12-Year-Old School Shooter's Grieving Parents Could Be Forced to Pay for Deaths

This Just In 27

sparks middle schoolPolice are slowly sifting through the horror of the Sparks Middle School shooting that claimed the lives of hero teacher Michael Landsberry and the 12-year-old shooter. Chilling 911 calls have surfaced featuring the panicked voices of young kids from the Nevada school. And now we may have two people forced to pay for this tragedy: the shooter's parents.

Of course, they're already paying an emotional price. Their son is dead, and what's more, he's responsible for a national tragedy. But criminal charges could be coming to make their nightmare that much more intense.

Police have identified the unidentified shooter's gun as a Ruger 9 mm semi-automatic handgun, and authorities say they believe the 12-year-old got that gun from his parents.

We could talk about responsible gun ownership until we're blue in the face here, and the fact remains that responsible gun owners lock up their guns so their kids can't get a hold of them. Period.

But how long can parents be expected to keep their kids on the straight and narrow? To know everything they might get up to?

This was not a 7-year-old. This was a seventh grader!

We've all known devious 12-year-olds smart enough to find a key and unlock a gun cabinet. If that's what happened, if this kid snuck that gun out of the house, is it fair to hold his parents responsible? Is it realistic to have expected them to check his backpack every morning like you would a kindergartner?

What if he were a bit older? Thirteen instead of 12? How about 16?

As parents, we are often looked at by non-parents and expected to "get control of that kid," but every parent has experienced that flash of fear that their "control" over their kid won't last forever, CAN'T last forever. We can start them on the right path and give gentle nudges back toward it, but in the end, we can only do so much.

A tragedy has happened at Sparks Middle School, and right now we are all looking for someone to blame. But blaming them for what their child did won't undo what has been done.

It would behoove us all to remember that this boy's parents are already suffering. They've already paid the ultimate price.

Should parents be held responsible for their kids' actions? At what age does it end?


Image via David Calvert/Getty Images

crime, death


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Carme... Carmen8706

I'd say it depends on how he got the gun.  If they left it out in the open where he could get it easily, then it's negligence.  If he stole the key to a gunsafe or picked a lock, then I don't think they did anything wrong.

Craft... CraftyJenna

It depends on the situation, although most of the time I don't think parents should be charged for their children's crimes unless it can be proven that they aided them directly in commiting them. Anyone can have a bad kid- that's the thing about kids no matter how well you raise them sometimes people are off or just go their own way. 

Prett... PrettyGirlMyers

"We've all known devious 12-year-olds smart enough to find a key and unlock a gun cabinet. If that's what happened, if this kid snuck that gun out of the house, is it fair to hold his parents responsible? Is it realistic to have expected them to check his backpack every morning like you would a kindergartner?"

This is absolute BS. If you are a gun owner you are legally responsible for ensuring that gun is 100% inaccessible to anyone except for those licensed to use it. That means a trigger lock with a key that YOU hold, or a gun safe with a combination that only you KNOW. If you neglect to keep your weapons secure, and someone else uses them to commit a crime, you are completely and absolutely liable. Is it tragic for these parents? Yes. But they are responsible for what happened. it was their job to make sure their guns were inaccessible, and they failed.


PrettyGril, you have a valid point. How ever so does the blogger. We all fall short here and there. It is tragic that this is that this was one of the times when (I'm sure) they thought that what they were doing was enough. Obviously it wasn't. Every parent wants to trust our kids, and no one wants to think that our kid might be the next school shooter. It will happen again, and there is nothing we can do about it. The odds are just too great. Kids are devious, and often we don't give them enough credit for how crafty they are.

My heart bleeds for the parents. I can't even imagine being judged so harshly by so many while already going through so much pain.

Prett... PrettyGirlMyers

It has nothing to do with being responsible for your childrens actions until they reach a certain age. If a friend, relative, or even a stranger had been able to access and use, the gun the owner(s) of the gun would be held liable. That's the way the gun laws work where I live (MA) but I can't speak for other states. I realize that it sounds like I'm talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I feel terrible for these parents, clearly there was no way for them to have known what their child would do. But with that said, if they had only secured their guns maybe this wouldn't have happened.

NatAndCo NatAndCo

"We all fall short here and there".... Yes that's true, but there are certain areas that shouldn't fall into the "here and there" section. Gun control being one of them. If you have kids around, invest in a better way to secure your gun. Top shelf of a china cabinet doesn't work. Crappy metal lockbox you bought for $15 isn't going to cut it. Buy a GUN safe. With key/combo entry. Something. Don't freaking cut corners.

Prett... PrettyGirlMyers

NatAndCo- completely agree. I don't feel like this is falling short as a parent as much as it's a total lack of taking the necessary (and obvious) precautions that ANY gun owner should take- regardless of whether you're a parent with teenagers in the house or not.

nonmember avatar Suzanne

I don't understand why anyone would argue that they shouldn't be charged. Responsible gun ownership means making sure a child (and a twelve year old is still very much a child) does not have access to that sort of a weapon. The specifics of how he had access are irrelevant. His parents failed to properly secure it.

Yes, we all have our fails as parents, but when a fail results in two deaths we can't just look the other way. I feel badly for them, but i am sure prisons are full of people I feel bad for that still have the responsibility to serve their time.

And yes, it would be different if it was an older child. I don't think it would always be unreasonable for a 16-18 year old to have access to the gun cabinet, but I can't imagine any reason to trust a 12 year old with something like that.

mom2212 mom2212

That's why, as parents and responsible gun owners, our guns are in a combination gun safe.  It's big, can't be moved, and has all guns and ammunition inside so that our children are safe.  Also, our 12 year old son has taken proper training courses and understands the damage guns can do.  As for what age does it end, I don't think we as parents really know that answer.  We can only pray that we've done right by our kids and pray that we would be able to see any "signs" of a problem.  I can tell you this, if my 12 year old son did something awful, I would question my parenting choices, I would feel unbelievable grief for the lives lost, and I would mourn for the son I raised.  That said, we can never know their pain, the pain the victims' families feel, or their scale of emotions.  We need to throw judgments aside and hug our loved ones a little closer today.  Unfortunately, in this day and age, we never know where or when the next tragedy will strike.

nonmember avatar TrainChick

If it were my child or my husband killed in this tragedy, I would want some answers. I would want to know how this child (because at 12, he was STILL a child) came to have this firearm. But...maybe they DO have a gun safe. Maybe this is a family that not only has handguns, but also long-guns for hunting. My father taught me to shoot a small caliber firearm at an early age so that I could handle a weapon safely. It wasn't because he was a freak or activist, but so that I would understand how dangerous a weapon could be. As children we knew where the guns were kept. We also knew that they were not toys, and that we were not to take them out without permission. It is possible that if these people were hunters, this child may have had access to the safe. Also, at 12 years old maybe the shooter still didn't understand the gravity of what he was doing. In today's society of automatic "do-overs" and violent video games, many children don't fully understand the finality of death. Was this child troubled? Was this a family in crisis? We don't know the answer to these questions. Unfortunately though, in the upcoming weeks politicians and the news media will make sure we do. They will twist the story to fit their agendas, to hell with the grieving family. Not only have these parents lost their child, they will no doubt be ostracized from their community and tarred and feathered for the whole nation to see. They will have to live with this for the rest of their lives.

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