Some People Shouldn’t Be Parents

Not long after I joined the faculty at IUPUI’s School of Public and  Environmental Affairs (now the O’Neill School), I had a student whose answer to virtually every thorny policy issue we discussed was the same: license people before allowing them to become parents.

This was in an upper-level undergraduate class in Law and Public Policy, and the student’s “day job” was as a probation officer. (Like a significant percentage of undergraduate students at IUPUI back then, he was older than traditional college students, and had a full-time job.) Each time, I would patiently explain why the Bill of Rights prevents government from making so personal a life choice for individual citizens, and he would respond to the effect that such a constraint was unfortunate, because he saw the results of bad or inadequate parenting on a daily basis.

As I reflect on those discussions, I’ve concluded that we were both right.

It should be obvious that the decision whether to procreate is not a decision that government in a free society can or should make. (Speaking of obvious–someone needs to  forcefully remind six Justices on our current, politicized Supreme Court just why liberty requires procreation decisions to be left to the individuals involved .) But my student wasn’t wrong when he pointed out that some people simply should not be parents.

I thought about that student, and those long-ago discussions he initiated, when I read reports about the utterly unfathomable conduct of the parents of Ethan Crumbly, the young man who killed four classmates and wounded seven others in Michigan. Per CNN, we learned that the parents have been charged along with their son after they failed to appear for their arraignment, withdrew 4,0000 from an ATM, and hid out in a warehouse some 40 miles from their home in an apparent effort to flee.

The judge has set their bail at 500,000 each.

Parents of a school shooter are almost never charged, even when their negligent storage of weapons is implicated in a shooting. But these parents are–as my students might put it–something else.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald has alleged that James Crumbley on November 26 bought the gun at a store in Oxford, and that the parents gave the weapon to their son as an early Christmas present.

During Saturday’s arraignment, McDonald said, “It’s … clear from the facts that (Ethan Crumbley) had total access to this weapon,” and that the parents “didn’t secure (the gun) and they allowed him free access to it.”…Shortly after James Crumbley bought the gun November 26, his son posted a picture of a gun on an Instagram account and captioned it, “Just got my new beauty today. SIG SAUER 9mm” with a heart-eyes emoji, McDonald said.

If the parental culpability had stopped with the purchase and  grant of access, I doubt they’d have been charged, but their jaw-dropping behaviors went far beyond stupidity and negligence. Jennifer Crumbley  posted about the gun on social media, calling it “his new Christmas present,” and took her son to a shooting range the weekend before the school shooting. When a teacher discovered Ethan searching for ammunition on his phone–the day before the shooting– and reported it to school officials, the mother not only didn’t respond when those officials called her, but sent a text message to her son saying, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”  

On the day of the shooting , a different teacher became alarmed by pictures Ethan had drawn showing bullets, a bloody body, and a laughing emoji–along with alarming text.

The parents were called for a meeting in the school with a counselor and their son, who by that time had altered the illustration “by scratching out the drawings of the gun and bloody figure, along with the words, according to McDonald.”

The parents refused to take their son out of the school, and he was allowed back to class.

Other media outlets have reported that school officials strongly recommended that the parents obtain immediate psychological counseling for Ethan, but the parents appeared to dismiss that recommendation.

Later in that day–the same day his parents had refused to take him home– Ethan Crumbley “opened fire outside a bathroom, aiming at students in the hallway as well as those who were hiding in classrooms.” He killed four students and injured seven.

Maybe my long-ago student was right when he opined that some individuals shouldn’t be parents.  Since the Supreme Court appears ready to give government the right to require parenthood, maybe the Justices should stop cloaking that decision in rhetoric about fetal personhood, and just hold that government can decide who gets to procreate.

After all, the government with power to tell people they can’t abort can also tell them they must…


  1. Being ignorant and making poor choices isn’t a crime yet. I’ve been involved in threats of violence where one party threatened to kill another. The police were told, but their response was, no crime had been committed.

    A crime requires action.

    This is why many people on the left want to defund the police and create a different system, which is crime prevention.

    It’s also why social workers and mental health counselors need to form a union. I’ve worked in social services, and some people bringing children into this world are scary. Unfortunately, so many have lost their children to the system are still producing more children.

    As we dumb down the population from the top down, some of those folks on the lowest rung aren’t being cared for properly. They require much more intensive work. However, good luck when you pay people $12.00 to care for those people.

    There is no profit in helping mentally ill people, so they fall through the cracks. Society is creating these situations with our poor choices.

  2. I’m no lawyer in a man-made legal sense, but I have very good understanding of the laws of nature. Outside of catastrophic events, the laws of reproduction apply strictly to those organisms that are adapted to their environments and have the genetic necessities to succeed enough to pass those genes on to the next generation. If flaws or inadequacies surface in individuals, they will not produce viable offspring. It’s as simple as that.

    BUT we humans have changed the rules of nature by codifying that each of us, flaws and all, should have the right to reproduce. We have overcome predation and disease in the process…except the “disease” of social adjustment and accommodation. That is the wind of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. Now, we reap the whirlwind of wretches like the Crumbleys.

    As a former public school educator, I saw pathetic and poor parenting EVERY DAY in the personage of children not willing to learn ANYTHING. I saw the generation that produced the willfully ignorant failures of humanity storm the Capitol last January. Their parents NEVER came to parent open houses. They NEVER asked for parent-teacher conferences, or responded to requests from teachers or administration…unless it was for bad behavior or expulsion issues. These parents made teachers into de facto parents, and held teachers accountable for their failures as parents.

    Now, these “parents” want to dictate what material should be covered in class or textbooks. Sure. That ought to work just fine. Look for more Crumbley-like cases to emerge as the shooting/gun culture permeates the already diseased minds of those given the right to reproduce their hate, bigotry, ignorance and social “irregularities”.

    On Saturday night, one of these offspring through rocks through our condo’s front door glass, the doors of our local grocery market, a bookstore and two other buildings in our neighborhood. Does anyone think that creature has the right to pass on those traits? It isn’t just genetic material, in the case of humans, is it? That’s the easy part. It’s being responsible for the offspring’s melding into society that matters most. The Crumbley parents FAIL. Our rock thrower’s parents FAILED.

    But who is to determine who can and cannot reproduce? The SCOTUS with their backward-thinking, misogynistic, bigoted views of women’s rights? As the British say: “Not bloody likely”.

  3. Ethan’s parents forced his school authorities to take a parental role by first, talking to him about using his school time to look for prices of anything, searching his his person, his backpack or locker for a weapon. Child protective services could have been called to protect Ethan when his parents refused to take action when requested by school authorities to come in for a meeting or to remove him from the school. He wasn’t writing dirty words of the walls or calling students ugly names, he is a 15 years old child and neglected by his parents. BUT, legally they do not have the authority to do any of that because it would violate his civil rights until he began shooting people; the law is the problem. Should/COULD the school authorities have called police in that situation? If the parents were going to voluntarily surrender to police, why did they go into hiding?

    This case is opening a new area of responsibility regarding the many school shootings; I wonder what the political leanings are of all parents of those who have carried out school shootings. I support the right to own guns; I was licensed to carry for protection for a few years, but we are as a nation faced with life threatening situations by our children and I would certainly not arm my children and ignore a blatantly dangerous action.

  4. Before we rush into regulating who can and cannot be a parent, perhaps we need to begin teaching the concept of “responsibility” to all students at all levels of learning. The problems facing our society and the world today stem from the those who want “their” rights as they alone see them but no responsibility for their exercise of those rights. This IMO is what is destroying us.

  5. I’m still trying to fathom how the school administrators could be worried enough about the threat Ethan posed to his students and the school staff but no one bothered to searched his backpack after they confiscated and later returned it to him after his parents refused to take him home from school.

    Sometimes, I think we zoom out too quickly to the big questions without examining how such tragedies could be prevented. The fact is that one or more people responsible at the school, likely one or more administrators and a security officer, failed to do their job. The heroes in my mind was/were the student’s teacher(s) who noticed he was shopping for ammo in class as well as the ghastly and prescient picture he drew. As a result, four kids are dead, more injured physically and hundreds more traumatized for a long long time.

    If this child had attended a publicly-funded charter school or a private school that accepted a publicly-funded school vouchers I have NO DOUBT that the parents would have been simply told that their son “is not a good fit” for the school and its culture and that he would be expelled. The “school choice” crowd celebrates this as a feature of an educational “free-market” but not one that can be afforded to traditional public schools. If it was, then parents like the Crumbly’s would either have had to take more responsibility for their son’s threatening behavior to keep him in his school or find another one that would accept him as a student. It is very likely that his only option would have been to enroll in a cyber-school or be home-schooled. The school had no real leverage, no “do this or else” consequences to offset the very serious threat the child, and his parents, posed to public safety. That is just wrong.

    Bad decisions should have consequences and so I am 100% in favor of the Crumbly’s being charged criminally for their part in enabling their son’s heinous act But now we wait to see if a jury will actually hold them responsible and given what recently happened in Kenosha, WI there’s no guarantee justice will be served. But we shouldn’t have to wait until blood is spilled in the hallways to do something about it.

    A lot of educators and non-educators believe strongly that schools should not become policing authorities and/or social services agencies – that they should focus only on education. I find their arguments naive and hopelessly uninformed. Instead elected officials in our General Assembly are readying bills to give white racist parents veto-authority over books and lesson plans.

    Stop the world. I want off.

  6. in the old days, kids came home from school,ususally to a parent..but economic times dismisses that for the sake of the economy. now its the ,whatevers,kids come home to. if you can not parent,then dont. theres no rewards when your own ignorance,leaves a sick kid in a school,armed. the kid obviously didnt know right from wrong,or,his parents failed. keeping up with the kids issues,after a day at school, where. other kids learn from 60 minute shows that demand the complete start and end to every issue,in that shows lenth, aka, the amazon over the counter demands now!. we close libraries and places for kids to be kids. we have devided the kids in a politcal comedy called tragic. some have the thought process to ignore ignorance for the sake of thier own survival. those parents get a A. maybe they, taught thier kids basic human needs over controvercy. the parents who blew off thier kids obvious issues, just blew his life away into a darker hole called life without parole,michigan style. of course, ask, why didnt the state have a law protecting the other kids,when this picture of him killing people, didnt at least require the school to dimiss him for some period of time to have a one on one meeting with all now involved. did we become so dismissing to allow parents,to undermine the needs of others. the gun nuts have proven again,they can not,and will not, clean their own house. gun laws as they stand are fine,but if that club has a undesirable,like the real bikers, they dont have that member issue again. this proves the gun nuts dont care who,has a gun,or how,they use it.,the nra is a perfect example of this tribal instinct. and maybe some parents dont need to be in the parent club either.

  7. Let’s not go as far to license parents, let’s take a tiny step to license gun owners.

    If you want a model for how this should happen, look at a operating a car, which by the way, it’s sole purpose is to NOT be a weapon. There are safety and education courses widely available. There is a required test to pass. There is a probationary period while you must be supervised. Because the state has realized that a unskilled motorcycle operators are more likely to harm themselves (NOT others), they have instituted a mandatory skills test above and beyond what is required for a car.

    God forbid we apply this same logic to guns, whose only function IS as a weapon, but once you get into the gun debate, the first “whataboutism” you will get is what about that guy at the Christmas parade, and yes, no matter how much education and training you get, there will always be angry and or insane people. But, in the school shooting case, if there were requirements on how to store guns, or no unsupervised access until a certain age, or any thing other than “it’s your right to own a gun”, than we might have seen a different outcome, because the parents would have at least been told; there are certain responsibilities that come with owning a gun.

  8. Patrick, Responsible or even slightly concerned parents (back to that theme) would have been aware of the possibility that a newly acquired weapon might be involved in some way and would have been gracious enough to have mentioned it in the conversation with the school, and then they might have asked a few questions or even taken the action to search his backpack.

    But in this case, the parents believed “The right to bear arms shall not be infringed”, regardless the absence of a well maintained militia.

  9. If only those who were mature enough and capable of raising children were allowed to have babies, humankind would have been extinct long ago. I agree that there are some cases that are appalling on so many levels that we should be finding interventions. Let’s say Brian’s parents won’t take him out of school, the school should have the authority to call for a psychiatric hold and evaluation to remove this clear and present danger from their midst.

  10. Yes, I agree with Dan. We need more licensure of gun owners and guns themselves. Treat guns just as we treat automobiles. Annual licensing fees dedicated to mental health.
    Plus, taxes on guns as they are produced or imported into the U.S. The manufacturers will balk at this and will flood money into Congress to stop it. But if the Creepy family had to pay more for the early gift to their son, maybe they would have bought him something less lethal.

  11. 60+ years ago my Mom was involved with the PTA at my elementary school and used to say the same thing in an exasperated tone. She was joking but sometimes today I think she was onto something. With the Crumbley situation in MI it occurred to me the other day she might have been right.

  12. What Dan said. I’m hearing blame the parents, blame the school, blame who-ever – but not much about the ridiculous gun laws in this country. Of course, if nothing could be done after Sandy Hook then, well…’s thoughts and prayers as usual and let’s put up a metal detector.

  13. We all know the Turpins should never have been parents and that the neighbors who suspected there was child abuse did nothing. In myn view that makes the neighbors culpable. As a nurse and an LMC I was required by the law to report suspected child abuse.

    Ethan Crumbley’s parents obviously failed to set limits with their son. And what was he saying about making the voices stop? Is he a paranoid schizophrenic with auditory hallucinations? I don’t know but hope someone does a psych eval on this kid. Maybe they should do one on his parents as well who obviously did not understand that a 15 yo boy does not have the ability to make mature decisions wtih gun ownership. Obviously they didn’t either. No one has mentioned whether or not the parents have a substance use disorder. Often paranoia goes undetected because those with this disorder keep it well hidden.

    Our society repeatedly fails its children who are suffering with parental,foster home care abuse. They are treated as mere chattel. And we know that abuse is almost always intergenerational. The Turpins’ kids mother was sexually abused repeatedly by her grandfather while her mother approved of it.

    In this case we have severe neglect of a kid. I doubt he ever got consequences from his parents. They thought he could do no wrong, and they were wrong.

    Maybe our high schools should require parenting classes for every kid. That might help them identify kids that are being abused. And perhaps we need to empower schools to require suspension of kids from school, that they err on the side of safety even if the parents object. Although I know that gets very sticky when the kid is an African-American. I note , however, that the school shootings I hear about are from white boys.

    I have believed for a very long time if the world could raise one generation of children who had food, clothing, shelter, education, good health care, love, attention, appropriate discipline that the world would become a much better place. It breaks my heart that we are not keeping children safer and more loved.

  14. The constitutional guarantee that no person or class of persons shall be denied the same protection of the laws that is enjoyed by other persons or other classes in like circumstances in their lives, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness. Perhaps our Surgeon General is right to propose public policy to define what is meant by the pursuit of happiness as guaranteed by our Constitution. Focus on the positives and not the lowest common denominator of human behavior. We could as a nation invest in attributes of well being as does Sweden. The outcome for us, in one circumstance, would erode the base of the NRA, and drive them to bankruptcy and irrelevance. 🤗

  15. The way the world was envisioned, both sides right, neither needed alternate reality to prove their points. If only…

  16. Just how sick society is was illustrated in yesterday’s Star. Page 11 was a full page ad from ShootPointBlank gun and ammo stores. 1 attractive 40 something ladies were pictured whooping it up with their targets. This is as disgusting as anything I can imagine

  17. I’d like to see the Crumbly parents charged with something. If there’s not a felony on the books to cover their type of behavior, there needs to be one. I just think proving the elements of involuntary manslaughter though is going to be a huge reach. Probably the best thing the authorities have is the fact they ran when charged instead of surrendering.

  18. Is the question, should abortion be a tool of the state to be denied or required depending on the state’s judgment of how viable the parents are as parents?

    That’s the second step. Republicans/McConnell haven’t even achieved the first step though they appear to be close.

    But, let’s face it, the state can’t even figure out how to populate the Supreme Court with qualified adults. How qualified would it be in selecting high quality breeding stock?

  19. Dan and Robin offer interesting ideas on how to treat guns and people in our gun-mad society. The idea that guns are designed to kill and cars can be used to kill (see Charlottesville, inter alia) and that both need licensing is sound along with statutorily designed liability for third parties as a standard for tort liability of gunners AND third party facilitators alike. Thus a bar that over-serves a drunk driver who thereafter kills someone can become liable in tort if plaintiffs can beat the causation rap, and so why not a third party such as the Crumbleys to be held to payment of damages in tort along with criminal negligence or some degree of involuntary manslaughter as well? Maybe upping the ante will reduce the carnage. Whatever (constitutionally) helps. . .

    Perhaps the next stop (and especially for parents with kids in school) is their state legislatures for some lobbying on behalf of their progeny, themselves, and the progeny of others, all based on the notion that tax paid for schools are to be places of learning, not shooting galleries, and that such legislature(s) do something about this NRA-inspired (and hear tell Putin-) attempt to destroy our society from within – or alternatively, look for the new job come November whatever their party. So there will be lawsuits if the “gummint” starts messing with our “Second Amendment rights” to bear arms? Of course, so let’s get the process started. Dead students, grieving parents and other friends and relatives have rights, too, or once did, before Congress abdicated their right to govern in such area to the NRA in exchange for, uh, “campaign contributions,” aka blood money.

    So the “gummint” can’t tell you what to do? Yes, the “gummint” can tell you both what to do and what not to do, and has wide constitutional latitude to do so where public safety is involved. Thus violations of red lights, stop signs, speed zones etc. are universally and rightly held as evidentiary standards of proof with which to measure tort liability for damages. I think that buying a mentally ill kid a gun and turning him loose on the world and doing nothing about it is both tortious and criminal all here again subject to the old bugagoo, causation. I can hear the Crumbleys’ counsel to the jury now > “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury – they didn’t pull the trigger.” Neither did Trump, but the deaths would not have happened but for the Crumbleys’ (and Trump’s) tortious and criminal conduct, and that, readers, is causation.

  20. Concerning the seemingly execrable Crumbly “parents” (not sure that term is applicable here other than apparently biological) :

    According to media reports yesterday, a neighbor of the Crumbly’s called CPS sometime in the past and reported the kid was being neglected. The Crumblys would go out to bars and drinking at night leaving the kid home alone by himself for hours. And ironically and tragically — since they bought and gave him a lethal weapon — they didn’t give or leave him with a phone. The neighbor reported the kid would come knock on her door and ask to use her phone to call his “parents.” As far as she knew, CPS never investigated. So, another “falling-through-the-cracks” and missed opportunity to have intervened.

    @ Robin: You can be absolutely certain the kid’s appointed attorney will request a psych evaluation be done on him. She/he would be found to have provided ineffective assistance of counsel for failing to do so. Not guilty by reason of insanity is likely the only conceivable “valid” possible legal defense available in this situation, if, of course, the evaluation was to come back that the kid had some type of serious mental illness such as schizophrenia. But it also should be noted that insanity defenses are rarely, if ever, successful.

  21. “You have to learn not to get caught.” This is a line right out of the Nixon playbook, wherein he said that “It’s not
    a crime if you don’t get caught.” Wow! Is that who the Orange Empty channels?
    The student’s idea is one, I expect , many people, myself included, have thought of. Sure, it’s a bit of a large, large
    stretch, but it is soooo tempting.
    Robin’s comment about Sandy hook is so on point!
    And I will not, now, pursue the SCOTUS issue, as it is almost lunch-time.

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