Oakland County Prosecutor's Office launches commission on gun violence

Anna Liz Nichols
The Detroit News

Pontiac — When asked why she was announcing a commission of local and national experts to investigate and recommend solutions to address gun violence in the county, Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald listed off four of her reasons at a Monday news conference.

"Hana, Madisyn, Tate and Justin," said McDonald, referring to the four Oxford High School students — Hana St. Juliana, Madisyn Baldwin, Tate Myre and Justin Shilling — who were killed in a mass shooting at the school last November; McDonald said she keeps those four names in her mind in everything she does as county prosecutor.

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald announces charges against the parents of 15-year-old Ethan Crumbley during a news conference in Pontiac on Friday, December 3, 2021. McDonald announced the creation of a commission of national and local experts to explore ways to address gun violence.

The commission, which comprises first responders, health experts, local elected officials, faith leaders, individuals who have been impacted by gun violence and more, aims to create an evidence-based curriculum to prevent gun violence and mass shootings in Oakland County and potentially elsewhere.

So far this year, there have been 30 school shootings that resulted in injuries or deaths, according to Education Week, which started tracking such incidents since 2018. Since then, there have been 122, according to the organization, with the highest number of shootings last year when there was 34.

For every person killed in a mass shooting in 2020, another 85 died from other forms of gun violence, according to the prosecutor's office. McDonald pointed out Pontiac is facing "an unprecedented spike in gun violence," including drive-by shooting in March when a 7-year-old child was killed. 

The commission includes more than 20 individuals including a mother of a student killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and a father of a man killed in the Aurora theater shooting; both mass shootings occurred in 2012.

The national dialogue surrounding gun violence hasn't been conducive to solving the problem, McDonald said, and action in Michigan has been too slow so she is taking matters into her own hands to prevent the next Oxford.

"These events occur and they make a lot of news and then people start arguing about gun control laws and I think gun access is a critical issue, but it isn't the only issue," McDonald said. "I can't do anything about gun accessibility, so I'm going to focus on the things that I can do."

In the case of the Oxford shooting, the prosecutor's office is making a case against the alleged shooter, then-15-year-old student Ethan Crumbley, and his parents, saying James and Jennifer Crumbley repeatedly disregarded signs of their son's mental instability and bought him a handgun. 

McDonald said a big misconception most people have about mass shootings is that it's an instantaneous thing, rather than a preventable tragedy where the shooters exhibit clear warning signs. Gun violence is a complex issue and though mental health is a part of the conversation that will help find solutions, there is a lot more that goes into the problem.

"Sweeping accusations or the statement, 'it's a mental health problem,' that's also a misconception," McDonald said. "I just can't for one more day turn on the TV or the news and watch more people killed and murdered children and say, 'well that's just part of our life'. It is not and it's preventable."

There isn't a specific timeline that the commission will come out with a report and recommendations for schools, workplaces and institutions, but McDonald said the commission's goal is pull together data-driven recommendations in eight months.