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Can Their Parents Face Charges?

In the wake of the April 20 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Jefferson County Sheriff John Stone said April 24 the gunmen's parents should have been more aware of what their kids were doing.

"They had a lot of this stuff that was laying out, very visible in the house," he said. "I'd be a little concerned about my son's room if I went in there and found a sawed-off shotgun barrel hanging out."

On Face the Nation Sunday, April 25, CBS News Consultant Gloria Borger asked Colorado Gov. Bill Owens if any thought has been given to charging the parents of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold with any kind of crime.

"You know, some Jefferson County authorities have suggested that at least one set of parents should have known, given the evidence that was found in that killer's room," Owens replied. "And I think that if that's true, if the parents are thought by authorities to reasonably have been expected to know, then the possibility of them being charged in some way is certainly very real."

With which crime would they be charged?

"WellÂ…I'm not an attorney," says Owens. "But if you had adults who should have known what was going on, who failed to exercise care in a situation like this, they could be charged as accomplices, just as other individuals could, if they knew about it and failed to act."

But U.S. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said he's not sure that's possible under Colorado law. CBS News Face the Nation Anchor Bob Schieffer asked him whether the parents, if they should have known about their child's preparations for mass murder, should be charged.

"That's a dangerous thing, 'should have known'," Holder replied. "If we're talking about criminal negligence, that's something upon which you might be able to build a statute. The question is: How far do you want to go in that regard? I'm not at all certain we need to look beyond the person who is primarily responsible for the act."

Criminologist James Fox of Northeastern University told Schieffer and Borger that society would do better to help parents than to point fingers at them.

"Hindsight is 20-20Â… I don't know [about] this idea that the parents should have known and should have done something," said Fox. "Look at the Springfield, Ore., case. Kip Kinkel. His parents knew. They tried to do everything they could to get their son some help and alternative to his guns. What did he do? He punished his parents by killing them first before he went on the rampage at his school."

While there may be the odd case of gross negligence, Fox said, "Most of the time, parents are well-meaning and would like to have a greater role in the upbringing of their kids. They just lack the support to guide and control their kids. Let's assist families, not assail them."

Fox suggest that the number of school counselors be upgraded "because the are in the best position to identify problem kids; because, after all, kids spend more time with teachers and guidance counselors than they do with even their parents."

He also sees a need in the U.S. "to be a little bit more broadminded when it comes to counseling - not just counseling for children, but family counseling."

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