South Haven police confiscate loaded gun from 13-year-old at Baseline Middle School

Baseline Middle School gun sideways.jpg
South Haven police confiscate loaded gun from 13-year-old at Baseline Middle School. (WWMT/Genevieve Grippo)

The South Haven Police Department confiscated a loaded gun from a 13-year-old boy at Baseline Middle School Wednesday morning after students reported him to schools staff.

South Haven Chief of Police Natalie Thompson said the teen told police he brought the loaded gun to school to show other students. Thompson said the boy was carrying the gun in his pocket.

“The really scary thing is that some guns have a difficult trigger pull, meaning it takes some muscle to pull the trigger back. A gun of this type - very little pressure needs to be placed onto the trigger for it to fire,” she said. “So with this being loaded, it is very lucky that it didn’t accidentally go off.”

She said he did not make any threats with the gun, nor did he have any kind of record with the department.

The department is investigating where the student got the gun. According to Thompson, the student said he found it on his way to the bus stop. She said the department does not believe he got it from home. The gun had not been reported stolen.

Thompson said the .25 caliber semi-automatic gun was loaded when officers responded to the call. The department believes the firearm’s safety feature was also disengaged, making the situation even more dangerous.

“If the kid would have let the gun off and shot one of the kids, it could have been my daughter, it could have been any other student,” Carolyn Baham, who has a 12-year-old daughter that is a seventh grader at Baseline, said. “It’s really scary sending your children to school knowing they could be in so much danger.”

Baham said she did not know about the situation until her son’s girlfriend sent her information over Facebook. She said she did not receive notice from the school until after 4 p.m., when she got a call from an automated voice informing her of the situation.

She said her daughter was at school on Wednesday and had not been notified of the situation either.

“It makes me really upset that the school didn’t let the students know,” Baham said.

Thompson said the student involved was suspended, and she anticipates the school district will take further disciplinary action. She said the teen would not face criminal charges because of his age, but said the department would request a juvenile petition.

The petition would impose sanctions on the student through the juvenile court, which could mean probation or juvenile detention for a certain period of time. Thompson said the issue would not follow the student on his adult record.

While the teen did not get the gun from home, Thompson parents should be extremely cautious when keeping firearms in the home. She said that includes keeping guns unloaded, secured and locked.

"If you are a family that has firearms and children, I think the onus is really on adults to teach responsibility, to keep guns out of the hands of children, and I think as children grow older, maybe teaching gun safety," Thompson said.

A study published in May of 2018 by the Journal of Urban Health found that 4.6 million children in the U.S. live in homes where guns are unlocked and loaded.

According to the Giffords Law Center, 28 states and Washington D.C. have laws in place to prevent children from accessing firearms at home. The center said those laws can take a variety of forms.

“The strongest laws impose criminal liability when a minor is likely to gain access to a negligently stored firearm regardless of whether the minor actually gains access (California). The weakest merely prohibit certain persons, such as parents or guardians, from directly providing a firearm to a minor (Utah),” it wrote on its website.

While Michigan has laws in place to hold adults accountable if something happens after a child gets their hands on a gun, there are no state laws that require guns to be locked at home.

“The sad thing is that when a tragedy happens, and you see it on the news quite frequently -- a young child finds a loaded gun and accidentally shoots someone -- there are penalties after the fact,” said Thompson. “As far as specifics, it just really goes to common sense for adults and parents. If you’re going to own a firearm, be responsible.”

The number of students bringing weapons to school in Michigan is down from past years, according to the most recent online data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A survey from the center shows 1,611 students brought weapons such as guns or knives to school on at least one occasion within 30 days from when the survey was taken. That number is down from 4,712 students in 2015, which was the highest number recorded from 1997 to 2015.