The Committee to Pillory Carol Siemon

"The Rock" on the campus of Michigan State University is painted as a memorial to those killed by a gunman on February 15, 2023, in East Lansing, Michigan. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

There are two guilty parties in the Michigan State shooting: One is the shooter, who had a history of mental-health problems and criminal behavior involving firearms, and the other is former Ingham County Prosecutor Carol Siemon, a public official of the kind for whom a self-respecting society might consider dusting off the pillory. 

It is too late to punish the killer, who took his own life shortly after murdering three college students and wounding five others. It is not too late to hold Siemon to account, even though she is retired. As a moral matter, rather than a legal one, she is a party to this crime and ought to be recognized as such. 

Like the great majority of people who commit murders in the United States, the Michigan State shooter had a criminal history—one that would have prevented him from legally purchasing a firearm if not for the cowardice and incompetence of the prosecutors in Ingham County, Michigan, where Siemon served as chief prosecutor until her retirement late last year. She was the head of the office in 2019. That’s when the Michigan State shooter last came to the attention of authorities—when he was brought in on a felony charge of illegally carrying a handgun. As is all too common in these matters, a second, lesser charge was introduced, this one a misdemeanor. The future killer pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor, and Siemon’s office dropped the felony charge. 

A convicted felon cannot legally purchase a handgun from a licensed dealer in Michigan or anywhere else in the United States. Someone convicted of a misdemeanor charge generally can. Apologists try to wave this away, claiming that the misdemeanor charge and the felony would have produced similar sentences. That may be, except for two big things: One, felons can’t legally buy guns; two, felons can and do acquire firearms illegally (far more often than they purchase them from licensed retailers, in fact), but felons who are locked up do not shoot up college campuses. We need to take people who commit gun crimes off the streets before their criminal careers escalate to include murder. 

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