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More prosecutors are looking to charge parents of criminals

Accountability for crimes is being linked to more than just the suspect; now prosecutors are looking to charge their parents, too.
More prosecutors are looking to charge parents of criminals
Posted at 9:10 PM, Apr 11, 2023

Across the country, school shootings continue to terrorize parents and students. But how these cases are handled by the legal system is seeing a shift, with prosecutors in some cases making a point to file charges against the shooters' parents, too.

On Monday, Virginia prosecutors announced charges against Deja Taylor for "recklessly leaving a loaded firearm so as to endanger a child." Taylor's 6-year-old son brought a firearm to Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, back in January. The 6-year-old is accused of shooting his teacher, Abby Zwerner, who survived the encounter.

Some parents in the area say the charges are long overdue.

"It should have happened quite a while ago, but I'm glad it happened," one parent said.

Taylor is facing a felony charge of child neglect and a misdemeanor for reckless storage of a firearm. Taylor's attorney says the gun used in the shooting was secured on a top shelf in her closet and was locked.

"I'm sure the prosecutor would look at whether there's criminal negligence here," said Julie McConnell, a lawyer and the director of the Children's Defense Clinic at the University of Richmond. "Was the parent so irresponsible about the way that they stored the firearm that it created a negligent situation where the child could have easily accessed the gun and hurt himself or others?"

In Michigan, parents Jennifer and James Crumbley have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in a similar case. Their son is accused of entering Oxford High School and murdering four students while injuring seven others. 

SEE MORE: Gun violence has become a part of America's culture

Prosecutors say the parents ignored significant warning signs, like violent drawings and a history of mental illness, while knowingly supplying their son with a firearm.

"I am by no means saying that an active shooter situation should always result in criminal charges for the parents, but the facts of this case are so egregious," said Karen McDonald, Oakland County prosecutor.

"There's text messages, there's a paper trail and the mom in particular seemed to have some knowledge that something could happen," McConnell said. "That is one of the things that would be necessary in some types of prosecutions, that you would need to be able to show that the parent knowingly allowed access to the gun in such a way that it created extreme risk."

The shift doesn't just involve minors or schools.

In Highland Park, Illinois, another parent faces criminal charges for the alleged actions of his son. The father of a 21-year-old man accused of killing seven people at a July 4 parade is charged with seven counts of reckless conduct.

While parents in Virginia, Michigan and Illinois are all facing charges for the alleged violent actions of their children, historically these charges are rare.

According to the Washington Post, of the 105 school shootings committed by a minor between 1999 and 2018, where the weapon used was identified, just four adults have been charged and convicted for the shooters' access to firearms, and 80% of the firearms can be traced back to a friend or family member.

Some gun reform advocates say a big reason for that is the patchwork of firearm storage laws across the country.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, just eight states have "laws mandating that owners secure their firearms."

Meanwhile, nearly 8 in 10 Americans support "mandating that guns are stored with a lock in place."

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