Law Professor: Crumbley Family Convictions Reflect America's Failed Gun Laws

April 10, 2024, 2:26 PM

The Crumbleys at sentencing on Tuesday.

Kimberly Wehle, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law, notes that while many have applauded the conviction of mass shooter Ethan Crumbley's parents, "the convictions also stand as a stark condemnation of lawmakers’ failure to enact the kind of commonsense gun safety laws that might have actually prevented the deaths."

In a column published weeks ago in The Hill, Wehle writes: 

In the wake of the tragedy, a new secure storage law, Public Act of 2023, went into effect last month in Michigan. It mandates that unattended weapons be kept unloaded and stored with a locking device if it is “reasonably known” that a minor could be on the premises. If that law had been in place in 2021, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley might never have attempted the shootings, because his parents — despite their shortcomings — may have complied with state law. Instead, they were found criminally liable for not imposing in their own home the very restrictions on gun access that Michigan lawmakers had neglected to enact.

The statistics here are startling. Gun violence is now the leading cause of the death of children in the United States, with an estimated 4.6 million kids living in homes containing unsecured firearms. Seventy six percent of school shootings are committed with guns obtained from the home; 80 percent of children who die by suicide used a gun belonging to a family member; and 76 percent of accidental shootings of children occur with an unsecured gun located in a home, often from a nightstand.

Meanwhile, only 26 states have laws requiring secure storage of guns in homes with children — sometimes called “Child Access Prevention” or “CAP” laws. The states with CAP laws see 85 percent fewer unintentional injuries caused by firearms than states without them.

Ethan Crumbley prison photo

On Wednesday, the day after parents Jennifer and James Crumbley were sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison, Wehle wrote in The Atlantic:

The harsh sentences may presage more criminal liability across the country for shooters’ family members and other caregivers, such as teachers and security guards, who theoretically could have stepped in to prevent the worst from happening. The people who possess real power to slow the scourge of gun violence in America—legislators, gun-industry executives, and the U.S. Supreme Court—now have in their hands a new means of pointing blame and evading accountability.

Ethan Crumbley, 17, is serving a life sentence without parole at the Thumb Correctional Facility in Lapeer.

Read more:  The Hill

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