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Making our schools safe: the Virginia Tech shooting rampage highlights the vulnerability of our schools to gun violence, but the answer to the problem is not more gun-control laws.

At about the same time Cho Seung-Hui was shooting to death 32 unarmed students on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, a different scenario was unfolding near Waynesburg, Kentucky. Venus Ramey had had equipment stolen from the barn on her tobacco farm before. When she saw her dog dash into the barn, she suspected something was amiss. Balancing on her walker, the 82-year-old woman drew her snub-nosed .38 as Curtis Parrish, a would-be thief, emerged. The revolver had a salutary effect on Parrish, who suddenly announced that he was leaving immediately. He intended to jump into a waiting car with three of his accomplices, but Ramey yelled, "Oh, no you won't," and opened fire, flattening the car's tires. "I didn't even think twice," she later said. "If they'd even dared come close to me, they'd be six feet under by now." While Ramey held the men at gunpoint, she flagged down a passing motorist, who then called 911. Sheriff's deputies eventually took the men into custody.

Daily Occurrence

Guns are used daily by private citizens like Ramey to thwart crime and apprehend criminals. Much of the time simply brandishing a firearm is enough to do the job. Even low estimates of such actions state that they occur tens of thousands of times a year. Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist, argues that the figure is upwards of two million a year. Although guns are clearly used effectively by peaceable, law-abiding citizens far in excess of criminal misuse, such stories rarely make the news. Stories like Ramey's do nothing to further the disarmament agenda of the mainstream media.

Ramey's adventure was too juicy to ignore, however. Not only is she an octogenarian but she was Miss America 1944. She was the first redhead to win the title and a photo of her became nose art on a B-17 Flying Fortress that flew 68 missions over Germany without losing a single man. She helped sell war bonds on tours until the end of the war and then was offered a movie contract by Warner Brothers. Disgusted by Hollywood, she returned home to her Kentucky farm, married, and had two sons. She later ran for the Kentucky House of Representatives--the first Miss America to run for public office--hosted a radio show, and published a political newsletter. During the 1970s she was instrumental in preserving a Cincinnati neighborhood, "Over-The-Rhine," and getting it listed on the National Registry of Historic Places. She made news again when she sharply criticized Vanessa Williams, Miss America 1984, for posing nude for a magazine photo spread, and Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998, who advocated condom distribution in schools. Without such a public life, Venus Ramey may have been just another of the thousands of unnoted American citizens who use firearms to defend their persons or property.

I think about this while reading analysis after analysis of Korean immigrant Cho Seung-Hui. Was he alienated, autistic, sexually frustrated, drug addled, insane? Did he play too many video games, watch too much television, view too many violent movies? This all seems less than relevant. There are a million and one reasons for criminal behavior. We, as a society, can't fix them all--although there are some that we might wish to work on. However, given the right arms and training, we can defend against such acts.

Instructive is what occurred in 2002 at another Virginia college. At Appalachian Law School in Grundy, Nigerian immigrant Peter Odighizuwa began a rampage, shooting to death a dean, a professor, and a student, and wounding three students. Upon hearing the gunfire, law students Tracy Bridges and Mikael Gross, independently, dashed to their cars to retrieve their own handguns. Bridges returned with a .357 magnum and Gross a 9 millimeter to find Odighizuwa exiting from a campus building. From different angles both Bridges and Gross leveled their weapons at Odighizuwa. Bridges yelled to the killer, "Drop your gun!" Odighizuwa did so and several students then pinned him to the ground. End of rampage.

Odighizuwa's shooting spree was widely reported. It was also widely reported that he was subdued by Appalachian students. What went mostly unreported, however, was the fact that gun-toting students were responsible for Odighizuwa having a sudden change of attitude. John Lott, Jr., a well-published researcher and writer on gun issues, said that in a Lexis-Nexis search he found that only four of 208 stories mentioned that Bridges and Gross had guns. Other researchers had similar results. On the other hand, many of the stories did mention that Odighizuwa was distraught over failing grades and faced cultural differences. Psychoanalysis of the perpetrator was evidently more important than a clear narrative of events. Those interested in the former will have plenty of time to study Odighizuwa. To avoid the death penalty, he pleaded guilty to murder and is doing a life term in prison.

In Edinboro, Pennsylvania, 14-year-old Andrew Wurst came to a Parker Middle School graduation dance being held on the patio of a restaurant with a .25-caliber semiautomatic handgun. "We were all dancing and having a great time, and we heard a bang and everybody thought it was a balloon or firecracker," said a student. Science teacher John Gillette dropped to the ground dead with a bullet in his head. Wurst fired three more times, wounding another teacher and two students before the owner of the restaurant, James Strand, armed with a shotgun, put him to flight. Strand chased Wurst into a nearby field and convinced him to drop his gun and surrender. Wurst pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and was sentenced to 30-60 years in prison.

In 1997, 16-year-old Luke Woodham beat and stabbed to death his 50-year-old mother, then grabbed a .30-30 lever-action rifle and headed to his high school in Pearl, Mississippi. He shot to death his ex-girlfriend and a friend of hers and wounded seven other students. Upon hearing the first shots, Joel Myrick, the vice principal of Pearl High, ran to his pickup truck to get his .45. He had a concealed gun permit but was prohibited by law from carrying the gun onto school property. By the time Myrick caught up with Woodham, the student was hopping into his car with the intention of driving to nearby Pearl Junior High and continuing the shooting spree. Woodham started to pull away but suddenly saw Myrick aiming his gun. Unnerved, Woodham crashed the car. "Here was this monster killing kids in my school," said Myrick, "and the minute I put a gun to his head he was a kid again."

Woodham pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and went to trial. The jury rejected his defense and found him guilty of murder. Woodham was sentenced to life in prison. One would assume that Myrick was universally hailed as a hero. Not so. During the summer of 1999, he took graduate courses in education at Harvard University. "Once people found out my story," said Myrick, "I got a lot of dirty looks and strange stares. A few people confronted me." He was treated very differently by Soldier of Fortune magazine. At the urging of Wayne Laugesen, a Colorado journalist and friend of Bob Brown, the publisher of Soldier of Fortune, the magazine awarded Myrick its Humanitarian Award of 1999 during its annual convention in Las Vegas in October.

Gun-free Zones

If Tracy Bridges, Mikael Gross, and Joel Myrick had been carrying their guns, instead of having to sprint to their cars in distant parking lots, more students might be alive today. By contrast, restaurant owner James Strand's rapid response may have saved several lives. The attempt to make school campuses "gun-free zones" has clearly backfired. Nowhere is that more evident than at Virginia Tech. In 2006, state legislators in Virginia considered a bill that would have allowed students and professors with concealed-carry permits to bring their guns onto college campuses. When the bill died in committee, Virginia Tech associate vice president Larry Hincker declared, "I'm sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly's actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus." He later wrote in an editorial for the Roanoke Times, "Guns don't belong in classrooms. They never will. Virginia Tech has a very sound policy preventing same."

Cho Seung-Hui brought two guns onto the campus of Virginia Tech. He shot, reloaded, shot, walked from room to room, shot, reloaded. He was in no hurry. He had no expectation that a fellow student or a faculty member might shoot back. Virginia Tech is a gun-free zone. If only a Tracy Bridges had been there with his .357 magnum.

Entire towns have declared themselves gun-free zones. In 1981, Morton Grove, Illinois, adopted a handgun ban for everyone other than police officers. Since the ban went into effect crime has increased nearly 16 percent. In 1982, Kennesaw, Georgia, took an opposite tack and passed an ordinance requiring every head of household to own and maintain a gun. Kennesaw has seen its crime rate cut in half. There are many factors at work in both towns and there is room for debate, but if the results were reversed there would be hundreds of stories screaming for gun prohibition.

The illogic of the disarmament lobby has astounded me all my life. How does disarming peaceable, law-abiding citizens make us safer? Isn't just the opposite the case? For several decades now, I have said that every "gun control" law should be titled a "Criminal Empowerment Act." With such laws criminals instantly become the one-eyed man in the valley of the blind. How can anyone believe that someone who is willing to mug, murder, or rape will be bothered by a gun law? The very notion is farcical. The illogic must originate in some deep terror of violence and the belief that laws can provide perfect safety and security, as if evil can be legislated away. Reality demonstrates that it is all well and good that sheep pass laws requiring vegetarianism, but until the wolves circling the flock agree, those laws don't mean a thing.

There is another problem, with far more dire consequences, with the disarmament lobby's illogic. In many a debate, including with representatives of the ACLU, I've asked, "If, theoretically, all guns were confiscated from private citizens, criminal and law-abiding alike, who would be left with guns?" The answer, of course, is the police and the armed forces. Suddenly, the ACLU types, who are rightfully concerned about the dangers of the policing power of government and infringements on the 1st and 4th Amendments in particular, are willing to have the same people who are otherwise their enemies--the big, bad cops and the warmongering military--own all the firepower. It seems the greatest of ironies to me.


Again, all I can conclude is that such people are so consumed with fear for their physical safety that they psychologically require an omnipotent nanny state to comfort them. And therein lies the greatest danger of all. When the people are deprived of arms and governments turn criminal, then the death toll is not in the dozens but in the thousands or millions. Just ask the Irish and Highland Scots, the Armenians, the Ukrainians, the Jews, the Chinese, the Cambodians.

It seems inescapably logical to me that the most basic of human rights is the right to self-preservation, the right to self-defense. Except for a few pacifistic true believers, no one denies that we, as human beings, have such a right. It follows, then, and again the logic is inescapable, that we have the right to the means for that self-defense. Without such means the right of self-defense is meaningless.

The Founding Fathers understood this and they knew their history, not only what England had most recently done to Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland and had tried to do to America, but what tyrants had done in classical antiquity. When Tarquin, the Etruscan king of Rome, proclaimed that--for the public good, for safety and security--the Romans be disarmed, the Romans rose in rebellion, drove Tarquin from the city, and established the early Roman Republic. An armed populace is not to be trifled with.

British colonial officials and officers serving in America reported the difficulty of dealing with a people armed and free. Subduing American rebels would not be easy, they warned. John Howe, a spy for Gen. Thomas Gage, who was made governor and captain-general of Massachusetts after the British dissolved the colony's legislature in 1774, reported that the farmers outside of Boston were armed and ready to fight. He described as typical an old man who lived beside one of the roads leading from the backcountry into Boston. Howe found the old man sitting on his porch, cleaning a rifle. "I asked him," said Howe, "what he was going to kill, as he was so old, I should not think he could take sight at any game; he said there was a flock of redcoats at Boston, which he expected would be here soon; he meant to try and hit some of them, as he expected they would be very good marks. I asked the old man how he expected to fight; he said, 'Open field fighting, or any other way to kill them redcoats !'"

Logic and history convinced the Founding Fathers that an armed citizenry was essential for liberty. Not by accident, they recognized that right in the 2nd Amendment. Moreover, they recognized that the right was God-given and not dependent on a government or a constitution. That's why the amendment states that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The right was preexisting, an inherent right, not a derivative right granted by a body of lawgivers. As a country lawyer might say, those Founding Fathers were a pretty darn smart bunch. If only we'd keep that in mind.

Roger D. McGrath, Ph.D., the author of Gunfighters, Highwaymen, and Vigilantes, is a retired history professor.
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Author:McGrath, Roger D.
Publication:The New American
Article Type:Cover story
Date:May 28, 2007
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