Opinion: Time to stop being stupid about guns in schools

The conviction of James and Jennifer Crumbley, who bought their disturbed 15-year-old son a 9 mm Sig Sauer pistol that he used to murder four classmates and wound seven others at his Michigan school on Nov. 30, 2021, marks the first time that parents have been held criminally responsible for a school shooting by their child.

The semiautomatic weapon was an early Christmas gift from the Crumbleys, who ignored multiple warning signs about their son’s mental health crisis and his expressions of violence.

As Oakland County Circuit Judge Cheryl Matthews told the Crumbleys in court: “Parents are not expected to be psychic, but these convictions are not about poor parenting. These convictions confirm repeated acts or lack of acts that could have halted an oncoming runaway train, about repeatedly ignoring things that would make a reasonable person feel their hair on the back of their neck stand up.”

The 10-to-15-year prison sentences handed down this week to the couple have sparked strong national commentary, including from the former Florida judge who presided over the trial of the shooter in the 2018 Parkland High School shooting.

Former Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer told Fox News, “I think it sets a precedent that parents cannot be stupid anymore.”

Unfortunately, politicians can still be stupid in their responses to gun violence and school shootings. Witness the Tennessee Senate embracing a bill to allow teachers to carry handguns. The state Senate passed the bill Tuesday on party lines in front of a disappointed public that included parents from a Nashville private school where a former student killed three students and three staff members last year.

Neither parents nor teachers express support for armed teachers and administrators in surveys. Results of a national survey of teachers released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found 70% believe allowing school staff to carry guns would not be effective in preventing shootings.

What most teachers – 69% – endorsed as a deterrent to school shootings was improving mental health screening and treatment for children. Pew had a similar response from parents in a 2022 survey about school shootings; 63% cited heightened mental health services as extremely or very effective in preventing school shootings.

America’s first encounter with a mass school shooting occurred 25 years ago this month at Columbine High in Colorado in which 15 people died and 23 were injured. Despite the anguish and shock over the terrible events of April 20, 1999, politicians have remained in the thrall of the gun lobby, responding to the rising threat of school shootings with lockdowns and intruder drills rather than reforms that could reduce the carnage.

For example, Georgia Lt. Gov. Burt Jones garnered headlines in the fall when he proposed a $10,000 annual stipend for teachers willing to take firearms courses and carry guns in schools as a layer of protection against shooters. Georgia’s 2014 “Guns Everywhere” law already gives local school districts the authority to decide whether to arm teachers and staff. Jones’ proposal, which was not approved in this latest legislative session, would have been an incentive.

Lt. Gov. Burt Jones, shown during the Georgia General Assembly's 2024 session, proposed a $10,000 annual stipend for teachers willing to take firearms courses and carry guns in schools as a layer of protection against shooters. (Miguel Martinez /miguel.martinezjimenez@ajc.com)

Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

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Credit: Miguel Martinez/AJC

Few Georgia schools have acted on the General Assembly’s endorsement of armed staff, understanding that a social studies teacher yanking out a gun to take down an armed intruder is the stuff of action movies. In reality, even trained police officers don’t deter or stop school shootings because of the quickness of the attack and the intent of the shooters to die.

The U.S. Secret Service found two-thirds of school shootings lasted for two minutes or less, and nearly half ended within a minute. National research published in July showed that while a police presence in schools lowered threats and physical attacks without weapons, it didn’t stop shootings.

In developing a profile of school shooters, the FBI found they’re often males with poor coping skills, depression, a low tolerance for frustration, a sense of being wronged and denied and more likely to have acquaintances rather than friends. And shooters expect to die in the attack, either by police or suicide. As the Violence Prevention Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research center, explains: “Mass shootings are public spectacles of violence intended as final acts.”

What links school shooters in America is their easy access to firearms. The project maintains a comprehensive database of U.S. mass shootings, which shows 80% of school shooters get their guns from family members, most often parents and grandparents.

In her closing comments to the Crumbleys about giving their son free access to guns despite obvious signs that he was mentally unstable, Matthews, the judge, said, “Opportunity knocked over and over again, louder and louder, and was ignored.”

The same can be said for America’s politicians who, despite knocking that’s grown to pounding, ignore the parents, educators and students at the door and only welcome the gun lobby and its dangerous credo that the only solution to guns in schools is more guns.