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Last week in Oxford, Michigan, there was a school shooting allegedly perpetrated by 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley; four students are dead and seven others are wounded. He is being tried as an adult with two dozen crimes, including murder, attempted murder, and terrorism. (Reference 2)

The circumstances surrounding this tragedy have led to blame being placed outside of Ethan alone. The events leading up to the shooting have led to the arrest of Ethan’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley. They are each being held with $500,000 bail for four counts each of involuntary manslaughter. They are being held responsible for the deaths of these students because they “ignored signs of imminent violence, allowed their son to access a firearm and did not warn the school.” (Reference 1)

According to Michigan guidelines as outlined in MSP-203, a person “may be criminally and civilly liable for any harm caused by a person less than 18 years of age who lawfully gains unsupervised access to…[a person’s] firearm if unlawfully stored.” It will be up to the court to determine whether or not Ethan “lawfully” gained unsupervised access to the Sig Sauer 9 mm pistol he took to school that day. The answer will be important not only to the Crumbleys, who each face up to 15 years in prison, but also to parents everywhere who will then have precedent for the government to hold them accountable for the actions of their children. This technicality in language allows the prosecutor to double-dip on criminal charges because despite Ethan being charged as an adult the statute says “anyone under 18,” so had Ethan actually been an adult these charges against his parents would not be possible.

Let’s walk through the events. On Monday, Ethan’s teacher saw him searching for ammunition on his phone. On Tuesday morning, his teacher found a drawing in his desk of a gun and a victim with the words “The thoughts won’t stop” and “Help me.” After finding this note, his teacher sent him to a guidance counselor and called his parents in for a meeting. Upon being asked about the ammunition he’d been searching for online, he answered that his parents were gun hobbyists and that they went to shooting ranges. The parents confirmed that this was true. Upon being asked about the drawing, Ethan said it was from a video game he was designing. This seems like a reasonable response from a sophomore boy.

The guidance counselor requested that James and Jennifer Crumbley take their son home for the day and get him counseling within 48 hours or the school would call Children’s Protective Services on them. The parents refused and returned to work, whereupon the guidance counselor sent Ethan back to class. Clearly neither the parents nor the guidance counselor suspected that Ethan had a firearm in his backpack and was preparing to murder his classmates, otherwise they would have acted to prevent it.

Schools do not need a warrant or ‘probable cause’ to search a student’s person or belongings. If the school faculty was concerned enough to want to send Ethan home, to require counseling, and to threaten to call Children’s Protective Services, why didn’t they exercise their right to check his bag? Teachers are only required to have ‘reasonable suspicion’ to search a student, and the suspicion can be for something as trivial as breaking a school rule. While it may seem extreme to search a student’s belongings, there has been a rise in the presence of weapons and drugs in schools since returning to physical classrooms, so it would not be unreasonable to search Ethan’s bag. One of the reasons given is that he had no prior record of requiring disciplinary action; therefore the guidance counselor did not feel the need to search him. (Reference 1)

After Ethan was taken into custody, the parents were issued warrants promising up to $10,000 in reward money. Jennifer and James Crumbley were found in a building in Detroit around 11 PM on Friday night and appeared to be hiding. Their arraignment was the next morning and their lawyers maintain that they were going to return for the arraignment and that they left town for their own protection. They are being kept in separate cells from their son, who has not been informed of his parents’ charges. (Reference 3)

Whatever the court determines will be impactful on all future cases involving minors committing crimes. Will this create a red-flag, tattletale society à la Communist Russia? How many people connected to a criminal can the long arm of the law point a finger of blame at? If Ethan is being tried as an adult, should his parents still be faulted? And if the parents are to blame, isn’t the guidance counselor as well? And doesn’t it seem that the real blame should lie with the criminal who committed the murders?

We hope we gave you something to think about, and if you haven’t already read our blog on securing firearms from a minor, we recommend that you check it out here. Our article outlines North Carolina requirements; all you need is a lock, even if the gun in question is being stored in a glass cabinet. Beyond keeping firearms locked away, we need to raise responsible children who respect life and don’t treat firearms lightly. Stay safe, and thanks for reading.

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