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…