Legal professionals claim that as evidence of children’s gun-related offences grows more common, parents are increasingly being charged with felonies in connection with such crimes.
In the most well-known instance of one such case, a Michigan prosecutor charged James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, with four counts of involuntary manslaughter in 2021.
“The public has been blaming parents for years… and what we’re now seeing with obviously the advent and popularity of social media and so forth — journalism taken to an nth degree,” attorney Ven Johnson, who filed a civil lawsuit against the Crumbleys on behalf of families victimized by Ethan’s crimes, told Fox News Digital. “So much information about background that no one ever really shared before. I’m not saying it wasn’t there. I’m simply saying it wasn’t public or well-known.”
On November 30, 2021, Ethan entered Oxford High School at the age of 15. He attended classes, met with the guidance counsellor with his parents, and was then told to return to class before pulling a gun from his backpack and murdering Tate Myre, 16, Justin Shilling, 16, Hana St. Juliana, 14, and Madisyn Baldwin, 17.
The teenager’s journal writings, as well as his parents’ social media posts and text messages to pals, have all been used as evidence by the prosecution against the boy and his parents.
For instance, Jennifer said in a Facebook post made before the shooting that she and her husband had bought their kid a rifle for Christmas.
“The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Their gross negligence in buying their obviously troubled son a gun, for not securing it safely, and then for not doing anything about it when they saw the defendants’ drawings on the day of the shooting,” Oakland County District Attorney Karen McDonald said during a Miller hearing in July. “They are not charged for being bad parents.”
James and Jennifer also saw a graphic drawing that their kid had produced the day of the shooting in class. Prosecutors claim that when they were summoned to the counsellor’s office that morning, they “flatly refused” to take their son home.
“…Just got to go to my son’s school and meet his counselor. Sh*t day,” Jennifer texted her friend just before 11 a.m. on Nov. 30, adding, “He can’t be left alone.”
A judge ruled last week that Ethan might be sentenced to life in jail without the chance of release. His parents haven’t been put on trial yet.
Robert Crimo Jr., the father of Highland Park shooting suspect Robert Crimo III, is facing felony reckless conduct charges for allegedly assisting his son in obtaining a firearm three years prior to him fatally shooting seven people and injuring dozens of others at a Fourth of July parade in Illinois last year. This is another instance of a parent being charged in connection with a child’s alleged decision to commit a mass shooting.
Police frequently responded to 911 calls from Crimo III’s disturbed home, including one in which he allegedly threatened to harm his family and another in which he allegedly threatened to commit himself, according to police reports.
His father, Crimo Jr., submitted an affidavit permitting his then-19-year-old son to apply for a state Firearms Ownership ID card, or FOID, despite the threats and regular police visits. Residents of Illinois who want to lawfully possess firearms must have FOID cards, and applicants under the age of 21 must also present a parent’s written and notarized consent.
Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers and a former assistant U.S. attorney, said to Fox News Digital that under civil law, a person can be held responsible for the actions of another, however under criminal law, a person must be charged with a crime.
“That’s why these cases are so rare. There’s a direct theory of criminal negligence against the parents,” Rahmani said. “…You give your kid a gun and he has mental health issues, you’re playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.”
In a similar vein, Rahmani claimed that more parents would be prosecuted for their children’s gun offences since there is “just more evidence nowadays,” citing Jennifer Crumbley’s Facebook post in which she discussed buying her son’s firearm as an illustration.
“There is more evidence to prosecute people because of changes in technology. It really has nothing to do with the law being changed,” Rahmani explained.
In two other recent instances, neither of which involved mass shootings, a Virginia mother was charged with felony child neglect and a North Carolina woman was charged with aiding a minor to possess or carry a weapon on school property after her son carried a firearm into his elementary school. Both of these incidents involved a 6-year-old who shot his first-grade teacher in the classroom.
“Most states have criminal statutes that are designed to prevent children getting access to a firearm [belonging to] their parents, and most of those statutes have a penalty if the child does something with that firearm, such as take it to school or injure someone,” said Kirk Evans, an attorney and president of U.S. LawShield, which provides legal resources to people who use legal firearms for self-defence.
In many areas, giving a youngster access to a firearm is a misdemeanour, but if the child uses the weapon in a harmful way later, the penalty can be upgraded to a felony, according to Evans.
Evans thinks that “a number of states in the last five years have passed constitutional carry,” where residents who meet certain background requirements can obtain a permit without undergoing extensive firearm training. Evans believes that this trend towards parents being charged in connection with their children’s gun crimes may be to blame.
“So there are a lot of folks who went out and got a gun without getting educated on the law and what it requires,” he said. “…Number two is, a number of states now have to allow folks to get firearm permits due to the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision last year.”
Evans advises gun owners to research local rules and “know the law before you get a gun.”