My Michigan friends and I used to pass the time by making lists of our high school teachers. What began as polls of who assigned the most homework or who had a more chill classroom, snowballed into the absurd: who had the best (and worst) dishes during our school’s potlucks, which Hogwarts house did they belong in, or whose dinner parties would we attend (Pierson was the obvious choice — apparently, he laminated his cocktail menus).
At the top of one particular list was Mr. Hoffman, a vet who told censored stories about his life as a military sergeant. It was unanimous: Hoffman’s room was the best one to be in if a school shooting happened.
Mr. Hoffman’s safest classroom accolade was inspired by the Washtenaw County’s Active Shooter Training Program my high school teachers did. Under the watchful eye of their trainers, teachers practiced survival tactics in school shooting simulations using “Home Alone”-esque tricks to stun an “intruder” armed with a starter pistol. The training uses the A.L.I.C.E. (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate) method to teach educators, churches, and government workers how to stay alive until authorities arrive. The program is credited to the Washtenaw County Sheriff’s Department but the program is active on many campuses in the Metro Detroit Area, including the University of Michigan.
Over the years our drills began to feel tedious, but the reality of what the drill meant became clearer with each school shooting. It felt like my peers and I were waiting for our time. On Nov. 30, 2021, Oxford High students, an hour away from my old school, faced theirs.
Allegedly, then 15 year-old Ethan Crumbley shot and killed four of his peers with a handgun his father purchased for him days before the shooting. The Oxford community lost Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling, and Hana St. Juliana because of an “early Christmas present.” Nearly a year later on Oct. 29 2022, Crumbley pled guilty to 24 felony charges: four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, 12 counts of felony use of a firearm, and one count of terrorism.
According to CNN, Ethan’s teachers raised warning signs about Crumbley watching footage from real shootings, researching bullets, and expressing violent ideation on his schoolwork. Despite meetings between Crumbley’s parents and school officials, Ethan Crumbley fell through massive cracks.
CNN has covered Crumbley’s trial where expert witness Jillian Peterson, a forensic pathologist and associate professor of criminology and criminal justice, described a slow, monotonous “build-up” that led to a crisis point. Peterson said the “crisis point is often a suicidal crisis where the perpetrator is hopeless and isolated and no longer cares if they live or die. During that crisis point, their behavior is changing, they’re acting differently and the people around them are noticing that they are acting differently.”
In a highly unusual court proceeding, Jennifer and James Crumbley now face charges of four counts of involuntary manslaughter. The basis of the Crumbleys’ charges is the failure to act as responsible caretakers and committing gross negligence during their son’s crisis point despite Ethan and school officials urging for psychiatric help. At the time of writing, it is unclear if James Crumbley will face federal charges for supplying his underage son with the handgun.
This tragedy doesn’t point to a complete lack of gun laws in Michigan. According to Everytown, a non-profit organization focused on advocacy for gun control and against gun violence, Michigan has sensible laws that require background checks for gun permits and prevent individuals with assault, violent misdemeanors, hate crime, or felony convictions from owning guns.
There are cracks in legislation that do not account for an epidemic of young men using gun violence as a deadly way to be heard. Ethan Crumbley’s interest in guns cultivated by his parents is not novel. Although Crumbley’s mental health raised red flags, the culture Crumbley, Crumbley’s victims, and every Michigan student is raised in has intrinsically linked guns to our communities’ identities.
Michigan students and educators sit at a crossroads of enthusiastic gun culture and the reality of school shootings. I wish I could describe one coming-of-age moment where I first saw a gun but they were always there. My mom’s attempts to limit my brother’s and my exposure to guns in an open-carry state were in vain. Despite my brother’s desire, she wouldn’t allow us to have toy guns, so in basements and backrooms, we would play with our cousin’s. I knew who I pretended to be when I held the plastic replica straight and who I was when I cocked it to the side. I saw real guns at county fairs and at Walmart during my dashes to the toy aisle. The three of us would ring in the New Year tucked away from any windows listening to a cacophony of fireworks and gunshots.
Gun control is a problem that adults can solve. The only tool minors have at their disposal is their voice — their deaths are not enough to incentivize adults to vote with their best interests in mind. I’m still unpacking my opinions on gun control but I’m certain of this: the safety of children in schools should be prioritized over any hobby, gift, or right. Rest in peace Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre, Justin Shilling, and Hana St. Juliana.