How Gun Manufacturers Evade Responsibility for Mass Shootings – The New Republic


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The series of events that inspired a prosecutor in Michigan to
charge a school shooter’s parents with involuntary manslaughter are staggering.
The gun with which 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley allegedly killed four classmates at
Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, had been an early Christmas gift,
purchased by his father the day after Thanksgiving while the teenager stood at
his side. “My new beauty,” Crumbley called
it on social media
, and it was stored, unlocked, in his parents’ room for
less than a week before he brought it to school. The day before the November 30
shooting, a teacher told Crumbley’s parents she’d seen him searching for
ammunition online during class. “LOL I’m not mad at you,” his mother texted.
“You have to learn not to get caught.” A day later, Crumbley’s parents were
called to an emergency meeting after a teacher found a threatening note. The parents refused to have Crumbley removed from the school and didn’t ask their son about the handgun,
which a few hours later he pulled from his backpack and started to fire.

At a news
conference on Friday
, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald explained
her reasoning behind the rare charge against Jennifer and James Crumbley. “I am
in no way saying that an active shooter situation should always result in a
criminal prosecution against parents, but the facts of this case are so
egregious,” she said. Though the parents of school shooters are often
scrutinized, this appears to be the first instance in which they have been
criminally charged for students’ deaths. In 2015, families of the children
killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School by Adam Lanza sued
the estate of his mother
, Nancy Lanza, because she had left her rifle
unsecured in her home (the case settled for $1.5 million); that same year,
Laurel Harper, the mother of the Umpqua Community College shooter, came
under intense scrutiny
for her pro-gun posts online. But a Washington
database tracking school shootings
between 1999 and 2018 found
guns used in these incidents were taken from a minor’s home 84 times; in only
four of those shootings were the adults who owned the weapons criminally
charged for not keeping them locked. Michigan, unlike many other states, doesn’t
have a law that would hold gun owners liable for leaving their firearms
unlocked around kids, removing that option in this case.

In the immediate aftermath of a mass shooting, there is
often a scramble to assign definitive blame: Was it the U.S. mental
health apparatus
, school administrators, or a failure to catch inflammatory
posts online? Donald Trump famously
blamed video games
, though a connection there was long ago debunked. Gun
rights advocates tend to invoke a generalized sense of societal decline, as well
as a lack of “parental
.” Sometimes the engine of an
act of violence is glaringly
. In Crumbley’s case, his parents’ fondness for firearms appears to
have been paired with an incomprehensible blindness toward obvious cues.

But the
day after the press conferenc
e in which the charges against the Crumbleys were announced, the
Nevada Supreme Court ruled on another gun case that could have assigned a more
wide-ranging and consequential form of blame. Unfortunately, the court decided
against the parents of a woman who was killed by Stephen Paddock at the Mandalay
Bay Hotel in Las Vegas in 2017
, and in favor of Colt and other gun
manufacturers. Like a number of similar plaintiffs, the parents of Carrie
Parsons, a Seattle native who was 31 when she was killed, argued that the
people who created the rifle used in the shooting had a “reckless lack of
regard for public safety,” advertising the gun as a “military weapon” and
signaling how easily it could
be modified
to fire automatically. In attempting to sue firearms
manufacturers, they join recent legal proceedings brought by
the survivors of a shooting in Dayton
, as well as a messy ongoing
against the now-bankrupt Remington, spearheaded by the parents of children
killed at Sandy Hook. (The government
of Mexico
has also sued American gunmakers, arguing that 70 percent of
weapons trafficked into the country come from the United States.)

Historically, these sorts of suits have all failed. That’s
because in the early 2000s, the National
Rifle Association
, arguing that gun manufacturers didn’t
have the money to pay out damages
, successfully lobbied to pass the
Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which shields companies from
responsibility except in very specific circumstances, as when a gun is
defective and explodes. Of course, those companies do have quite a bit of
money, a significant chunk of which they have funneled to further their
political projects through massive donations to entities like the NRA—which in
turn lobby to soften the child
access prevention laws
that would have otherwise been used to charge Crumbley’s
parents for his alleged crime.

Though it’s generally unwise to try to identify a single
cause for America’s massive, unwieldy problem with guns, the alliance between
gun manufacturers and lobbying groups is almost always around the edges of
incidents like the one in Michigan. Without the political power conferred by
massive donations, Second Amendment groups wouldn’t be able so successfully to dismantle laws that, at the very least, might scare people into properly
locking and handling their guns. Without people like Dana Loesch offering gun
ownership as a way to ensure
liberals “perish in the political flames”
or organizations like Gun Owners
of America awarding Kyle
honorary AR-15
, maybe Crumbley’s parents would be less likely to offer
their 15-year-old a weapon and treat it as a personality trait. I’ve gotten
three fundraising emails from the latter organization since the shooting on
November 30. In the most recent, Gun Owners of America wants me to defend
liberty by buying a $45 Christmas ornament featuring Santa holding an A.R. 

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