Parents are more frequently facing felony charges in connection with their children’s gun-related crimes as evidence becomes more prevalent, according to legal experts.
In the most high-profile example of one such case, a Michigan prosecutor filed four involuntary manslaughter charges against James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of Oxford High School shooter Ethan Crumbley, in 2021.
“The public has been blaming parents for years… and what we’re now seeing with obviously the advent and popularity of social media and so forth — journalism taken to an nth degree,” attorney Ven Johnson, who filed a civil lawsuit against the Crumbleys on behalf of families victimized by Ethan’s crimes, told Fox News Digital. “So much information about background that no one ever really shared before. I’m not saying it wasn’t there. I’m simply saying it wasn’t public or well-known.”
Ethan, at age 15, walked into Oxford High School the morning of Nov. 30, 2021, went to classes, met with the school counselor with his parents and was sent back to class before he took a gun out of his backpack and killed 16-year-old Tate Myre, 16-year-old Justin Shilling, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana and 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin.
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Prosecutors have presented a range of evidence against the teenager and his parents, from his journal entries to his parents’ social media posts and text messages to friends.
Jennifer said in a Facebook post prior to the shooting, for example, that she and her husband purchased a gun as a Christmas present for their son.
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“The parents are charged with involuntary manslaughter. Their gross negligence in buying their obviously troubled son a gun, for not securing it safely, and then for not doing anything about it when they saw the defendants’ drawings on the day of the shooting,” Oakland County District Attorney Karen McDonald said during a Miller hearing in July. “They are not charged for being bad parents.”
James and Jennifer also viewed a violent drawing their son made in school on the day of the shooting. They were called into the counselor’s office that morning and “flatly refused” to take their son home, prosecutors said.
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“…Just got to go to my son’s school and meet his counselor. Sh*t day,” Jennifer texted her friend just before 11 a.m. on Nov. 30, adding, “He can’t be left alone.”
Ethan could face life in prison without the possibility of parole, a judge ruled last week. His parents have yet to face trial.
In another example of a parent charged in connection with a child’s alleged decision to commit a mass shooting, Robert Crimo Jr., the father of Highland Park shooting suspect Robert Crimo III, is facing felony reckless conduct charges for allegedly helping his son obtain a firearm three years before he fatally shot seven people and injured dozens of others at a Fourth of July parade in Illinois last year.
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Crimo III came from a troubled household, where police responded to frequent 911 calls, one involving a threat of suicide from Crimo III and another involving an alleged threat to kill his family, according to police reports.
Despite the threats and frequent police visits, his father, Crimo Jr., signed an affidavit allowing his then-19-year-old son to apply for a state Firearms Ownership ID card, or FOID. FOID cards are mandatory for Illinois residents who wish to legally own firearms, and applicants under the age of 21 must also submit a parent’s written and notarized consent to apply.
Former Assistant U.S. Attorney Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told Fox News Digital that in civil law, a person can be held liable for the conduct of another, whereas, in criminal law, a person must be accused of doing something illegal.
“That’s why these cases are so rare. There’s a direct theory of criminal negligence against the parents,” Rahmani said. “…You give your kid a gun and he has mental health issues, you’re playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.”
Rahmani similarly said that more parents may face criminal charges in connection with their kids’ gun crimes because there is “just more evidence nowadays,” and gave the example of Jennifer Crumbley posting about purchasing her son’s gun on Facebook.
“There is more evidence to prosecute people because of changes in technology. It really has nothing to do with the law being changed,” Rahmani explained.
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In two other recent examples that did not involve mass shootings, a Virginia mother was charged with felony child neglect and misdemeanor recklessly leaving a loaded firearm to endanger a child after her 6-year-old shot his first-grade teacher in her classroom, and a North Carolina woman was charged with aiding a minor to possess or carry a weapon on school property after her son carried a firearm into his elementary school.
“Most states have criminal statutes that are designed to prevent children getting access to a firearm [belonging to] their parents, and most of those statutes have a penalty if the child does something with that firearm, such as take it to school or injure someone,” said Kirk Evans, an attorney and president of U.S. LawShield, which provides legal resources to people who use legal firearms for self-defense.
In many states, it is a misdemeanor if a person’s child gets access to a firearm, but the charge can be advanced to a felony if the child then does something dangerous with the weapon, Evans explained.
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Evans believes the increasing prevalence of instances of parents being charged in connection with kids’ gun crimes may be due to the fact that “a number of states in the last five years have passed constitutional carry,” where residents who meet certain background requirements do not have to undergo extensive firearm training in order to get a permit.
“So there are a lot of folks who went out and got a gun without getting educated on the law and what it requires,” he said. “…Number two is, a number of states now have to allow folks to get firearm permits due to the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision last year.”
Evans encourages parents with firearms at home to study state laws and “know the law before you get a gun.”