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“I don’t think the proper way to fight violence is with violence,” she replied. “I think the proper way is to educate people on guns and the ways we can use them properly. We can lock them up, we can have gun safety classes, we can have a longer waiting period.”

Hagan defeated titleholders from all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Several of her competitors had grabbed headlines this year because of their backstories.

Miss District of Columbia plans to undergo a preventive double mastectomy to reduce her risk of breast cancer, which killed her mother and grandmother.

Miss Montana was the pageant’s first autistic contestant. Miss Iowa has Tourette’s syndrome. And Miss Maine lost more than 50 pounds before winning her state crown.

During the opening number at the Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip, when all the queens gave short quips about their states, Hagan referenced last year’s superstorm, saying, “Sandy may have swept away our shores but never our spirit.”

The contest, which started as little more than an Atlantic City bathing suit revue, broke viewership records in its heyday and bills itself as one of the world’s largest scholarships programs for women.

But like other pageants, the show has struggled to stay relevant as national attitudes regarding women’s rights have changed.

Hagan’s boyfriend Charmel Maynard said he thinks that pageants are dismissed by some, but he hopes Hagan’s willingness to take on the sexual abuse issue will lend legitimacy to her new role.

“I don’t think it’s taken seriously, but I think she’s going to be a great ambassador and it could change,” he said.

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Hannah Dreier can be reached at http://twitter.com/hannahdreier