Trigger fingers: One person kills, but more can be responsible

·2 min read

Michigan prosecutors think they have a strong involuntary manslaughter case against the now-apprehended parents of the 15-year-old boy who fatally shot four of his high school classmates Tuesday. We concur.

Though it is the teen who squeezed the trigger, it was his dad who just days earlier bought him as a gift what would become the murder weapon, even though Michigan’s legal age of handgun ownership is 18. And just hours before the high school turned into a live-fire zone, both mother and father were called to the school to meet with administrators and shown a drawing the boy had made with a person bleeding and the words “help me.”

At the meeting, says prosecutor Karen McDonald, the two “were advised that they were required to get their son into counseling within 48 hours.” Yet, she says, never did they mention that their son might have a weapon on his person, even as they resisted a request to take him home for the day.

Whether two parents will be found guilty in what is a relatively novel prosecution remains to be seen, but there is a larger metaphor here. Though disturbed young gunmen are legally guilty of murder at Sandy Hook Elementary, and at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., and at Columbine High School, not to mention in so many killings that’ll never make the front page, their impulse to murder did not materialize out of thin air.

Guns don’t kill people, say the NRA zealots, people kill people. Of course they’re dead wrong about that — people with guns can kill with ease and speed and callousness that people without guns cannot — but the grain of truth is that it’s rarely only a single trigger puller who causes carnage. While the official culpability usually rests with one, morally many are implicated. Someone gives a young, unstable man a gun. Someone feeds him with toxic revenge fantasies. Someone else sees warning signs and looks the other way. Few are guilty; many are responsible.

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