It’s taboo to even bring it up.
High profile shootings caused by teens gets a lot of press coverage. “Something MUST be done” is the hue and cry right now, although no one is really articulating what exactly should be done.
But it’s worth asking the question for crimes that are barely a blip in the news.
Take for instance the minors of police officers and security guards—jobs that require you to possess and use a firearm. We have had plenty of instances of these employees being careless enough that their minor children got access to a service firearm. Children are even able to access police weapons while police are seated or standing, just having a conversation and not paying attention.
But let’s focus not on accidental shootings, but aggravated assault and homicide with malice.
It’s more common now than ever for teens to possess and discharge firearms. They’re kept hidden in the home, except of course when the teen is posing with them on social media.
A few summers ago a teen–I’ll call him Diego–popped a couple rounds at his friend just blocks from my house. One of the shots struck the teen and he was hospitalized. Neighbors went to court–multiple times–to testify before a judge debating what to do with the shooter. Should he be sent away to SCI Camp Hill, where his parents wanted him within driving distance? Or should be sent to outer Pittsburgh–to a program where he can finish his high school courses and get intense counseling?
All the while the hearing was going on (I came to testify, I was rooting for the Pittsburgh option)–my thoughts were: why is this guy’s father sitting there with angry-face towards the rest of us? As I studied his family’s reactions even further while seated next to them my thoughts turned more critical. Why aren’t the parents in trouble for this? They could have prevented the shooting from happening.
I talked to the father of the victim and what the shooting did to his son. Several of immediate neighbors had pinned the blame for the entire incident on not just his son, but his family. A shooting can do that on a block. It turns all the neighbors against you–even if you had nothing to do with it. The reason is pretty simple–the shooting spread danger to everyone. Is this the beginning of tit-for-tat violence? Will I or my child get shot in the crossfire? Even though you are the victim, a social pall is cast over you and your house that you have no control over. Diego’s family didn’t have to deal with any of that, much less the hospitalization bills. Their immediate concern was that the DA’s office was interested in sending Diego far outside the driving distance that Diego’s father was willing to go.
For Diego however it was different. Being removed from his dysfunctional family and more importantly–his social network changed him. His grades went up and his bipolar behavior calmed. Losing his network of friends allowed him to create new ones. He also had medical care, a better diet, and something a bit closer to normality–not excluding the fact that he’s incarcerated for attempted first-degree murder.
The mom in the Parkland massacre signaled law enforcement–multiple times
One complication with assigning criminal negligence to parents and guardians is when to assign criminal negligence. Nikolas Cruz, the shooter, was 19 years old. While safely in the age of majority, he was still dependent on his foster mother. The mother called law enforcement–not once but multiple times.
Florida DCF also investigated the family and had a case file. In fact, DCF investigators confirmed that he was an outpatient at a mental health clinic:
The DCF investigation came four days after Cruz’s 18th birthday, meaning he could legally purchase a rifle. “Mr. Cruz has fresh cuts on both his arms. Mr. Cruz stated he plans to go out and buy a gun. It is unknown what he is buying the gun for,” the DCF report reads. Investigators concluded there were “some implications” for Cruz’s safety but determined he was receiving adequate support from his school and outpatient care from Henderson Mental Health in Broward County.
The Broward County Sheriff’s office also received complaints from neighbors about his erratic behavior.
Cruz also being expelled from school is widely known–a decision that usually requires action from a school district superintendent and in many cases a closed school board meeting. Time even ran this ridiculous piece arguing it was in error. The removal of Cruz would not have gone unnoticed by students; all of whom were widely acute of Cruz’s behavior.
And then there are two confirmed complaints that reached the FBI. Had the FBI determined that an approved gun permit was issued in error, the ATF would have been dispatched to collect the firearms.
Is the foster mom culpable here, given that she did her duty as a parent and sought care for him, called police, plus the community also reached out? What about the school? Or the students? It appears every red warning flag possible was raised by the community and the parents. The obvious answer here, is no.
But who should criminal negligence touch?
The most pithy and direct answer I could give here are the vast population of parents who just simply do not give a damn; who express no remorse over the actions of their child, only incredulous that their lives were inconvenienced by the criminal justice process. Diego’s parents, for starters.
These are parents who do not care for children to leave unsecured firearms in full access. Even for parents and guardians who don’t have a child that has a mental disorder–a disinterested and inattentive parent is just as dangerous to society as the child who pulls the trigger.
Assigning criminal negligence to parents is a sticky subject and will no-doubt cause a lot of NOT MY CHILD syndrome to come out; but it’s worth the discussion.
This is also one area in the debate over gun control where sides are not so clear. And as a lifetime NRA member myself and having been witness to the recklessness of children with firearms who have just as reckless parents, it’s definitely a topic I’m willing to explore.
It should also be worth discussing whether a parent should get direct ability to thwart their child’s access to firearms as an adult by submitting documentation that gets their child declared a prohibited possessor (the legal term that means you do not have the right to have a firearm). Gun owners might be warm to that idea provided the declaration comes with an expiration date (perhaps to age 24?) and the ability to challenge it as an adult is clearly addressed.
Current Federal law prohibits the possession of firearms in the duration of a temporary restraining order over domestic violence. Perhaps a similar creature could be created so that it could have been possible for the shooter’s mom to bar her adult son from purchasing a firearm while he was in her care, without waiting for law enforcement to react and put him on the list themselves.
The trouble is: nobody jumping up and down for gun control is willing to talk about it.