Other voices: More senselessness and more young deaths

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 22, 2021

It could happen anywhere, even here. And it has.

Yet, no sooner have we come to grips with a fatal school shooting at Winston-Salem’s Mount Tabor High School, only weeks ago, than another one happens somewhere else.

And there will be another … and another … until something changes in a country with a unique and deeply disturbing tradition of mass shootings that it still refuses to confront.

So here we are. Again.

As if we could forget, a 15-year-old allegedly shot dead another 15-year-old on the Mount Tabor campus on Sept. 1.

And now a different 15-year-old has been arrested after a school shooting in Michigan that left four students dead and seven other persons wounded.

Ethan Crumbley was armed with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol that his mother and father gave him as an early Christmas present and then stored it in an unlocked drawer.

What responsible parent does such a thing?

According to surveillance video, a prosecutor said, the teen “methodically and deliberately walked down a hallway, aiming the firearm at students and firing.”

This is madness.

This is the world we choose to live in. Gun deaths on school grounds, it seems, are a fact of life here, accepted as inevitable and unavoidable, like bad weather or power outages.

Republicans, meanwhile, are more urgently ranting about books in school libraries and critical race theory — neither of which, to our knowledge, has been used yet to kill anyone. (Or even worse, if they’re certain members of Congress, they playfully tweet family photos in front of a Christmas tree, holding assault-style guns, under the caption “Santa, please bring more ammo.”)

Meanwhile, in Oxford, Mich., the more we know, the worse the story gets.

Only hours before the fatal shootings, school officials called in Ethan Crumbley and his parents for a conference. That morning a teacher had found a drawing by the sophomore that depicted a person being shot and featuring the words “Blood everywhere.”

It’s fair to ask, even in hindsight, why school counselors didn’t send the student home as a potential danger to himself and others. Or why neither his parents nor school officials checked the contents of his backpack the day of the conference — and the shooting.

Also a day before the shooting, a teacher had noticed that Ethan was browsing photos of ammunition on his cellphone. After his mother had learned of the incident in a voicemail from the school, Jennifer Crumbley made light of it in a text message to her son, the Oakland County prosecutor revealed.

“LOL, I’m not mad at you,” his mother texted. “You have to learn not to get caught.”

When it became clear that they would face charges of their own, Jennifer and James Crumbley went into hiding before being arrested. They were charged with involuntary manslaughter for allowing their obviously troubled son easy access to the weapon and for failing to act to prevent the attack. They now await their day in court in the same jailhouse as their son.

Forgive us for being judgmental in hindsight, but how can you not in this case?

What 15-year-old gets a 9 mm pistol for Christmas? Who sees one warning sign after another and does nothing?

Could the school have done more? Could it have insisted on sending him home that day regardless of his parents’ wishes?

In retrospect, of course. But this situation never should have reached his point. A troubled 15-year-old should neither have owned or had such convenient access to a lethal weapon in the first place.

Meanwhile, our reluctance to address this problem with the urgency, resource and political courage it demands makes no sense.

Nor does our growing acceptance of mass shootings as normal.

Or our collective refusal to take more steps, through reasonable laws, to keep firearms out of the hands of behaviorally disturbed people.

Sarah Lerner, a teacher who lived through the killing of 17 and the wounding of 17 others in February 2018 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., knows this all too well.

“The bottom line is we are educating students who know life only in the world of school shootings,” Lerner wrote in The New York Times. “Lawmakers need to pass legislation to protect students, teachers and others from gun violence. The right to own and carry a gun should not outweigh the right to live peacefully and attend school safely.”

A Mount Tabor student put it more succinctly after September’s shooting shook her school and her community: “This is very sad, sickening, crazy and stupid.”

In any culture in which the sanctity of gun ownership matters more than the sanctity of human life, something is wrong.

— Greensboro News & Record