Tonight, just before 8pm the jury came back with a finding that James Crumbley was guilty of involuntary manslaughter in connection with his 15 year old son’s shooting of 10 classmates and a teacher at his suburban Detroit high school. We reported that Ethan’s mother was convicted of the same crime last month in a separate trial. Unlike the mother, James decided not to testify in his own defense as is his right in criminal proceedings.

Mr. Crumbley started this case in a bad place. He had acknowledged to school officials that his child was having mental health issues. But in the days before those statements were made, Father Crumbley had given his son an early Christmas present; a 9mm Sig Sauer handgun. It holds 13-20 rounds using bullets intended to provide defense if not employed to commit crime.

Mr. Crumbley’s problem aside from the mental state of his son was the fact that a 9mm semi-automatic handgun is not used to shoot your backyard squirrel or to land your first deer or turkey. It is designed to kill humans. It comes with a safety mechanism which allows the owner to lock it. That lock was still in its original case when Ethan slaughtered his classmates hours after school officials had revealed to his parents that he was writing very threatening notes.

What really turned this case was the parent’s actual knowledge of Ethan’s tattered mental state. Rarely do children in such condition openly signal their obsession with doing harm. But readers should realize that Pennsylvanians who live with children have a very high standard of care when it comes to any firearm. The crimes code states quite clearly that no child under 18 shall possess a firearm anywhere in the Commonwealth. 18 Pa.C.S. 6110.1. Allow your kid to do that and you commit a felony which could put you in a state prison. There is an exception to this law. You can allow a child to possess a gun under adult supervision to undertake (a) safety training (b) target shooting (c) competitive shooting or (d) lawful hunting of game in accordance with 34 Pa. C.S. 101. A child may also possess a gun to transport it, but the gun must be unloaded. 18 Pa.C.S. 6110.1. It is a misdemeanor to sell or lease a gun, or sell ammo or explosives to kids under 18.

You may even like to go hunting with your friendly district attorney but if your Pennsylvania kid gets possession of a firearm in your home and happens to start shooting friends and neighbors at home or in school, don’t expect the district attorney to look the other way when the families who are now nursing or burying their loved ones ask what the D.A. is going to do about you and your gun toting child. And as we noted in our earlier blog, when your neighbors sue you for the losses occasioned by your son with a gun, don’t expect your homeowner’s insurer to offer you much, if any, financial protection.

In practical terms this means that every gun in your household needs to be under lock and key except when it is in your hands or the hands of your child outside the house while he or she learns to shoot or shoots for the limited purposes allowed. That’s a problem for Pennsylvanians who think they need quick access to a weapon to intimidate the feared home intruder. Candidly, not many home intruders are anxious to give homeowners the opportunity to collect their weapons from the gun safe during a robbery. So, if your Sig Sauer or equivalent is in a nightstand, you have to balance your need to self-protect against the criminal liability you will face if your kid should take the gun and do harm to others.

There is some remarkably good news on this score. The statistical likelihood of a home invasion is one-fifth of what it was 35 years ago. And the data are old, but in only 2% of these invasions is someone in the household confronted violently by a non-family member. Yes, you seem to be twice as likely to be attacked by someone in your household as by the much maligned stranger who comes looking for your Rolex or the 75 inch Samsung now bolted to your wall. https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/URLs_Cited/OT2017/15-1498/15-1498-1.pdf

We are creatures of habit and old habits die hard. This writer recalls the 1970s when rich people would actually leave some nice things on the bed when they went away for the weekend so that visiting burglars would be discouraged from tearing their house apart. Today, the ubiquitous doorbell camera and the fact that no one has cash anymore makes home invasion quite unlikely unless you happen to live in a neighborhood bereft of doorbell cameras and American Express Black Cards. Sadly, the new risk in our homes is the 36% rise in suicides since 2000. Thus, the gun in your nightstand intended to protect you from the robber or burglar is now far more likely to cause harm to someone you love. Then there are the three members of the Crumbley family who are transitioning from just another suburban family to jail because a handgun seemed like a nice thing to give their kid for Christmas.

Addendum: Thanks to friend and former partner Leslee Tabas who saw this post and instantly offered a NY Times article published yesterday which noted similar “parent is liable” outcomes for gun/child related incidents in Highland Park, IL, (7/4/22), Richneck VA. (1/6/23), Nashville TN (4/22/18) Seattle Washington (2014). So, this really is not unique. We should add that the theory of negligent entrustment has long been accepted in many states. If you loan your vehicle to your drunken friend or child, you can expect to be named a defendant in a later tort claim for injuries that individual inflicts if driving while impaired.