Monday, April 15, 2024

Who’s to blame for a mass shooting? It’s not just the one who fired the gun anymore

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Last month, Jennifer Crumbley got found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the 2021 Oxford High School shooting. This means she was held responsible for her son killing four students.

Now, her husband James Crumbley is in trouble too. He’s facing the same charges, and his trial is set for Tuesday. He was the one who bought the gun for their son and took care of securing weapons at home, according to what his wife said during her trial.

This conviction could have serious consequences for James. The trial and the unexpected guilty verdict made people think about who should be blamed for a mass shooting.

More and more, lawyers are trying to hold not just the person who pulled the trigger but also others accountable. This includes parents, like in this case, and even companies.

Legal expert Elie Honig says that prosecutors have been getting more creative in recent years. They’re pushing the boundaries of who can be blamed for a mass shooting. He thinks this trend will keep going, with more cases against parents and security staff.

It’s a new and bold approach to dealing with these situations.

Other than the Crumbleys, there have been cases where family members of shooters faced legal action. For instance, last year, the dad of a shooter in Highland Park, Illinois, admitted guilt for seven counts of reckless behavior. Each count represented someone his son killed during a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in 2022.

The dad, Robert Crimo Jr., made a deal with the prosecutors to reduce the charges related to helping his son get a gun license. This happened months after the local police got reports about his son’s concerning behavior.

As part of the deal, Crimo Jr. got a 60-day jail sentence and was released in December. The son’s trial is set to start in February 2025.

Lake County State’s Attorney Eric Rinehart, who handled both cases, shared with CNN that he compromised on the charges to ensure the dad faced consequences and to set an example for parents.

Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly praised the prosecution as “aggressive and innovative” during a news conference after the plea deal was announced. He emphasized that even if you’re not the one pulling the trigger or holding the firearm, you can be held responsible if you knew someone was a threat and didn’t take action—especially if you’re a family member who failed to act.

In a rare case where a law officer faced charges for how he handled a big shooting, state prosecutors aimed to make a former school officer responsible for staying outside during the 2018 Parkland, Florida incident that claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

They charged Scot Peterson with child neglect, using a Florida law for caregivers, claiming he was supposed to protect students as a school officer. Last year, Peterson was cleared of seven child neglect and three negligence charges. After the verdict, he told reporters the shooter was the only one to blame.

Now, James Crumbley pleads not guilty to four involuntary manslaughter charges.

The question is whether going after non-shooters will really cut down mass shootings in the US. While it’s unsure, it does give prosecutors more options, according to Ekow Yankah, a law professor at the University of Michigan. He says it provides a new approach and actions for frustrated prosecutors dealing with a major crime in their community.

Yankah warns that these new ways of holding people accountable may lead to more jail time, even for cases that don’t get a lot of media attention. He notes that as prosecutors get more tools, it’s often the politically vulnerable, especially people of color and the poor, who end up facing charges.

They went after the companies making guns and social media. In 2012, 20 kids and six adults died in the Sandy Hook shooting, but nobody got charged with a crime. The shooter killed himself, like many others. The shooter’s mom bought all the guns legally, and she also got shot by her son. Reports said she ignored advice from doctors to help her son’s mental health and stopped his medicine right after getting it.

The state’s attorney said the shooter was only responsible for the bad things that happened that day. The person who wrote the report focused on the shooter’s actions, not the mom’s, because he killed her first.

Even though no one got criminally charged, the families of the victims made the gun company, Remington, pay $73 million in a civil settlement. Remington made the AR-15-style rifle used in the shooting, and now they’re bankrupt.

In 2014, families took legal action against Remington, saying the gun company should share blame for a shooting due to its ads. Although a law shields gun makers from certain lawsuits, this case used a new angle.

Similar lawsuits happened after the racist shooting in a Buffalo grocery store. Survivors sued social media firms, the shooter’s parents, and gun companies, claiming they helped the shooter harm people.

Federal prosecutors aim for the death penalty for the shooter. The person already got a life sentence for state charges.

In Uvalde, Texas, a school shooting led to the firing of the police chief. The family of a 10-year-old victim sued various parties, including the gun manufacturer and store. They also filed against law enforcement. The lawsuit might get dismissed, and they await the judge’s decision.

The Buffalo and Uvalde cases target gun makers for their ads, using a strategy from the Sandy Hook incident. Over the years, similar cases faced many losses, but now there are signs of change.


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