The Oxford High School shooting in Michigan is yet another instance where the lack of gun control and mental health resources is an injustice to American children.
15-year-old Ethan Crumbley is responsible for killing four students and injuring eight others at Oxford High School on November 30th. The victims’ ages range from 14 to 17 years old. Crumbley is being charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder, one count of terrorism causing death, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, and 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.
17-year-old Justin Shilling, 14-year-old Hana St. Juliana, 17-year-old Madisyn Baldwin, and 16-year-old Tate Myre all died as a result of the shooting. Myre died in a sheriff’s car on his way to a hospital and authorities say he attempted to disarm the gunman before being shot. He is now being hailed for his heroism. There is currently a change.org petition to rename the high school’s football stadium after the varsity player.
Student Joyeux Times described children running out of the school–into their cars or the woods–on the snowy ground. As she hid behind a car, Joyeux called her family members to tell them how much she loves them while thinking about how she didn’t know if she would “live or die.”
According to Oakland County Prosecutor Karen D. McDonald, Crumbley’s parents met with the school the morning of the shooting after Crumbley’s teacher saw a drawing he had made of a gun with the phrases “Blood everywhere,” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me,” on it. Administrators told his parents that they were required to pursue counseling for their son, but they sent Crumbley back to class. McDonald also described that on the previous day, Crumbley was seen searching for ammunition for the semi-automatic handgun that he was given as a Christmas present from his parents only days before on Black Friday. McDonald said he then used this gun to carry out the mass shooting. Officials said that his mother, Jennifer Crumbley, texted her son “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
His parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley are each being charged with four counts of involuntary manslaughter. After the Oakland County prosecutor announced the charges, the couple could not be found, prompting a manhunt. They were found early Saturday in a warehouse in Detroit. The charges are an uncommon occurrence for school shootings and they each pleaded not guilty. At a press conference last week, Ms. McDonald said “These two individuals could have stopped it. And they had every reason to know he was dangerous, and they gave him a weapon and they didn’t secure it.”
The signs that Ethan Crumbley was mentally disturbed before allegedly carrying out the massacre seem to be a common link in many of the other school shootings in the United States. A report by the Connecticut Office of the Child Advocate released in 2014 about Adam Lanza, who shot and killed multiple children at Sandy Hook elementary school, describes the clear signs of mental illness including obsessive hand washing, avoiding contact with other people, and increasing general paranoia. His previous 7th-grade teacher shared that his creative writing was so violently graphic that she brought it to the school’s attention. In the Sandy Hook case, Lanza’s access to assault weapons with high-capacity magazines played a significant role in the number of people he was able to kill: 27, 20 of which were children.
Nikolas Cruz, then 19, killed 17 during the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018. In 2016, when Cruz was in 11th grade, he shared with another student that he had a gun at home and was contemplating using it, which prompted the sheriff’s deputy’s conclusion that he should be “forcibly committed for psychiatric evaluation” (NYT). Had this happened, Cruz would never have passed the background check needed when he legally bought the semi-automatic AR-15 style rifle he used to kill the students and teachers that day. A string of missed opportunities, including Cruz’s threats to himself and others in 2016, all could have been used to prevent his purchase of the gun.
As seen in multiple school shootings, it is the combination of guns and mental illness that often leads to massacres. Although two of these men are guilty of their crimes, and Crumbley’s case has yet to be legally assessed, it does not pardon the adults in these situations who were responsible for ensuring that these suspects got help and did not have access to guns.
It is hard to justify the lack of gun control and mental health care accessibility in the United States. The murder of elementary school children in Sandy Hook nine years ago would seem to be the logical ending point for lax gun laws and the disregard for the importance of mental health care, yet there seems to be no change. The average age of members of the U.S House of Representatives in 2021 is 58.4 and 64.3 for Senators. These numbers prompt the assumption that a large percentage of those responsible for changing gun laws and healthcare accessibility have children or grandchildren. How is it that they are not so terrified for their children’s and grandchildren’s lives that they would prioritize preventing mass shootings above all else? Instead, freedom to the Second Amendment and revenue for the NRA seem to hold the highest priority in American politics.
Although state governments have reportedly passed 53 of 330 school safety bills proposed in 2018, many seem to focus on safety inside schools. A few examples of these general measures include clear backpacks, how to report to law enforcement, and emergency preparedness. However, there seems to be a lack of national support for gun control. In a national poll by Pew Research in 2021, only 53% of Americans believe that there should be stricter gun laws–about 81% of Democrats agree, while only 20% of Republicans do. Additionally, 73% of Democrats believe that there would be fewer mass shootings as a result of stricter gun laws; as seen previously, 20% of Republicans agree on this statement too. Furthermore, private gun sales and gun shows are still ways for Americans to obtain a gun without a background check, an enormous loophole for those who should not be allowed to access a gun.
Instead of saying that our thoughts and prayers are with the victims’ families and that these school shootings are terrifying for all Americans, we should be making meaningful changes that could prevent future occurrences of these massacres: stricter gun laws, closing gun sale loopholes, increasing funding for and expanding access to mental health care, and following up when there are serious concerns about the well-being of a student. This includes ensuring that some men, like Nikolas Cruz, are actually committed to a psychiatric evaluation.