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The Buck Stops Where?

Published by The Capital City Hues, February 19, 2024

For years in my role as an educator and youth advocate, I vehemently pushed back on — and actively organized against — the notion that parents should be totally responsible for the actions of the children. There was the opinion that not only should parents be held accountable, but they should also be duly punished for their child’s misbehaving. My belief was rooted in a deep understanding of youth development, parenting challenges and the negative influence of popular culture on children and youth. Situations that involved parents like those of Ethan Crumbley have helped to slowly change some aspects of that long-held belief.

Ethan Crumbley is the teen who shot up his high school back in 2021. Armed with a semi-automatic weapon, he killed four students and injured seven others, including a teacher. Sadly, the obviously mentally-ill kid was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole after pleading guilty to several charges.

Ethan, like many of the kids who evolve into mass shooters, cried out many times for help. I’ve seen similar scenarios in the death penalty cases I’ve worked on. Who truly is culpable when a child exhibits anti-social behaviors and family, teachers, neighbors — our society — ignores all the warning signs?

It has taken a generation and many school shootings, but public opinion has finally moved away from the sway of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This past year has confirmed that the NRA’s extremist agenda, along with gross mismanagement of its funds, took a big hit on its influence and power. Membership is on the decline which means revenues follow suit. NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was exposed as being more committed to his extravagant lifestyle than to the goals of the 150 +-year-old organization. “Wayne’s Kingdom” is crushing underneath the avalanche of lawsuits, investigations and media exposés.

I count the NRA as a big-time co-conspirator in mass shootings because of their absolute refusal to entertain even the most common-sense gun regulations. Not even in the face of the carnage produced when automatic bullets hit the body of a six-year-old. This sociopathic behavior became clearer over the years with the NRA doubling down after each shooting.

The other big-time co-conspirators are gun manufacturers whose fear marketing is the driving force for selling military guns in a domestic setting. To protect one’s home, does one really need an assault rifle that fires 20-30 rounds at 800 rounds per minute?

Elected officials are the lackeys of the gun manufacturers and the NRA who have spent billions electing and re-electing candidates who support their nihilist agenda. They also bear responsibility for the mounting body count due to the manufacturing and accessibility of high-powered guns to citizens.

Jennifer Crumbley, mother of the Oxford High School shooter, was recently found guilty of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. She will be sentenced on April 9, and faces up to 15 years in prison. Hubby James Crumbley faces the same criminal charges and is already seeking a change in the court venue. The justice genie is out of the bottle, and I believe that wherever Crumbley’s trial lands, he should expect the same fate as the rest of his family.

I have two concerns in the Crumbley scenario. One is that society has failed Ethan once again. Instead of him receiving the professional therapy needed for his mental illness, he’s been thrown into another system that is guaranteed to exacerbate his mental health.

My other ongoing concern is that we often go after parents as the low-hanging targets. Parenting is one of the toughest jobs you will have in 21st century America. The Crumbleys would ordinarily get a failing grade for their parenting skills, but in this case, those lack of skills produced a mass murderer.

Our civilized society needs to have a sobering discussion on its passive approach to mental health and the availability of automatic weapons. Then maybe we can establish a strategy that is effective and not just vindictive.

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