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Jennifer Crumbley Shouldn't Have Been Convicted

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, Pool, File

Jennifer Crumbley was found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter after her son shot four students dead on November 30, 2021. She will face sentencing on April 9, and her husband will now face the same manslaughter charges. 


Crumbley’s crimes? Not locking the gun her son used and not recognizing the danger her son posed. The prosecutors made much of her not being a good mother. 

We all want to do something when tragedies such as this one occur, but 51% of the mass public shooters since 1998 were seeing mental health professionals before their attacks. Not once did a professional identify these murderers as a danger to themselves or others. In most cases, someone had flagged the killers for concern but the experts still didn’t identify the danger. If these experts miss signs of danger, how can we blame a parent for not picking up on them?

Gun storage is primarily intended to prevent accidental gun deaths of children. But, according to the Centers for Disease Control, Michigan annually averaged fewer than two accidental child gun deaths from 2010 to 2019. And “child” means anyone under 18. 

Michigan’s rate of accidental child gun deaths is about half that of the rest of the country. Yet, the state has a high gun ownership rate and didn’t have the firearm “safety” laws that other states have enacted.

Very few mass public shootings have involved guns stolen from parents. Since 2000, there have been five U.S. mass public shootings by juvenile killers. In 2005, in Red Lake, Minn., a 17-year-old killed his grandfather, an Indian reservation police officer, and then took his service weapons. Fifteen-year-old Jaylen Fryberg, who committed the Marysville, Wash. shootings in 2014, stole the gun from his father. However, the father possessed the gun illegally because there was a permanent restraining order against him. It’s doubtful that gun safety laws would have caused the father to legally store his illegally possessed gun. Again, it appears unlikely that gun locks would have stopped these attacks. 


Unfortunately, mandating gun locks can have unintended consequences. According to my research published in the Journal of Law and Economics and elsewhere, such laws make it more difficult for people to successfully defend themselves and their families. As a result, criminals became more emboldened to invade people’s homes. There have been 300 more total murders and 4,000 more rapes occurring each year in states with gun storage laws, than in states without them. Burglaries are also dramatically higher.

If you want to see the importance of deterrence, consider so-called hot burglaries, where residents are at home when criminals strike. The United Kingdom not only has twice the burglary rate as the United States, but 59% of break-ins there are hot burglaries. By contrast, the U.S. has a hot burglary rate of 13%. Consistent with this, surveys of convicted burglars in the two countries indicate that American criminals spend about twice as much time casing a home before they break in. This is to avoid getting shot by ensuring that no one is home. Indeed, American burglars frequently comment that they avoid late-night break-ins because “that’s the way to get shot.” These are concerns that British burglars don’t share, given the nation’s strict gun laws. 

It’s not surprising that crime rises when governments prevent people from defending themselves. Indeed, every place in the world that has banned guns has seen an increase in murders.


If locking up guns could have prevented all four of the mass shootings committed by people under 18 since 2000, there would have been 21 fewer deaths and 19 fewer people wounded. Of course, these killers could have obtained weapons in other ways. But for the sake of argument, let’s accept this number. One can add in the annual number of accidental gun deaths and assume that these also wouldn’t have occurred. But the final number would still be only a fraction of those who die each year because states with mandatory locks kept people from getting to their guns in time.

We see news stories about the horrible deaths and injuries from school shootings. And rightly so. But we don’t hear about the deaths that occur because people can’t readily access a gun to protect themselves and their families. These latter deaths are no less horrific. 

In truth, gun lock laws had no discernible effect on accidental gun deaths among children or teenagers. Few accidental gunshots occur in law-abiding homes. Adult males fire most accidental gunshots that result in the deaths of minors, and most of those adults have criminal histories. Many are drug addicts or alcoholics. 

Unless you send your child to play at a violent criminal’s home, your child is exceedingly unlikely to get shot at a gun owner’s home. It makes much more sense to check for a criminal history than to learn whether someone owns guns.


The national media rarely cover defensive gun uses, including instances of young children using guns to save lives. I found 11 cases that got local news coverage. On June 30, a 12-year-old Louisiana boy used a hunting rifle to stop an armed burglar who was threatening his mother’s life during a home invasion. In St. Louis on June 16, a 13-year-old shot his father as he was choking his mother. In February, after two masked men broke into a North Carolina house and shot a 73-year-old woman in the leg, a 12-year-old shot the intruders in self-defense and caused them to flee 

Of course, it’s better to rely on adults when we have the option. At schools, that means letting teachers and staff carry concealed guns. Twenty states allow this under a variety of rules. Outside of suicides or gang violence, often in the wee hours of the morning, there has not been a single case of someone being wounded or killed from a shooting at any of the schools that have armed teachers. 

A uniformed security officer is likely to be less effective than an armed teacher. A school shooter can pick off the guard first and then will have free rein to go after everybody else. Having armed teachers carrying concealed takes away that tactical advantage. 

The attack in Michigan by Jennifer Crumbley’s son occurred in yet another school where teachers and staff were defenseless. Instead of imprisoning Crumbley for her son’s crimes, let’s take real action to protect our schools.


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