By Jennifer Gerson, at The 19th
A Michigan jury found Jennifer Crumbley guilty this week of four counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2021 mass shooting her son carried out at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit that left four students dead. The case largely focused on the ways in which Crumbley as a mother failed to respond to repeated warning signs that their son was dangerous. But another component of the case is that the semiautomatic handgun used in the shooting was purchased for the shooter by his parents, and then left unsecured in the home: The cable lock it came with was never used, the code for the gun safe the family purchased never changed from its 0-0-0 factory settings.
News of the verdict has called attention to a component of gun safety that advocates have long stressed, one that has garnered increased support from legislators nationwide, including from the White House: safe storage laws. The regulations — sometimes also called secure storage laws — create mandates for gun owners on how they store their weapons in order to prevent children and other unauthorized users from accessing them.
At the time of the Oxford shooting, Michigan had no safe storage law. Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed a safe storage measure into law in April 2023; the new law takes effect on February 13. It requires all gun owners in the state who have children in their homes to store their firearms with either a cable lock or in a gun safe.
Approximately 4.6 million children live in homes with unsecured firearms in the United States; secure storage is widely regarded as a critical measure for reducing gun violence instances among this demographic — especially when it comes to self-inflicted harm, unintentional shootings and school shootings. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that households that lock up firearms and ammunition see at least 85 percent fewer unintentional injuries from guns experienced by children than those that don’t.
Gun violence is the leading cause of death of children in America.
A review done by the Department of Homeland Security’s National Threat Assessment Center found that 76 percent of all school shooters acquired their firearms from the home of a parent or close relative.
Eighty percent of firearms suicides by children involve a gun belonging to a family member, and the firearms suicide rate among children and teens has increased by almost 70 percent over the past decade.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 76 percent of unintentional shootings were committed with unsecured guns from the home — most often from those stored in nightstands or other areas in a bedroom.
Right now, 26 states have safe storage or child-access protection laws, the latter being a less stringent version of secure storage that penalizes gun owners only if a child gains access to a firearm. In late January, the White House’s newly formed Office of Gun Violence Prevention and the Department of Education sent a letter asking school principals to communicate with their communities about the role safe storage plays in keeping schools safe. Concurrently, the Department of Justice released a guide to safe storage, including different types of storage devices and comprehensive guidance on best practices for firearms storage.
“Sadly, it sometimes takes a tragedy like what happened in the Oxford shooting to really highlight the fact that we all have a role to play in reducing gun violence — in particular that gun owners who are parents, especially, need to take efforts to protect their children, themselves, and their community by taking simple steps like securely storing a firearm,” said Nicholas Suplina, senior vice president for law and policy at Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonpartisan gun safety advocacy and policy research organization. “It’s just one of those things that a country that has 300 million guns needs to understand — that securely storing your firearm is probably the most important thing you can do to help reduce risks to your family and the community.”
Suplina said that as more and more attention has been drawn to the fact that guns are the leading cause of death in America, so has a public desire to see practical measures that can “reduce the tragedy of this statistic.” And safe storage conversations, he said, are nothing new — even safety manuals from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the firearms industry, and from the National Rifle Association (NRA) all made mention of the need to lock up firearms and keep them out of the hands of unsupervised minors. In time, though, this conversation became increasingly politicized, despite the pressing reality that “if you’re going to own a gun, in particular if you live in a house with a child, you should be locking up that firearm unloaded and separate from ammunition, whether the law required you to or not.”