Charging the parents of school shooters should become standard practice

Prosecutors in the recent Michigan school shooting by a 15-year-old student that left four dead also have filed manslaughter charges against the shooter’s parents, whose gun he used. This should become standard practice for school shooting cases when the young shooters are only armed because of their parents’ carelessness.

The uniquely modern, uniquely American phenomenon of mass school shootings is undoubtedly tied to the proliferation of guns and the loosening of gun restrictions that has happened throughout the U.S. in the past few decades.


Tragedies like the one that played out in Michigan last Tuesday would have been unthinkable in America a few generations ago. It’s still unthinkable today in most of the advanced world — which, unlike the U.S., generally enforces reasonable national gun policies.

Among the few firearms restrictions still in place everywhere in America today is the requirement that most minors cannot legally have access to most guns. The youth age limit varies by state, and there are exceptions regarding hunting in the presence of adults. But generally, the premise that guns don’t belong in the hands of kids is among the few points of universal agreement today.

That’s why so many school shooters use guns owned by their parents; it’s the easiest way for them to obtain firearms. A Washington Post analysis shows that well over half the school shootings in the country since 1999 were committed with guns the young shooters found in their homes.

That was the case with the shooter who murdered 20 small children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 — the worst grade-school massacre in U.S. history — after obtaining his firearms from an arsenal legally stockpiled by his mother (who became her son’s first victim).

And it was the case last Tuesday at Oxford High School, near Detroit, where 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly killed four classmates with a semi-automatic handgun his father had bought just four days earlier.

How Crumbley came to possess the gun — whether his parents gave it to him, or he just took it — is a question that needs to be answered, but no scenario is acceptable for such negligence. Failing to keep a gun safely out of reach of kids is itself a criminal offense in many jurisdictions.

What any charges against the parents might look like would be determined by circumstances revealed in the continuing investigation.

But in this case and others going forward, parents who allow their kids to get ahold of their guns and use them in these rampages should be viewed as accomplices, witting or otherwise, and charged accordingly.

America’s broader gun crisis is bad enough without the added ammunition of tragically lax parenting.

— St. Louis Post-Dispatch

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