK, that being said, the cable lock is nothing. These mass killers are driven to kill by mental illness, they execute their plans to do so using what ever they can get – its unfortunate that a gun is used if they can get one but as much as the anti-gun want to claim other wise ‘mass killers’ have used weapons other than firearms, especially sharpened edged weapons like knives, in a lot greater numbers than has happened with ‘mass shootings’. You just never hear about it, but nationwide there are over ~1,600 knife attacks upon victims daily across the United States and over half of those are upon multiple victims of four or more in all sorts of settings from, collectively, general public to private to even in schools, and granted, a mixture of injury and death collectively.

    A ‘school shooter’ is just a ‘mass shooter’ in a school – really, there is no difference between a ‘mass shooter’ and a ‘school shooter’. These killers are driven to kill, they will use what ever they can get and use what ever means they can employ to get what ever they use. These ‘mass’ killers that use a gun, history has shown us they will steal them if necessary and they have broken into homes and safes and gun closets to do so and cut through these cable locks in less than 10 seconds. They do this because they are driven to kill by their mental illness, controlled by it, consumed by it, and do what ever they must to satisfy that mental illness drive and a cable lock is not going to stop them.

    So in the beginning I said lets put this in context for this case and this cable lock thing. The context is this: Nothing would have stopped this mentally ill kid from cutting through that cable lock and still doing what he did. In effect the cable lock would have had zero effect on the kids actions, would not have stopped him, would have done nothing to prevent this horrific tragedy.

    But ya know something that would have had a good chance of preventing this horrific tragedy at the most critical and obvious time? Its that time when this kid with his last bit of remaining will and desire to resist the overwhelming mental illness drive to kill, left that drawing with the note the teacher found.: The morning of the shooting, Ethan Crumbley’s teacher came upon a note on Ethan’s desk. The drawing contained the following: a drawing of a semi-automatic handgun pointed at the words, ‘The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.’ In another section of the note was a drawing of a bullet with the following words above that bullet: ‘Blood everywhere.’ Between the drawing of the gun and the bullet is the drawing of a person who appears to have been shot twice and bleeding. Below that figure is the drawing of a laughing emoji. Further down the drawing are the words, ‘My life is useless,’ and to the right of those words were the words ‘The world is dead.’. The teacher took a picture of it with cell phone and reported it.

    But ya know, I can tell you when the mental illness finally over ran the kid completely and he had no more left to resist it and he was then committed to carry out his heinous act of mental illness driven killing. It happened when the drawing found by the teacher and before it was turned over to the school counselor.

    School officials said this drawing prompted a 10 a.m. meeting with both parents the morning of the shooting. A school counselor went to the classroom, removed Crumbley and brought him into the office with his back pack. The counselor obtained the drawing, but Ethan had altered it, he had scratched out the gun and the bloody figure and the words ‘Help me,’ and, ‘My life is useless,’ ‘The world is dead,’ and, ‘Blood everywhere.’ They were all scratched out. The kid had done what so many of these mass killers had done before them when that mental illness drive was possibly discovered – he tried to ‘obfuscate’ and divert and give ‘excuses’ to hide the mental illness – they do this so they can avoid being stopped. That changed drawing, scratching things out, almost like “hey, I didn’t mean it. I’m really a good kid, was joking, so let me go.” – that was the moment, when he scratched those things out, when the mental illness has almost completely over run him.

    Oh yes, he had the gun with him already in his back pack that morning of his heinous act but he was still ‘conflicted’, not fully committed yet when he came to school that morning. He tried resisting that driving mental illness one last time with that drawing, but it didn’t work out.

    That right there, that drawing, the school knew this kid was in serious trouble.

    At the meeting James and Jennifer Crumbley were shown the drawing and told that both were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours. They resisted the idea of Ethan leaving the school at that time and left the school without their son. That right there is when the school should have acted, searched his back pack, and physically removed him from the school through custody of police for having the gun – plus – the school should have reported for mental health evaluation – the school did none of this.

    So it doesn’t matter if Installing the lock took about 10 seconds – like so many of these ‘mass killers’, this kid was not going to be stopped by a minor thing, for example, a cable lock. They have to be be ‘stopped’, they are incapable of not doing these heinous acts. The cry for help with the drawing didn’t work, the parents just left him there at school, the will to resist the driving mental illness impulse to kill was gone. He was conflicted that morning, had the gun already, was still hoping that something would stop him, then scratched out the drawing. The very last chance to stop him was in the decision of the school, and they failed, and when they failed to act that right there was the moment his last bit of resistance crumbled and he was completely over run by the mental illness drive to kill and he was then committed and there was nothing left to stop him.

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