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Father of Highland Park suspected shooter could be held criminally liable for sponsoring his son's gun permit application, legal expert says

INSIDER logo INSIDER 7/7/2022 esnodgrass@insider.com (Erin Snodgrass)
FBI agents work the scene of a shooting at a Fourth of July parade on July 5, 2022 in Highland Park, Illinois. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images © Jim Vondruska/Getty Images FBI agents work the scene of a shooting at a Fourth of July parade on July 5, 2022 in Highland Park, Illinois. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images
  • The suspected gunman in a Monday mass shooting bought guns with the help of his dad, police said. 
  • His father could be held criminally responsible for the attack as a result, a legal expert told Insider.
  • "You don't have to pull the trigger to be charged with manslaughter," Neama Rahmani said.

The father of the 21-year-old suspected gunman in Monday's Highland Park mass shooting could be held criminally liable in relation to the attack, an expert said.

This week, police said the man helped his son legally obtain several weapons, including the high-powered rifle allegedly used in the assault.

"There's no question that [the father] could be held criminally liable," Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers told Insider. "If you're helping someone who is mentally unwell get weapons and you know or should know of their history of violent threats, the law can hold you criminally responsible."

A gunman on Monday opened fire at a Fourth of July parade in the North Chicago suburb, killing seven people and injuring dozens more. Authorities arrested a 21-year-old man after a two-hour manhunt and charged him with seven counts of first-degree murder on Tuesday.

The suspected shooter legally obtained guns despite past law enforcement encounters

The Illinois State Police said Tuesday that the suspected gunman's father sponsored his son's gun permit application just months after the boy drew police attention for threatening to kill himself and others. 

Officers visited the suspected shooter's home in September 2019 after a concerned family member alerted Highland Park police that he had threatened to "kill everyone," a Lake County Major Crime Task Force spokesman said earlier this week. Authorities removed 16 knives, a dagger, and a sword, but did not issue an arrest due to a lack of probable cause. The local police did alert the Illinois State Police at the time, the spokesman said.

State authorities received a "clear and present danger report" for the suspected shooter following the September home visit, but determined there was no action to be taken because he did not have an active gun permit or application in the system at the time. 

Just months later, however, in December 2019, the suspected gunman, who was not yet 21 years old, applied for a firearm owner's identification (FOID) card. State law required that a parent or guardian consent to his gun permit application, given his age. The suspected shooter's father sponsored his application, state police said.

The suspect's father confirmed to the New York Post on Wednesday that he sponsored his son's permit application, telling the outlet that he believed his son wanted guns to use at the shooting range.


Video: Highland Park suspect’s father sponsored gun application (ABC News)

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"He bought everything on his own, and they're registered to him," the dad said.

His father's decision to sponsor the application, even after the boy's threats prompted a police response, could put him on the hook for involuntary manslaughter, Rahmani said.

"You're creating an unreasonable risk of death because of your actions," the legal expert said. "You don't have to pull the trigger to be charged with manslaughter."

The suspected shooter's application was ultimately approved.

Flowers are laid near the scene of a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, where at least seven people were killed. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images © Jim Vondruska/Getty Images Flowers are laid near the scene of a shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park, Illinois, where at least seven people were killed. Jim Vondruska/Getty Images

"The subject was under 21 and the application was sponsored by the subject's father," Illinois State Police said in a statement released this week. "Therefore, at the time of FOID application review in January of 2020, there was insufficient basis to establish a clear and present danger and deny the FOID application."

State authorities also said that the suspected gunman passed four federal background checks when purchasing weapons, citing a Highland Park police report from the September 2019 incident in which he told officers that he didn't want to hurt himself or anyone else.

Steve Greenberg, an attorney who said he was helping the suspected gunman's parents navigate the legal process in the aftermath of the shooting, posted a Facebook status pointing out that the Illinois State Police renewed the suspect's FOID card when he turned 21 without any involvement from a parent. Greenberg later told Insider that his understanding of the renewal process was that someone must reapply once they turn 21. 

The Illinois State Police Firearm Services Bureau did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment regarding the renewal process when a sponsored-FOID card holder turns 21.

The suspected gunman's father could not be reached for comment, and Greenberg did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment on whether or not he believed the father could be charged in relation to the attack. 

Police said the suspected gunman used a military-style rifle to fire off more than 70 rounds during the attack. The weapon was one of five firearms he obtained in 2020 and 2021, authorities said. 

Prosecutors are taking an aggressive approach in charging suppliers

Local prosecutors have not yet indicated whether they plan to charge the suspected gunman's father in the attack. But Rahmani told Insider that he's noticed a growing trend in similar incidents.

"Prosecutors are being much more aggressive about these types of cases — those who procure weapons for mass shooters," he said, referencing James and Jennifer Crumbley who were charged with involuntary manslaughter after allegedly buying a gun for their 15-year-old son who is accused of killing four of his classmates in a mass shooting in Oxford, Michigan, last year. 

The Crumbleys are headed to trial and announced last month that they want their son to testify on their behalf. 

The prosecution of parents of accused mass shooters is a relatively new legal approach, Rahmani said, and the process is likely to be a challenging one. 

"These will be litigated aggressively," he told Insider.

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