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

Article excerpt

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! …