All I Want for Christmas is Gun Sense in America

The latest school shooting yields a new tactic in prosecuting gun violence


Ethan Crumbley, 15, is the suspected gunman who brutally opened fire at Oxford High School in Michigan Nov. 30, shooting 11 people and killing four students. For the first time in the history of school shootings, the shooter is charged with not only murder, but terrorism. His parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, are each charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter, a rarity in these types of cases.

This terrorism charge against the shooter is overdue recognition of the mental harm inflicted on survivors of gun violence, even if they’re not physically struck by gunfire. It is justified given how it quite literally brought terror upon every student and teacher in that school, as well as instilling fear in neighboring towns and schools across the nation. News accounts presented graphic reports of how students ran screaming, classmates watched their peers gunned down, and teachers barricaded the doors to their classrooms. That traumatic experience can be debilitating to those who were there, and the fear of falling victim next looms indefinitely over students and educators across the country.

The aggressive legal actions against the shooter’s parents further signifies a willingness to thoroughly pursue justice: This case expands who is at fault in school shootings, and possibly gun violence as a whole, to include all people directly responsible for enabling the crime.

Problems began with the ignorant actions of the shooter’s parents, which played a major role in charges filed against them. The purchase of a 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun was a “Christmas present” for Crumbley from his parents, according to his mother’s social media post.

Crumbley is legally too young to possess or carry this weapon, according to Michigan state law, and his parents were not acting as responsible gun owners when they failed to securely store the weapon.

The events of Nov. 30 could have been prevented given the clear warning signs to both the parents and school officials. The day prior to the shooting, one teacher expressed concern when they witnessed Crumbley looking up ammunition online. His parents’ lack of concern was clear in his mother’s text to him which said, “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.” The second warning came the morning of the shooting when another teacher found his graphic drawings, which depicted a gun, a person who had been shot, and a laughing emoji as well as him writing: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” and other messages (New York Times).

School officials met with his parents in person the day of the shooting and required them to seek counseling for their son within 48 hours. However, Crumbley’s parents refused to have their son removed from school that day and neglected to search his backpack for the weapon, which he had on him.

As news of the shooting broke, Crumbley’s mom texted him, “Ethan, don’t do it.” His father rushed home, not to the school, to check on his guns. These actions are not typical of scared parents and show they knew their son might be the shooter.

We must combat gun violence and irresponsible gun ownership with strict legal action. This case will hopefully send the message that gun owners are responsible for safely storing their lethal weapons, and when they fail to do so, there are serious and criminal consequences.

The U.S. does not have a federal law outlining safe firearm storage. Connecticut’s safe storage law is being presented as a model at the federal level. Until now, parents have seldom been held responsible when a minor obtains an unsecured firearm and intentionally or unintentionally inflicts harm. Charging the parents of Ethan Crumbley sends a message of accountability.

Gun sense advocates say the circle of accountability is expanding. This may finally force all gun owners to be meticulous about safe storage- if not for moral reasons, then for fear of legal accountability and repercussions.

I hope prosecutors across the country will decide this legal action is a model they will follow. A new norm. We are in uncharted legal waters, but it is time for society to reflect on the power of firearms and make serious changes in how we handle them.