Gun regulation is a huge debate in America. Pew Research reported in September that 60% of Americans want greater gun regulation while 30% believe the current regulations are reasonable and 10% say the restrictions are too great. Despite the statistics, any American elected official will tell you that legislative change of gun regulation is well-nigh impossible.

But, in America change often comes about for other reasons. And the events of November 30, 2021 may become a kind of watershed moment. It is on that day that 15 year old Ethan Crumbley entered his high school with a 9mm handgun and shot eleven people.

What makes the Crumbley case different is the fact that his parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter for the deaths caused by their son. This marks the first time that the parents of a minor have been charged with a crime arising from a mass shooting perpetrated by a child living in their household. The facts appear to be that the child was given the gun as present and the parents were notified by the school that his behavior was menacing. The parents were summoned to the school, shown drawings by their son reflecting murderous intent yet never informed the school that the child had been given a firearm. The shooting occurred a few hours after the conference with the parents.

A jury will decide whether their conduct amounts to manslaughter. The parents have different counsel because each engaged in different conduct related to how the crime came about. Chances are high there will be appeals as typically occurs in cases where defendants profess they had no intention to commit a crime and no actual notice of what their child had planned.

Some observers may see this an aberrant case. But the data suggest otherwise. Last July, the American Psychological Association reported that more than 20% of teenagers have “seriously considered” suicide and 9% have actually taken steps to end their lives. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among Americans ages 10-24 and the leading cause for teens not yet old enough to drive. Thirty to forty percent of child suicides involve a gun.

The last decade has seen a doubling of childhood suicide rates. A lot of this seems to be related to on-line communication with peers. Children who are bullied or otherwise harassed are taking two responsive paths; self-harm or revenge. Needless to say, those paths are not far apart.

Some may argue that the parents of Ethan Crumbley have suffered enough. He has been sentenced to life imprisonment without parole. But prosecutors who have eleven families and a community at large to respond to are not going to see things that way. The conduct of Jennifer and James Crumbley appears almost wanton in its indifference to a child whose conduct so clearly signaled violent intent. Criminally negligent manslaughter occurs where there is a failure to act when there is a duty to do so, or a failure to perform a duty owed, which leads to a death. The clearest examples would be where a parent hands a pre-school child a loaded weapon or allows a ten-year-old to drive a car. But there is no bright line test for when failure to supervise a child crosses from negligent to criminal. A parent may not have reason to know that his child is throwing rocks at neighbors or trying to poison their pets. But you do know whether you have guns in your household and a recent Harvard study indicates that 4 of 5 teen suicides involving firearms employ a family owned weapon. If you have a firearm in your home and you have a child who exhibits erratic or self-destructive behavior it isn’t just your child’s life that is at risk; it may be your liberty and property as well.

The vast majority of Americans who own guns profess to doing so as a matter of self-protection. Unfortunately, a study done in Memphis, Seattle and Galveston in 1996 revealed that for every time a gun in the home was used in a self-defense or legally justifiable shooting, there were four unintentional shootings, seven criminal assaults or homicides, and 11 attempted or completed suicides. Sadly, in the three decades since while armed robbery has declined by two-thirds  suicide has risen by 50%.

While the courts will continue to assay what limits, if any, should apply to the 2nd Amendment, families need to focus on what dangers exist within their households.