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Larry Donnelly: The gun culture in the land of my birth is truly abhorrent

As the US deals with the aftermath of yet another school shooting, our columnist is filled with deep shame about the pervasive gun culture in his country.

Larry Donnelly Law lecturer, NUI Galway

ONCE MORE INTO the abyss, I’m afraid. In this space and elsewhere over the years, I have vented on numerous occasions about the abhorrent gun culture in the land of my birth.

Sadly, I usually do so in the wake of the rather commonplace mass shootings that tend to happen in schools and in other venues where the public should be safe.

This time, a 15-year-old boy – I find it incredibly difficult even to type those words – named Ethan Crumbley is charged with the killing of Madisyn Baldwin (17), Tate Myre (16), Hana St Juliana (14) and Justin Shilling (17), his fellow students at Oxford High School outside Detroit, in cold blood. The thoughts of four young people with their whole lives ahead of them being killed are numbing.

A very black day

This case bears the hallmarks of similar tragic events in the past, but prosecutors this time have moved a step further and are also focusing on Ethan’s parents. At a press conference to announce the charges against the parents, the county prosecutor for the area, Karen McDonald, gave details on how authorities believe the two failed to prevent the tragedy.

Ethan’s parents, James and Jennifer Crumbley have now been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the killings, with prosecutors alleging they purchased the semiautomatic pistol believed to have been used in the killings for their son on Black Friday as a present. The mind boggles. Why, in the name of God, would anyone be so foolish?

We are also told by prosecutors there is more to it than this, and it is worse still. When her son was caught looking at ammunition online during school hours, Jennifer Crumbley, according to prosecutors, texted Ethan: “LOL, I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught!” Again, if this is established at trial, what would possess a parent to conduct herself like this?

There are further chilling aspects to this tale. McDonald, in her conference, said the day of the shooting, after a teacher saw Ethan drawing harrowing images of dead bodies with the caption “blood everywhere,” James and Jennifer Crumbley were summoned to the school.

Notwithstanding the appalling imagery he had conceived of and the fact that he could swiftly get his hands on a lethal weapon, prosecutors allege that Ethan’s parents refused to take him home. They believe this left Ethan at Oxford High where he allegedly carried out the dastardly deed shortly thereafter.

Ethan Crumbley currently faces 24 separate criminal counts as an adult, including first-degree murder and terrorism causing death. There will be investigations into whether the responses of guidance counsellors and Oxford officials were sufficient. All of this is far too little, far too late for the Baldwin, Myre, St Juliana and Shilling families, however.

Toxic gun culture

The thing is that, as much as most of us can agree that James and Jennifer Crumbley may well prove objectively to be terrible parents and their son Ethan to be a deeply troubled boy, I do not believe that they are at all exceptional in the US when it comes to their attitude to firearms.

There are millions of families who own high-powered guns and for whom this is a badge of honour. Some would assert that it is actually a patriotic manifestation of their pride in being Americans. “God, guns and guts made America; let’s keep all three” is a slogan articulated on t-shirts, baseball caps and bumper stickers.

They pass this on from generation to generation. As much as I find it profoundly disturbing, the reality is that lots of these families are made up of decent people who teach their offspring to respect guns and how to use and store them safely.

Hunting and target practice are favoured pastimes – and many, particularly in rural America, see guns as indispensable tools to preserving their way of life and to protecting their homes and loved ones.

This is the gun culture in the US looked at in the best possible light. I have never understood it and never will. To those who revere it, I say that’s fair enough. There are undeniable consequences of it, though. And I don’t know how this constituency of Americans can remain comfortable with all the human suffering that has flowed from easy accessibility to an arsenal of hardware designed to kill, and kill quickly.

I would guess that not many of the residents of an increasingly insular, inward-facing nation are aware, but the rest of the world doesn’t have frequent mass shootings. Because gun ownership is heavily regulated and appropriately limited, the potential for carnage is greatly diminished. James Crumbley would not have been able to buy a 9 millimetre Sig Sauer for his young boy and – it is worth repeating their names – Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Hana St Juliana and Justin Shilling would be looking forward to the Christmas holidays with their loved ones right now.

The strength of the lobby

Advocates, activists and politicians who vociferously support a very liberal interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution won’t, yet they really should, absorb and reflect upon that truism. If they did, I frankly don’t see how they could live with themselves.

Congressman Thomas Massie, known lately as one of a small band in the US House of Representatives who refuses to wear a mask on the floor of the chamber to safeguard against the spread of Covid-19, fits squarely in this unfortunate category.

Mere days after what transpired in Michigan, the Kentucky Republican sent out a tweet with his wife and children brandishing terrifying looking weaponry and with an entreaty to St Nick: “Santa, please bring ammo.”

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What kind of person sends a message like this, at a moment like this, and rubs salt in the wounds of those grieving the loss of teenage high school students? Congressman Massie holds two degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world’s finest universities. Stupidity can’t be utilised as an excuse.

At best, he is tone deaf. At worst, he is a thundering disgrace. And so long as women and men with views like his about guns occupy political office and can populate the statute books in the US with their warped delusions, I will feel a grave sense of shame and will despair for a country I will nonetheless always love with all of my heart.

Larry Donnelly is a Boston attorney, a Law Lecturer at NUI Galway and a political columnist with TheJournal.ie. His new book – “The Bostonian: Life in an Irish American Political Family” – is published by Gill Books and is available for purchase at all bookshops.

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About the author:

Larry Donnelly  / Law lecturer, NUI Galway

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