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Opinion When parents enable gun massacres, they should be locked up, too

Photos provided by the Oakland County, Mich., Sheriff's Office show, from left, James and Jennifer Crumbley, the parents of a teenager accused of killing four students in a shooting at Oxford High School. (AP)

“Gun ownership is a right, and with that right comes great responsibility.” So said Michigan prosecutor Karen D. McDonald as she announced criminal charges against the parents of Ethan Crumbley, the 15-year-old boy accused of fatally shooting four of his schoolmates at Oxford High School on Nov. 30. Ms. McDonald sent a much-needed message that adults who — either negligently or knowingly — enable gun-fueled rampages will be held accountable.

Ms. McDonald on Friday announced that James and Jennifer Crumbley have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors accuse their son of killing Hana St. Juliana, 14; Madisyn Baldwin, 17; Tate Myre, 16; and Justin Shilling, 17 and wounding six other students and a teacher. Police apprehended the parents Friday night after an intense manhunt. “While the shooter was the one who entered the high school and pulled the trigger,” Ms. McDonald said, “there are other individuals who contributed to the events on Nov. 30.”

She detailed the events that culminated in the deadliest school shooting in more than three years. The day after Thanksgiving, the father took his son to buy a semiautomatic handgun. “My new beauty,” Ethan posted online. He and his mother spent a day testing the gun. They stored it unlocked in the parents’ bedroom. The day before the shooting, Ethan’s mother seemed nonplussed when a teacher reported he was searching online for ammunition. “LOL I’m not mad at you,” Jennifer Crumbley texted her son. “You have to learn not to get caught.” The morning of the shooting, the suspect’s parents were summoned to the school after a teacher found a disturbing note he had drawn — images of a gun, a laughing emoji and the words “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.” The school told the parents the boy needed counseling, but the parents did not want their son removed from school, did not ask him if he had the gun with him and did not search the backpack he brought to the office. It also does not appear that they told school officials they had just purchased a gun for their son.

School officials share blame, too. Why did they allow the boy back into class? Why did no one search his backpack? The investigation is ongoing.

Ms. McDonald also called for strengthening of Michigan gun laws, which currently do not require gun owners to store weapons safely. A 2018 report on school shootings by The Post’s John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich found that most of the gunmen — 84 of the 105 cases examined — had obtained their weapons from their homes or those of relatives or friends. Well more than half of the school shootings since 1999, the report concluded, would not have happened if children hadn’t had such access to guns. But adults are almost never held accountable; The Post’s analysis found only four instances in which adult gun owners were criminally punished because they failed to lock up their firearms.

The Supreme Court has deemed the right to own firearms a sacrosanct personal freedom guaranteed by the Constitution. The inevitable result is a society saturated with guns, in which tragedies — suicides, accidents and, yes, rampages — will occur, even when lawful gun owners try to store their weapons safely. But these horrors do not have to happen as often as they do. It should not be so rare for prosecutors to charge parents like the Crumbleys with crimes such as involuntary manslaughter, and states should tighten their laws to make it clear: When gun owners behave recklessly, there should be no doubt that they will face criminal punishment.

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