With intent - GulfToday

With intent

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


A makeshift memorial at Oxford High where youth and the community remembered the victims.

The deadly shooting by a teenager at a high school in the small town of Oxford in the US mid-western state of Michigan is a test case for US law enforcement and the courts. On Nov.

4, 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley opened fire with a semi-automatic pistol, killing four students and wounding six classmates and a teacher. This was the deadliest school shooting since the spring of 2018, the 32nd since August, and the 145th incident this year of gunfire on school campuses

that killed 28 and injured 86.

Crumbley has been charged as an adult with terrorism, four murders and other crimes while his parents have been arrested and charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to provide aid to their deeply troubled son and, instead, furnishing him with the handgun he used in his pre-planned attack.

James Crumbley took his son to buy the gun four days earlier, Jennifer drove the boy to a shooting range to show him how to use the weapon, and it was stored in an unlocked drawer. Jennifer ignored a report from a teacher that Ethan had been searching the net for ammunition during class on the day before the shooting. When called to come to the school, the couple did not take seriously pictures the boy drew depicting a handgun, a person bleeding from a gunshot wound and texts saying, “the thoughts won’t stop, help me,” “my life is useless” and “the world is dead.”

The couple refused to contemplate psychological counselling for Ethan, to take him home and did not warn school administrators that Ethan had a weapon until the shooting began.

This is only the fifth time in scores of school shootings that parents have been detained and accused of a crime committed by their minor child. The school’s administrators are under investigation for failing to deal with the boy’s mental state ahead of and on the day of the shootings and for not searching his backpack which contained his weapon. He began his rampage soon after his parents left.

After the shootings the couple fled Oxford for Detroit where they hid in a warehouse, prompting a police search and their arrest.

Prosecutors in Michigan hope that convicting both Ethan Crumbley and his parents on these charges could serve as precedents for other such incidents and, perhaps, persuade parents to keep an eye on their children’s psychological state and maintain strict control of weapons. The prosecutor handling the attack Karen McDonald said, “This is a serious, horrible, terrible shooting, [which has] affected the entire community. And these two individuals could have stopped it.”

As gun ownership is so common in the Oxford community and the state as a whole, few people recognise the threat weapons pose, particularly since there is no law requiring weapons to be kept under lock and key. This is why the Crumbleys gave their disturbed son a powerful handgun for Christmas and did not bother to secure it. Familiarity breeds contempt.

On his website, Informed Comment, University of Michigan professor Juan Cole wrote, “The US policy of constantly endangering our children is enacted by a bought-and-paid-for Congress on behalf of 10 major gun manufacturers with an $8 billion industry. Most Americans don’t have or want a gun, and 50 per cent of all guns in the US are owned by three percent of Americans, i.e. some six million people out of 330 million.”

While he argues that the three per cent would be“just fine if they were subjected to better security checks and a ban on assault weapons,” opinion polls show citizens are divided over imposing curbs on guns.

A poll conducted by the Pew Research Centre in September revealed that a solid majority of US citizens who support stricter gun laws and the percentage is rising. Sixty per cent say gun laws should be tougher, an increase over 57 per cent in 2020 and over 52 per cent in 2017. However, the US is split along party lines with 86 per cent of Democrats and pro-Democrat independents and only 31 per cent of Republicans in favour of gun control.

Ethan Crumbley’s parents should have known that the gifted handgun is the weapon most frequently employed in crimes in the US. It is fortunate that his parents did not invest in the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. This was developed in the 1950s by am ex-Marine working for the ArmaLite factory, and has become the most fashionable weapon in the US although the light weight, easily adaptable gun was extensively used by the Irish Republican Army battling Britain in Northern Ireland.

Colt bought the patent and developed a version used in Vietnam, the M16. The AR-15 was mass produced in the US in 1980s once the patent expired. Those buying these weapons use them for target practice, competitions, and hunting large game, as a deer could be felled with one devastating high velocity bullet. The AR-15 now accounts for 20 per cent of guns sold in the US. Millions are in circulation, making it impossible for the federal government to ban military-style assault rifles.

The US enacted a federal assault weapon ban in 1994 but this expired in 2004 and attempts to reinstate the ban or legislate a new prohibition have failed. Seven US states have such bans, but the other 43 do not. For many owners, assault weapons define who they are and give them a feeling of security and superiority. This is precisely what the handgun did for Ethan Crumbley, a boy who in the past had struggled in school and had to be tutored to keep up with classmates.

New Zealand initiated a ban and a successful buy-back campaign for automatic and semi-automatic weapons following the March 2019 white supremacist attack on two mosques in Christchurch which killed 51 of the faithful. Violators of the ban could spend five years in prison. This was the first mass shooting in that country’s history while these events have become so regular as to be almost “normal” in the US. As soon as mourning fades over the victims of one shooting, another takes place.


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