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When Heroes are Outlawed: How Joel Myrick Saved Lives by Breaking the Law

Opinion Editorial
October 13, 1999

By Ari Armstrong

Joel Myrick is a hero. In 1997 this Mississippi high school principal prevented a psychotic teenager from killing students at Pearl Junior High, potentially saving numerous lives and immeasurable grief.

But according to Federal law, Principal Joel Myrick is a criminal.

You see, in order to stop the deranged teen (who had opened fire at a high school) from leaving the high school to continue his killing spree at the junior high, Myrick retrieved a handgun from his truck, loaded it, and held it on the youth until authorities could arrive. “I’ve always kept a gun in the truck just in case something like this ever happened,” Myrick said.

Myrick clearly saved lives. He also clearly violated the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act (18 US Code sect. 922(q)(1)(A)), which specifies, “It shall be unlawful for any individual knowingly to possess a firearm… at a place that the individual knows… is a school zone.”

Of course, the Federal law doesn’t seem to have held much sway over criminals. Perhaps Luke Woodham, the murderer in Mississippi, and Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine murderers, simply forgot to review the relevant Federal statutes before they went on their killing sprees.

Many lawmakers suffer from what Nobel Economist Friedrich Hayek called a “fatal conceit.” (In this case, the “fatal conceit” is not metaphoric, but is literally fatal to schoolchildren.) These law-makers believe they can alter the world merely by their God-like pronouncements. However, these legislators fail to realize that their social-control laws won’t stop criminals but will only lead to unintended bad consequences, such as preventing law-abiding citizens from defending themselves and the children under their care.

Fortunately, even though Federal law brands Joel Myrick a criminal, some have recognized his courage and bravery. The Boulder-based Soldier of Fortune magazine presented Myrick with its annual Humanitarian Award this past September.

As Joel Myrick proved, responsible armed adults on school property can save lives. If Luke Woodham had expected to face several armed adults, he may never have even tried to attack the high school in the first place.

Similarly, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold knew beforehand that they would face a maximum of one armed guard at Columbine. (That guard fired a few frantic, un-aimed shots before he ran.) These killers also knew it would take the police minutes if not tens of minutes to arrive at the scene. At Columbine, the SWAT teams never got near Harris and Klebold until long after the two had committed suicide.

Perhaps Cesare Beccaria, the father of modern criminology often quoted by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, said it best: “An unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.”

If school officials want to do more than impose meaningless restrictions on honest students (like metal detectors and dress codes), they will seriously consider training some teachers to use firearms safely and effectively. Even under the Gun Free School Zone Act, school officials can organize a formal “program approved by a school” (18 USC 922(q)(1)(B)(iv)) in which teachers could carry pistols lawfully.

In Colorado, teachers can also apply to their local sheriff for a concealed carry permit, and state legislators may eventually pass a state-wide concealed carry law. (However, in previous efforts the legislature has threatened to forbid concealed carry in schools, which again would maintain “criminal safety zones” there.)

In Israel, schools suffered horrible terrorist acts until teachers and parents armed themselves. School terrorism in Israel then stopped immediately. Israel also teaches its youth to handle firearms and defend against violent attacks. In America, the school officials have done instead left students helpless, while concentrating on further violating the privacy of their students.

By and large, American schools are “gun free.” That’s why criminals are free to murder students there without fear of facing opposition. The noble actions of Joel Myrick prove that “gun free school zones” are exactly what we don’t need, if our concern is the safety of our children rather than political correctness.

Ari Armstrong is a Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute, a free-market think tank in Golden, Colorado, https://i2i.org. He is also the Editor of Colorado Freedom Report an electronic magazine, http://www.co-freedom.com/

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