• Show Notes

Dear Reader,

Jennifer Crumbley was convicted in a Michigan courtroom last week on involuntary manslaughter charges. Her son Ethan had already pled guilty to shooting four classmates to death at his school. Gun safety advocates widely hailed the prosecution as a step forward. And it was, in the context of this particular case, where the facts were especially troubling and made it possible to prosecute. Jennifer and her husband James ignored mounting signs their son Ethan, then 15, would use the gun they had purchased for him against others, including drawings of a gun and a person who had been shot accompanied by words like “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”

Following Jennifer Crumbley’s conviction, there has been an outpouring of calls for similar prosecutions in more cases. While prosecution should be pursued when the evidence is available, we need to be pragmatic about understanding that cases have been rare to date, and there is nothing to suggest that will change. We shouldn’t rely on the false hope that every parent of a school shooter can be successfully prosecuted and that this will be enough to end the problem. Instead, we should focus on smart gun control laws, more likely adopted as individual measures than one large package, given the realities of our current political ecosystem. It’s easy to latch on to a high-profile solution—prosecute the parent—but if we fall into that trap, we will lose sight of what has to be done if we’re going to stem the tide of gun violence in our communities. As important as the prosecution of Jennifer Crumbley is, it is not enough.

The Crumbley case is unique because the parents bought their child a gun, oversaw his training to use it, and left it in a place where it was readily accessible without keeping an eye on its whereabouts. They didn’t warn the school he had access to a gun, even when they learned he was having violent fantasies. Instead, they left him with his schoolmates after being asked to take him home. The facts were egregious enough for a conviction here because there were so many points along the way where Jennifer Crumbley could have prevented this tragedy. It was the nexus of knowing her child had ready access to a gun he was capable of shooting and knowing that he was having violent thoughts, that made this case prosecutable.