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School Shooter's Mother Sentenced for Negligence: Is Accountability the Answer to US Gun Violence?

In an unprecedented turn of events, the mother of the 2021 American Oxford High School shooter, Ethan Crumbley, has been sentenced to 60 years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. His father faces his own trial in the coming months. 

Ethan Crumbley was 15 when he opened fire at his school, murdering 4 fellow students and injuring 7 others. During the trial, the prosecutors, with many supporting witnesses, showed how the persistent negligence of his parents helped fuel the tragic events that unfolded. Ethan Crumbley’s parents bought him the gun that was used in the mass shooting as an early Christmas present, frequently taking him to the shooting range, ignorant of their son’s mental state, and failing to store the gun away at home. 

The mother, Jennifer Crumbley, contends that the events that unfolded in November of 2021 were entirely unforeseeable, despite multiple witnesses attesting to their negligence. Witnesses highlighted the reluctance of the shooter’s parents to address advice regarding their son’s mental health issues. Ethan allegedly drew pictures of what he was going to do in his journal, where he also wrote ‘I have zero help for my mental problems and it’s causing me to shoot up the school’. In school, drawings of firearms and concerning messages on his assignments led to teachers inquiring that his parents sought professional help, to which multiple witnesses testified were ignored by his apathetic parents. 

In court, it was concluded that the negligence shown to their son and the failure of the parents to secure their firearms at home significantly contributed to the Oxford High School Shooting. This case spotlights the importance of parental responsibility in monitoring and addressing a child’s behaviour. Parents have to be vigilant of the early warning signs of struggle or potential violence. Crumbley’s lawyer, Michael Bullotta, spoke to his concern about the legal concept of parents ‘causing’ their children’s crimes by being ‘bad’ parents, and the future ramifications of this verdict. But, this case goes beyond simply being about a ‘bad parent’, it could set legal precedent for parental accountability in instances where negligence contributes to harm. 

The sentencing in this case carries significant implications for future legal proceedings, as it enhances the scrutiny and accountability placed on parents. The shooting and its outcome in the courts serves as a sobering reminder of the need to address mental health issues early and improve communication between parents and education providers. Additionally, as with all shootings, it has also sparked debates surrounding gun control in America, or the lack thereof. Those families that lost their children have said the court ruling brings them relief as it is a step towards accountability. Many hope this will usher in a renewed approach in the effort to address mass gun violence. 

There are, on average 655 mass shootings per year in the United States. The prevalence of mass shootings underscores a gun violence epidemic. Despite being entrenched in American culture and politics, questions persist about why the US remains wedded to weapons. The issue of gun violence will be forever salient while gun control remains lax. 

However, despite access we have to ask why this happens. Calls for accountability and greater attention to mental health issues are echoed after each tragic incident. But, it doesn’t go far enough to address this devastating and complex societal challenge it poses. 

Addressing gun violence comprehensively requires a multifaceted approach that includes systemic measures to regulate firearm access and to address the underlying societal factors that lead to gun violence. Many of these measures are actually supported by the American public. However, there are several reasons why gun control routinely fails. 

First, political gridlock coupled with, if not caused by, the strength of the gun lobby. Secondly, the deep-set partisanship and polarisation of the debate, creates a challenging environment for enacting comprehensive gun control legislation. There is rarely compromise or a decision made between the aisle.  

There are immense challenges for reducing gun violence, when lawmakers almost silently endorse bills to relax gun control measures. The ties between senators, congressmen, and groups like the NRA underline the enormous influence of lobbying on gun legislation, who of course stall and prevent change. It is no confidence that those politicians who advocate for looser gun regulations receive substantial financial support and donations from the gun lobby. The US government routinely fails to implement gun control legislation because of this. 

There is also a bizarre and dangerous reaffirmation of gun culture and pro-gun politics in the Us whenever there is gun violence. The surge in gun sales following mass shootings, coupled with record profits for gun companies, starkly highlights the haunting human cost of lax gun control and a strong gun lobby. Americans now believe that the way to prevent gun violence is to increase the number of guns in private hands. 

The search for accountability, cries for mental health support, and desire for safety protocols spurred by the multitude of mass shootings are overshadowed by gun control stagnation in the US. Cases like the sentencing of Ethan Crumbley’s mother attempt to solve questions about accountability. However, it isn’t just the mother. A comprehensive approach with preventative measures, mental health support, a change in culture and making access to firearms harder is necessary. It is the bare minimum. Nonetheless, change remains out of reach when the gun lobby and political polarisation command the debate. 

Image: Jake May/via MLive

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