From charges against the parents of the shooter to future gun measures, here is how the Oxford High School shooting last month is changing how we view who is responsible for school shootings.
OXFORD, Mich.—Hours after a 15-year-old Oxford High School student was arrested, accused of gunning down four other students and shooting seven others late last month, the attention shifted away from the shooter and to his parents.
Where were they? How did their child get a gun? The answers to those questions would come in the ensuing days, culminating with involuntary manslaughter charges against each of them in what has been a shift in the way the responsibility behind shootings goes beyond the person pulling the trigger and how state leaders are responding.
“To me, this was the right thing to do,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald told NPR when asked about charging Jennifer and James Crumbley, the parents of the 15-year-old charged in connection with the Nov. 30 shooting at Oxford High School. “I don’t think anyone looking at it, particularly what we know now—only some of which is public—could have decided to just allow those two individuals to move forward in their life and never have any consequences.”
Unprecedented Prosecution Measures
Seventeen-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, 16-year-old Tate Myre, and 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, and 17-year-old Justin Shilling died when they were shot at Oxford High School Nov. 30. Seven others—including a teacher—were also injured in the shooting.
Four involuntary manslaughter charges—one for each victim who died in the shooting—were filed against the Crumbleys.
McDonald mentioned the possibility of charges for the parents of the 15-year-old suspect upon announcing his formal charges. But when she did actually file charges against the Crumbleys, it was unprecedented.
“I absolutely acknowledge that it hasn’t been done before, though I didn’t know that at the time, and … it wouldn’t have altered my decision,” she’d later say. “I did receive pushback, but prosecutors don’t like to do things for the first time, and they also don’t like to do things that might result in a ‘not guilty.’
Some questioned the legal standing of a prosecutor filing charges against the parents of a child accused in such a crime, according to some legal experts who spoke with The Boston Globe following the shooting.
“(It’s a rare) if not unprecedented attempt to expand the criminal law into a parent’s duty to give authorities, whether school or law enforcement, evidence against their child,” said Martin G. Weinberg, a Boston-based criminal defense attorney, told The Globe. “If the prosecution is predicated on a parent being required to volunteer evidence that could lead to a child’s being prosecuted or even barred from attending school, it is a dramatic and to my knowledge unprecedented attempt to expand the criminal law.”
Others weighed in on social media, according to The Globe, saying the facts of the case as reported by authorities and media suggest there is enough evidence for the actual charges, involuntary manslaughter.
“Although Michigan doesn’t require parents to lock up their guns, they can’t act recklessly to put lives in danger,” tweeted Dave Aronberg, a Palm Beach County, Florida, attorney. “The facts as reported appear to satisfy the requirements of involuntary manslaughter.”
Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement she supported McDonald’s decision, as well.
“Demanding accountability of a child’s parents under the circumstances presented isn’t just appropriate, it’s essential,” Nessel tweeted. “Justice demands no less.”
A Call for Safer Gun Laws
Michigan Democrats following the shooting began calling for some slight adjustments to gun laws in an attempt to make them safer.
US Rep. Elissa Slotkin, whose 8th Congressional District includes Lansing as well as parts of southeast Michigan, including Oxford, said she would propose a new law requiring that guns be stored safely and out of reach of children.
The law would require gun owners to safely secure their weapons. If they were to violate the law in a way that leads to a child injuring themselves or others, it would call for them to face the possibility of a 5-year prison term.
“Everyone’s priority is to keep our kids safe and it’s clear there’s a gap in law that makes it hard to hold parents accountable for aiding their child in committing a crime with a gun,” Slotkin said in announcing the legislation.
The law mirrors a bill introduced in June by Sen. Rosemary Bayer, a Democrat whose district includes Oxford High School.
However, Michigan Republicans, many of whom often loudly oppose gun restrictions, have been quiet since the shooting.
“If we get obsessed with eliminating all risks, we will then develop and evolve into a country we won’t recognize because we’ll also have no freedoms,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said after the shooting, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a balance. It’s a very narrow road. It is hard. These kind of events keep those thoughts in mind.”
US Rep. Lisa McClain (R-Bruce Township), a strong opponent of gun safety measures and whose legislative bio reads “I am completely opposed to any action that puts any level of restrictions on our right to keep and bear arms,” put the onus on mental health.
“What about the guy that just ran through the Christmas parade? So do we need ‘car control?'” McClain said the day after the shooting, according to The Detroit News. “It’s not a gun control issue. It’s a mental health issue.”
If you are looking to help support the families of the students slain on Nov. 30, 2021, at Oxford High School, you can do so by donating to a series of verified campaigns listed on the district’s website here.