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A parent in Michigan who knowingly gives their minor child access to any gun which is used by that child to commit first-degree murder should now expect a criminal prison sentence (i.e., prison time for that parent, not just prison time for the child).

I tried to make the necessary conditions just a matter of facts in the sentence above, and now looking for counter-examples: Can you think of a hypothetical case satisfying the conditions above for which the parent would probably not be criminally convicted?

If there are no good counter-examples for Michigan, do any other states have precedents/laws that would make adopting this parental standard within the next 20 years unlikely?

This is a drastic change to legal parental responsibility that seems likely to expand from Michigan to the entire USA, so I'm searching for "the gray area" that will make simple generalization and legislation difficult.

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  • Instead of closing this, why not give me a hypothetical case that I'm missing? I don't think the classroom drawing was a key to the jury's guilty verdict. There's probably a better chance of the judge dismissing the charges (without any jury needed) if some valedictorian had done this with no prior signs, but why not make it an official answer below?
    – bobuhito
    Mar 16 at 18:15
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    Getting the answer you want would have to wait for a few more precedents.
    – o.m.
    Mar 16 at 18:18
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    No, I'm saying that until there are a few more precedents, we can just guess. Personally, I find it completely irresponsible to store a gun outside a gun safe if there is a child in the household.
    – o.m.
    Mar 16 at 18:22
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    @bobuhito the drawing and both parents coming in for a meeting after that drawing and telling the school that the talk is over and leaving with no action taken are actually rather damning. You should re-watch the whole trial and how the parents behaved prior to the shooting.
    – Trish
    Mar 16 at 23:29
  • @o.m. Perhaps kitchen knifes need to be stored in safes as well, with pressure cookers too. I guess fathers were just more responsible in the past and criminals were actually, you know, put in prison.
    – paulj
    Mar 18 at 14:36

2 Answers 2

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As I understand it, a parent can be convicted in Michigan if that parent allows a mentally disturbed child access to a gun after being told by school authorities that the child drew a gun, a bullet and the words "blood everywhere" on a geometry worksheet.

While we cannot look into the mind of a jury, the BBC article linked above quotes the prosecutor as saying

He did not take even the slightest measures to ensure his son was not a threat after giving him a semi-automatic pistol as a gift just days before the shooting
(emphasis mine)

A parent might consider storing guns in a gun safe if there is a teenager with mental health problems in the household, or even a perfectly normal teenager.

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    Yep - this case is so far on the the guilty side of the line that it's not useful to use it to help determine where the line is exactly.
    – user253751
    Mar 16 at 17:55
  • These cases are notable because it is very unusual for parents to be held liable criminally for the criminal conduct of their children. These parents were held liable due to their own extremely culpable and reckless conduct that causes made the entirely foreseeable mass shooting happen. They were just short of being co-conspirators in the shooting. The law in the U.S. is not and has never been that parents are legally responsible for any criminal conduct of their children.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 18 at 20:56
  • I'm marking this as the answer though I think the current line would convict parents even without such obvious signs (I wish there were some answers with precedents where the parents were not guilty). @ohwilleke I'm not saying that "parents are legally responsible for any criminal conduct of their children" - I'm adding gun allowance and murder to the necessary conditions, but I know most people think that's still not enough (but but, I feel a good prosecutor can always find some troubling signs for evidence and juries these days are mad enough about mass shootings).
    – bobuhito
    Mar 20 at 2:14
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In Texas there is an exception for agricultural work. You can allow a minor access to firearms if he is going to use it for an agricultural purpose such as dispatching feral hogs or euthanizing injured livestock. If he murdered someone while doing this, a jury might accept that the initial access was permitted and not hold the parents accountable.

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  • Thanks for the example. Ok, it seems reasonable that parents of a child with a gun obtained this way and no documented signs of trouble would never be prosecuted.
    – bobuhito
    Mar 20 at 2:26

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