Can Criminal Liability and Community Intervention Prevent Future Gun Violence?

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Students leave Michigan high school following shooting. Photo via CNN

The Oxford, MI school shooting has become the center of a new debate over the relative merits of stricter gun control regulations directed at making parents or guardians responsible for firearms use of minor children.

Prosecutors on Friday charged the parents of Ethan Crumbley with involuntary manslaughter for buying their son the firearm as a Christmas gift, and ignoring glaring warning signs that he was going to lead a deadly attack, Reuters and the New York Times detail. 

The parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley, were arrested in a Detroit warehouse after an hours-long search when the couple could not be found after the charges were announced. Both of the parents plead not guilty, and a judge set bond at $500,000 each, CNN reports. 

At a Friday press conference, advocates argued that greater legal responsibility must be placed on parents.  While parents have been held responsible for failing to secure weapons before, those cases have involved much younger children, and accidental deaths, Reuters details. 

This development comes as America faces the latest spike in gun violence. While it has reinvigorating debates over gun control,  efforts to push legislation through the Senate have already been dampened by Republican lawmakers.

Now, advocates are pursuing other ways to bring down numbers, and facing a new challenge, reports  the Hartford Courant and Reuters:  strengthen anti-gun intervention initiatives or introduce stricter gun laws? 

While many states have laws that hold gun owners liable for failing to secure weapons around children, Michigan does not. Because of this, prosecutors are relying on traditional criminal law, forced to prove that the Crumbley parents were not just negligent — but grossly negligent or reckless. 

Much of their case revolved around whether Crunbleys ignored warning signs present as late as the day of the shooting. After a teacher saw him searching for ammunition online on his phone during class, his mother appeared to wave away the concern, and the macabre drawing that Ethan depicted warranted no response from the parents.

They rejected the school’s suggestion of taking their son home, and no one searched his backpack. Reuters details. 

See Also: Gun Violence is Killing More Teens and Children

The Fight for Community Intervention Programs

Two days following the Oxford school shooting, Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) stood on the senate floor and argued yet again for legislation that would “sharply increase the number of gun sales requiring background checks.” 

A bill backing the argument had already cleared the Connecticut House of Representatives, and Murphy knew that he had no real chance of passing by unanimous consent in the Senate, but he shared with journalists that he had to try everything he could. 

I am at my wit’s end,” Murphy shared, as quoted by the Hartford Courant. “I’m prepared to use whatever means I have as an individual senator to come down here and try and press this case forward.”

Now, he and other gun violence prevention advocates are looking elsewhere for a solution. 

“America has a violence problem not just because of our loose gun laws but also because a cycle of marginality that plays out in poor neighborhoods that exposes people to this unusually high risk of violence,” Murphy explained.

“If you go to the North End or the South End of Hartford, activists there are frankly more interested in community gun violence initiatives than they are in changing gun laws.”

Community gun violence initiatives, like training violence intervention workers who can connect people with social services, is essential. 

Carl Hardrick, a prominent Hartford anti-violence activist, discussed looking at an individual’s unique circumstance and risk of violence.

“Is he homeless? Is his mother on drugs? Is it mental health?” Hardrick asked, adding that we must ask about every person’s situation. “We need to put people together with the services they need. In order to do that, you’ve got to spend some time with people and build trust.

“You can’t wait until they’re in trouble to try and solve a problem.” 

Movement on the federal side of the debate as well that is giving advocates hope. 

President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better proposal includes $5 billion for community intervention programs, like the ones Murphy is arguing for, which identify people at risk for violence and connect them with counseling, education, employment programs and other social services.

“The funding for violence prevention in the Build Back Better bill is going to do a whole lot of good,” said Mark Barden, co-founder and CEO of Sandy Hook Promise Action Fund and the father of Daniel, one of 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Barden concluded, “No one piece of legislation is going to fix any one thing and no number of pieces of legislation are going to fix everything, but we can make a difference and we can save lives and we can bring these numbers down.”

To that end, none of this means that lawmakers are giving up on gun control, Murphy reiterated and argues that while gun violence is a complex issue, there are things communities and our country can do to offer solutions. 

Additional Reading: Can Online Interventions Deter Offline Violence?

Andrea Cipriano is Associated Editor of The Crime Report.

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