and his gun
[This article was originally
published in the Boulder
Weekly, and is posted here by permission.]
Vice Principal Joel Myrick held his Colt .45 point blank to the high school
boy's head. Last week, he told me what it was like. "I said 'why are you
shooting my kids?' He said it was because nobody liked him and everything seemed
hopeless," Myrick said. "Then I asked him his name. He said 'you know
me, Mr. Myrick. Remember? I gave you a discount on your pizza delivery last
The shooter was Luke Woodham. On
that day in 1997, Woodham slit his mother's throat then grabbed a .30-30 lever
action deer rifle. He packed the pockets of his trench coat with ammo and headed
off to Pearl High School, in Pearl, Miss.
The moment Myrick heard shots, he
ran to his truck. He unlocked the door, removed his gun from its case, removed a
round of bullets from another case, loaded the gun and went looking for the
killer. "I've always kept a gun in the truck just in case something like
this ever happened," said Myrick, who has since become Principal of Corinth
High School, Corinth, Miss.
Woodham knew cops would arrive
before too long, so he was all business, no play. No talk of Jesus, just
shooting and reloading, shooting and reloading. He shot until he heard sirens,
and then ran to his car. His plan, authorities subsequently learned, was to
drive to nearby Pearl Junior High School and shoot more kids before police could
But Myrick foiled that plan. He
saw the killer fleeing the campus and positioned himself to point a gun at the
windshield. Woodham, seeing the gun pointed at his head, crashed the car. Myrick
approached the killer and confronted him. "Here was this monster killing
kids in my school, and the minute I put a gun to his head he was a kid
again," Myrick said.
I've been intrigued by Myrick ever
since that day. Most have never heard his name, because the mainstream press
barely reported how the massacre was stopped. I've become more interested in
Myrick's story with every subsequent mass murder. If only someone like Myrick
had been at Columbine, I've pondered.
A few months ago, Soldier
of Fortune Publisher Bob Brown asked me if I had any suggestions as to
whom should receive his magazine's Humanitarian Award of 1999. In the wake of
Columbine, the answer seemed clear: Joel Myrick. Brown talked it over with his
staff, gave it some thought and went with my choice. Brown and I will present
Myrick with his award Friday in Las Vegas, at the annual Soldier of Fortune
Convention and Expo.
Myrick and his gun, no matter how
one looks at it, saved lives. His actions saved the lives of waiting victims at
a nearby junior high. He may have kept Woodham from shooting police, who would
have arrived at the scene disoriented, without Myrick's home turf frame of
reference. Arguably, Myrick and his gun even saved the life of the killer, who
likely would have killed himself or been shot by SWAT cops after spilling more
Although Myrick saved lives,
beyond question, some treat him as a leper. After the shootings, and the
relatively peaceful ending to something that could have made Columbine pale in
comparison, Myrick was in exile. He'd held a gun to a student's head, and his
colleagues simply couldn't accept that.
"Nobody wanted to dog me, but
nobody wanted to side with me, either," Myrick says. "I felt like I
was being betrayed by everybody."
And that was Mississippi. This
summer he studied at Harvard, where he'd been awarded a prestigious education
fellowship. That's when uppity intolerance and mass stupidity took on new
meaning for Myrick. "Once people found out my story, I got a lot of dirty
looks and strange stares," Myrick said. "A few people confronted
Myrick shouldn't feel bad. Only
goofy losers gave Myrick funny looks, and such people never learn. Myrick's gun,
and his ability and willingness to use it, saved lives plain and simple. Yet
somehow, in the minds of the anti-intellectual gun control crowd, he's a bad man
who did an immoral deed.
By any sane, rational view, Myrick
is a life-saving humanitarian. Even in my view, however, his heroic act will be
marred by an asterisk in the annals of history. Despite the presence of this
brave man, two students still died. Therefore, the footnote of far off history
books will read something like this:
*The late 20th Century was an
era of crude polemics, in which some people believed hardware items, such as
handguns, caused mass murders. Therefore, ineffective laws that reflected this
view made it illegal for this legendary hero to have his gun on campus. The
gun was in a truck, giving the killer valuable time as Myrick ran to retrieve
it. In modern society, of course, responsible adults have better access to
hardware than killers do.
Arguing with a moron
Myrick is as much of a hero as the
law would allow. He was only seconds away from the shootings, yet the law had
him far away from his gun. Federal law precludes anyone but a cop from having a
weapon in or near a school. The modern spree of school shootings began sometime
shortly after this law was enacted. In most places, state and local laws
needlessly duplicate the federal law, serving only to accommodate political
In Pearl, federal, state and local
laws helped Luke Woodham shoot nine students. The deer rifle had to be reloaded
after every shot. To hit nine students, Woodham needed time. The moments it took
Myrick to reach his gun are what allowed Woodham to continue shooting and almost
escape. Gun laws, and nothing else, gave Woodham that time.
But talking to gun control
advocates is like talking to five year-olds. Tell a five-year-old it's time for
bed, and he'll say "No." Ask why not, and he'll say
"because." Likewise, I've told a few gun control advocates about
Myrick-telling them how he would have saved more kids had it not been for gun
laws-and they've said "guns kill." Or, "we have too many
guns." Or, "Woodham killed his victims with a gun."
At which point I say, "Woodham
violated several gun laws by having his gun on campus. The law did nothing to
deter him, but plenty to deter the man who set out to stop the killings."
To which a gun controller replied: "But guns kill."
Sucked in and trapped by this
bizarre logic, I attempted to address it. I said: "But Joel Myrick's gun
didn't kill. Rather, it allowed children, including the deranged killer, to
"Yeah, but all of these
school shootings are done by guns," he told me.
So I pounded my head against a
wall. Politics and sociology are complex. But if any socio-political issue
should be a simple, exact science, it's gun control. All honest modern studies
show that gun control, in this culture, benefits criminals while leaving
law-abiding victims defenseless.
In his book More Guns Less
Crime, Yale law professor John Lott ran the numbers every which way
possible. He set out to write a book about guns being bad, and found that every
gun law ever enacted in this country has resulted in more violent crime. I saw
him on TV recently, debating a gun control advocate. Lott cited numbers and
anecdotes. His opponent, in essence, said "but guns kill."
Politics of nothing
Right here in Boulder, a city of
self-proclaimed enlightenment, city council members are hard at it trying to
enact more gun control in the light of Columbine. Weird. Today in Boulder, it is
absolutely illegal in every way, shape and form for a student to walk onto, or
anywhere near a public school with a gun of any kind. Remove all state and local
gun laws, and you still have a federal law that clearly forbids firearms of any
kind within 100 yards of public schools.
Anyone who shoots up any school,
anywhere, is violating gun laws. So what does the Boulder City Council think up
to address the very real concern of school massacres? Hey, let's pass some gun
laws. Duh. "If we can save one life," it would be worth it, Councilman
Dan Corson told the Daily Camera.
If the city council manages to
craft a gun law that isn't redundant to the Nth degree, it will serve only to
make victims of future massacres more defenseless-guaranteed. Some politicians
know this, but they don't care. What matters is how the public perceives the
headlines their words garner. Guns kill. Duhhh. "Let's outlaw guns."
Gun control was essential to
Hitler and slave owners in the Old South. Proven fact: Gun control oppresses and
kills. Proven fact #2: Responsible adults, such as Joel Myrick, save lives. When
unencumbered by bizarre gun laws, they can save even more lives.
So let's appeal to the Boulder
City Council and the Boulder Valley School Board to explore ways of empowering
law abiding adults. Perhaps it's time for the school district, with the full
support of city hall, to establish a voluntary defensive weapons training course
for teachers and administrators. Politicians who find a way to balance the
firepower between forces of good and evil, by arming some teachers and
administrators, might not get re-elected. But they might preclude a future
disaster like Columbine, where SWAT teams sat helplessly in a parking lot while
a teacher in the building prepared to fire at the shooters with a fire
Have a good laugh at this idea, on
me. Then ask yourself whether it's more important to be re-elected, or to cut
short a future school massacre.
We will never rid society of guns
unless we eliminate the natural phenomenon of internal combustion. A gun is a
crude instrument and nothing more than a controlled explosion. America is home
to about 250 million of them, and they're with us to stay regardless of law.
If you want to save lives, the
answer is simple. Stop keeping guns from the hands of would-be heroes-the only
people who obey gun laws. Joel Myrick had a gun, legally in his truck. Myrick
and his gun saved lives, but they could have saved more. The lesson: Some guns
Wayne Laugesen can be reached
at Wayne@Laugesen.com or 303-499-4187.
He publishes Wayne's Word on http://www.BoulderWeekly.com.
Drop by and check him out.