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Opinion | How Toxic Gun Culture Begins at Home

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James and Jennifer Crumbley never anticipated that their then-15-year-old son, Ethan, would use the 9-millimeter Sig Sauer handgun Mr. Crumbley had bought — ostensibly as an early Christmas present — to kill four students at a Michigan high school. At least that’s the argument their lawyers made in court before Ms. Crumbley, last month, and Mr. Crumbley, almost two weeks ago, were convicted of involuntary manslaughter in separate trials. Prosecutors argued that the Crumbleys did not do enough to secure the gun and ignored warning signs that Ethan was planning to use it.

After every mass shooting by a teenager at a school, there is an instinct to look to the shooter’s parents to understand what went wrong. In the case of the Crumbleys, this seems obvious: Ethan left disturbing journal entries fantasizing about shooting up the school, and stating that he had asked his parents for help with his mental health issues but didn’t get it. His father said the family had a gun safe but the safe’s combination was the default factory setting, 0-0-0.

One factor that’s gotten less attention, however, is how the Crumbleys’ attitudes and actions reflect an increasingly insidious gun culture that treats guns as instruments of defiance and rebellion rather than as a means of last resort.

I’ve been thinking about this case a lot because I grew up in the 1980s and ’90s in a rural part of the Deep South where almost everyone I knew had guns in the house, unsecured, and mental illness was stigmatized and often went untreated. Church was considered a superior venue for counseling, and only “crazy” people sought professional help. If the evidence for criminal negligence is a failure to lock up a gun and ignoring signs of mental illness, many of the adults I grew up around would have been (and still would be) vulnerable to the same charges as the Crumbleys.

It’s convenient and comforting for many people to believe that if it had been their child, they’d have prevented this tragedy. But prison visiting rooms are full of good, diligent parents who never thought their kid would be capable of landing there.

My parents didn’t own a gun safe, but kept guns hidden away from us, which, like many gun owners at the time, they thought of as “secured.” The men in my family were all hunters and the guns they kept were hunting rifles, not AR-15s. (You can’t feed a family with deer meat that’s been blown to bits.) I knew my parents kept a handgun, too, but it was never shown to us, or treated as a shiny new toy.

Gun culture was different then. It would have never occurred to my parents to acquire an entire arsenal of guns and display them prominently around the house, as some people now do, or ludicrously suggest that Jesus Christ would have carried one. They did not, as more than a few Republican politicians have done, send out Christmas photos of their children posing with weapons designed explicitly to kill people at an age when those children likely still believed Santa existed. Open carry was legal, but if you were to walk into the local barbecue joint with a semiautomatic rifle on your back emblazoned with fake military insignia, people would think you were creepy and potentially dangerous, not an exemplar of masculinity and patriotism.

All of these things happen now with regularity, and they’re considered normal by gun owners who believe that any kind of control infringes on their Second Amendment rights. Children are introduced at a young age to guns like the Sig Sauer that Ethan Crumbley used. They’re taught to view guns as emblematic of freedom and the right to self-defense — two concepts that have been expanded to include whatever might justify unlimited accumulation of weapons.

“Freedom” is short for not being told what to do, even though the law very much dictates how and when guns should be used. “Self-defense” is often talked about as a justifiable precaution in the event of home invasion, though home invasions are as rare as four-leaf clovers and do not require an arsenal unless the invader is a small army. (It’s also worth noting that basic home security systems are far less expensive than many popular guns, which suggests that at the very least, some gun owners may be intentionally opting for the most violent potential scenario.) Most important, too many children are taught that guns confer power and can and should be used to intimidate other people. (Relatedly, any time I write about gun control, at least one gun owner emails to say he’d love to shoot me, which is not exactly evidence of responsible gun ownership.)

Mass shooters often begin with a grievance — toward certain populations, individuals they feel wronged by, society at large — and escalate their behavior from fantasizing about violence to planning actual attacks. A study from 2019 suggests that feeling inadequate may make gun owners more inclined toward violence. In the study, gun owners were given a task to perform and then told that they failed it. Later they were asked a number of questions, including whether they would be willing to kill someone who broke into their home, even if the intruder was leaving. “We found that the experience of failure increased participants’ view of guns as a means of empowerment,” wrote one researcher, “and enhanced their readiness to shoot and kill a home intruder.”

The study hypothesized that these gun owners “may be seeking a compensatory means to interact more effectively with their environment.”

Good parents model healthy interactions all the time. If their kids are struggling with a sense of inferiority or are having trouble dealing with failure, we teach them self-confidence and resilience. Parents who treat guns as a mechanism for feeling more significant and powerful are modeling an extremely dangerous way to interact with their environment.

What’s particularly hypocritical here is that the most strident defenders of this culture skew conservative and talk a lot about what isn’t appropriate for children and teenagers. What they think is inappropriate often includes educating kids about sex, about the fact that some people are gay or transsexual and about racism. It’s a perverse state of affairs: Exposing children to simple facts is dangerous, but exposing them to machines designed to kill is not. You can’t get your driver’s license until you’re a teenager, or buy cigarettes and alcohol until you’re 21, but much earlier than that, kids can, with adult supervision, legally learn how to end someone’s life.

Parents can’t ensure that their child won’t ever feel inferior or disempowered, or even in some cases become delusional or filled with rage. Teenagers do things that their parents would never anticipate every day, even if they’re close and communicative. Some develop serious drug habits or become radicalized into extremism or commit suicide.

One thing parents can ensure is that their children cannot get access to a gun in their house. The only foolproof way to do that is to ensure that there’s no gun in the house to begin with. Barring that, parents can make sure they are not reinforcing a toxic gun culture that says that displaying and threatening to use lethal machines is a reasonable way to deal with anger or adversity. That message makes the idea of killing someone seem almost ordinary.

That doesn’t prevent school shooters; it primes them.

Elizabeth Spiers, a contributing Opinion writer, is a journalist and digital media strategist.

Source photographs by CSA-Printstock and John Storey, via Getty Images.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.

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Barcelona 1-4 Paris St-Germain (Agg: 4-6): Kylian Mbappe scores twice as PSG reach last four

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PSG players celebrate
Paris St-Germain are into their first Champions League semi-final in three years

Kylian Mbappe scored twice as Paris St-Germain thrashed Barcelona to turn around a first-leg deficit and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League.

PSG had trailed 3-2 after the first leg in France but took advantage of an early Barcelona sending off to secure their place in the last four for the first time since 2021.

Luis Enrique’s side face a semi-final against Borussia Dortmund, who beat Atletico Madrid 5-4 on aggregate in a thrilling encounter in Germany.

The semi-final first leg takes place on 30 April with the second leg on 7 May.

More to follow.

helpHow to play

Rate players out of 10 throughout or after the game. The rater will close 30 minutes after the final whistle.

Rating range key1 = Give it up10 = Pure perfection

Barcelona

  1. Squad number1Player nameter Stegen

  2. Squad number23Player nameKoundé

  3. Squad number4Player nameAraujo

  4. Squad number33Player nameCubarsí

  5. Squad number2Player nameJoão Cancelo

  6. Squad number8Player namePedri

  7. Squad number22Player nameGündogan

  8. Squad number21Player nameF de Jong

  9. Squad number27Player nameYamal

  10. Squad number9Player nameLewandowski

  11. Squad number11Player nameRaphinha

  1. Squad number5Player nameMartínez

  2. Squad number7Player nameF Torres

  3. Squad number14Player nameJoão Félix

  4. Squad number32Player nameLópez

Paris Saint Germain

  1. Squad number99Player nameG Donnarumma

  2. Squad number2Player nameHakimi

  3. Squad number5Player nameMarquinhos

  4. Squad number21Player nameHernández

  5. Squad number25Player nameNuno Mendes

  6. Squad number33Player nameZaïre-Emery

  7. Squad number17Player nameVitinha

  8. Squad number8Player nameRuiz

  9. Squad number10Player nameDembélé

  10. Squad number7Player nameMbappé

  11. Squad number29Player nameBarcola

  1. Squad number4Player nameUgarte

  2. Squad number11Player nameAsensio

  3. Squad number19Player nameLee Kang-in

  4. Squad number23Player nameKolo Muani

Line-ups

Barcelona

Formation 4-3-3

  • 1ter Stegen
  • 23Koundé
  • 4AraujoBooked at 29mins
  • 33Cubarsí
  • 2CanceloSubstituted forJoão Félixat 82′minutes
  • 8PedriSubstituted forF Torresat 62′minutes
  • 22GündoganBooked at 64mins
  • 21F de JongSubstituted forLópezat 82′minutesBooked at 90mins
  • 27YamalSubstituted forMartínezat 34′minutesBooked at 40mins
  • 9LewandowskiBooked at 50mins
  • 11RaphinhaBooked at 90mins

Substitutes

  • 5Martínez
  • 7F Torres
  • 13Peña Sotorres
  • 14João Félix
  • 17Alonso
  • 18Romeu
  • 19Roque Ferreira
  • 26Astralaga
  • 30Casadó
  • 32López
  • 38Guiu
  • 39Fort

PSG

Formation 4-3-3

  • 99G DonnarummaBooked at 87mins
  • 2Hakimi
  • 5MarquinhosBooked at 62mins
  • 21Hernández
  • 25Nuno Mendes
  • 33Zaïre-EmerySubstituted forUgarteat 80′minutes
  • 17Vitinha
  • 8RuizBooked at 45minsSubstituted forAsensioat 77′minutes
  • 10DembéléSubstituted forKolo Muaniat 88′minutes
  • 7MbappéBooked at 40mins
  • 29BarcolaSubstituted forLee Kang-inat 77′minutes

Substitutes

  • 1Navas
  • 4Ugarte
  • 9Gonçalo Ramos
  • 11Asensio
  • 15Danilo
  • 19Lee Kang-in
  • 23Kolo Muani
  • 26Mukiele
  • 28Soler
  • 35Lopes Beraldo
  • 37Skriniar
  • 80Tenas

Referee:
István Kovács

Live Text



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Magnitude 2.8 earthquake reported in View Park-Windsor Hills

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A magnitude 2.8 earthquake was reported Tuesday at 8:19 a.m. Pacific time in Los Angeles’ View Park-Windsor Hills neighborhood, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The earthquake‘s epicenter was 7.1 miles beneath the intersection of Overland Drive and Northridge Drive, near Windsor Hills Elementary School. .

In the last 10 days, there have been no earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater centered nearby.

An average of 59 earthquakes with magnitudes between 2.0 and 3.0 occur per year in the Greater Los Angeles area, according to a recent three-year data sample.

Did you feel this earthquake? Consider reporting what you felt to the USGS.

Are you ready for when the Big One hits? Get ready for the next big earthquake by signing up for our Unshaken newsletter, which breaks down emergency preparedness into bite-sized steps over six weeks. Learn more about earthquake kits, which apps you need, Lucy Jones’ most important advice and more at latimes.com/Unshaken.

This story was automatically generated by Quakebot, a computer application that monitors the latest earthquakes detected by the USGS. A Times editor reviewed the post before it was published. If you’re interested in learning more about the system, visit our list of frequently asked questions.

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Justice Thomas returns to Supreme Court after 1-day absence

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas is back on the bench after an unexplained one-day absence.

Thomas, 75, was in his usual seat, to the right of Chief Justice John Roberts as the court met to hear arguments in a case about the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

Thomas has ignored calls from some progressive groups to step aside from cases involving Jan. 6 because his wife, Ginni, attended then-President Donald Trump‘s rally near the White House before protesters descended on the Capitol. Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist, also texted senior Trump administration officials in the weeks after the election offering support and reiterating her belief that there was widespread fraud in the election.

On Monday, Roberts announced Thomas’ absence, without providing an explanation. Justices sometimes miss court, but participate remotely. Thomas did not take part in Monday’s arguments.

He was hospitalized two years ago with an infection, causing him to miss several court sessions. He took part in the cases then, too.

Thomas is the longest serving of the current justices, joining the Supreme Court in 1991.

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