In Focus

Should parents be held responsible for school shootings?

Parents of perpetrator of latest US school shooting charged with involuntary manslaughter

The latest school shooting tragedy, in Oxford, Michigan, “shares many common traits with those that came before”, said James Densley and Jillian Peterson in the Los Angeles Times. The perpetrator was a disturbed male student – 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley – who had communicated his intent to do harm. The pistol he used to kill four students and injure seven others came from a family member who didn’t store it securely (in fact, it was an early Christmas present from his parents, who kept it in an unlocked drawer in their bedroom).

But one “crucial thing” is different: his parents have now been charged with involuntary manslaughter over their negligence. “This decision is a powerful reminder that no child kills in a vacuum, and it might be the key to unlocking legislative action that could help prevent school shootings.” '

There’s no doubt the parents were “egregiously derelict”, said Andrew C. McCarthy in National Review. When the school told the boy’s mother that he had been searching online for ammunition, she allegedly texted him, “LOL, I’m not mad at you, you have to learn not to get caught.”

Hours before the shooting, the parents were summoned to the school because a teacher had found a drawing on Ethan’s desk of a bleeding gunshot victim beside the words: “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” Yet they didn’t take him home or even check his bag. The parents “may be looking at significant civil liability, and deservedly so”. But the criminal prosecution is extremely unlikely to succeed: in Michigan, unlike some states, there’s no law requiring gun owners to lock weapons away.

Were the state to introduce such a law, it might actually cost more lives than it saves, said John Lott on RealClearPolitics.com. Mass shootings by under-18s are still rare in the US: there have been four since 2000, causing 29 deaths. As for accidental gun deaths among under-18s, Michigan averaged under two a year in the last decade.

This is “a fraction” of the lives lost as a result of gun-storage laws that prevent people defending themselves from intruders: in states with such laws, murder rates are much higher, and burglaries “dramatically” so. (To gauge the effect of deterrence, consider the fact that the UK has twice the burglary rate of the US, where criminals are worried about getting shot.) Mandating gun locks sounds good, but it could have “unintended consequences”.

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