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A principal and his gun

by Wayne Laugesen

[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 week."

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 show up.

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.

True humanitarian

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 blood.

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 me."

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 grandstanding.

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 live."

"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 extinguisher.

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 save lives.

Wayne Laugesen can be reached at or 303-499-4187. He publishes Wayne's Word on Drop by and check him out.


Printer Version

That the said Constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to infringe the just liberty of the press or the rights of conscience; or to prevent the people of The United States who are peaceable citizens from keeping their own arms... Samuel Adams, Debates and Proceedings in the Convention of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, at 86-87 (Pierce & Hale, eds., Boston, 1850).

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