UPDATE (12/03/2021 03:10 p.m. E.T.): A Michigan prosecutor has charged the parents of suspect Ethan Crumbley with four counts of involuntary manslaughter based on the claim that they acted as irresponsible gun owners. It's a rare legal maneuver.
A teenager allegedly opened fire in Oxford High School in Michigan on Tuesday, fatally shooting four students and injuring seven other people, including a teacher. It appears to have been the deadliest U.S. school shooting in years, and viral videos of terrified students desperately climbing out of windows to save themselves have raised yet another round of debate about what must be done to end this uniquely American affliction.
The 15-year-old suspect, Ethan Crumbley, apparently flaunted a semi-automatic handgun on social media days before the shooting.
As usual, a great deal of the media coverage of the shooting has focused on the possible motives of the suspect. Reporters have pointed out evidence indicating the 15-year-old suspect, Ethan Crumbley, apparently flaunted a semi-automatic handgun on social media days before the shooting; that he allegedly wrote in a journal about his intention to massacre students; that investigators said he had videos on his cellphone showing him talking about killing students; and that in the run-up to the shooting, two teachers had separately flagged his behavior as concerning. Prosecutors have emphasized indications that this was premeditated and have charged Crumbley with, among other things, terrorism. (He pleaded not guilty.)
The details are always important, and reporters and investigators are doing their jobs. But when contemplating solutions to this recurring problem, a lot of the discussion over the suspect’s character and intentions may effectively be a diversion from another major culprit here: the gun itself.
Without easy access to a gun, the suspect's apparent fantasies of massacring his fellow students may have remained just thoughts scribbled in a journal. Or if had he pursued such a massacre with a less powerful weapon, like a knife, he would’ve had a much harder time killing and wounding as many people as he allegedly did and may have been disarmed more easily. He is believed to have fired at least 30 shots from his semi-automatic handgun in just minutes and had 18 rounds left as he was detained by the police. Three 15-round magazines were reportedly found at the scene.
Using a gun gave the shooter a lethal kind of power and speed while stalking the school halls that no other easily accessible weapon could have. Both common sense and data on mass shootings indicate that weapons that fire bullets more quickly enable shooters to fire more rounds and hurt more people.
Without easy access to a gun, the suspect's apparent fantasies of massacring his fellow students may have remained just thoughts scribbled in a journal.
In Michigan, the shooting has prompted state lawmakers to debate access to guns, with some Democrats calling for stricter gun control. Remarkably, some Republicans, who control the state Legislature, have argued the incident is proof that more guns were needed in the situation: One GOP official called for arming teachers, and a Republican lawmaker announced plans for a bill that would let teachers place personal weapons in lockboxes at schools. (In addition to the fact that this doesn’t address the central issue, many public health experts have pointed out that evidence suggests using guns for self-defense does not reduce the likelihood of injury.)
At the moment, the prospects for fundamentally reforming gun culture and access to guns look quite bleak. According to Gallup, 52 percent of Americans say “laws covering the sales of firearms” should be stricter — while that is a narrow majority, it’s the lowest it’s been since 2014. The reality is that while there is bipartisan agreement on issues like background checks, most robust progressive gun reform proposals are very divisive. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, that resulted in the deaths of 17 students and staff members in 2018 seemed to trigger a surge in concern about regulating guns — and some state laws were enacted in its wake — but that interest has since ebbed. Gun purchases have hit record highs recently.
Crumbley is accused of using a gun his father had purchased on Black Friday, just days before the shooting. Investigations are ongoing and more details are coming out, but it’s worth noting that so far it seems there was nothing unseemly, from a legal perspective, about Crumbley’s father buying and owning the gun. The issue, rather, is how easily a teenage boy was seemingly able to get his hands on a weapon that’s advertised as a tool for military and law enforcement personnel, apparently use it for target practice and then allegedly take it to school and begin shooting at his fellow students.
This country has more guns than people; it’s going to take a radical change not just in our policy landscape, but our culture, to fix the problem.