Utopia is a quiet hamlet of some 200 souls, lost between hills and fields as far as the eye can see. A main road lined with a dozen stores, a few alleys and little more.
Its inhabitants are still trying to take the measure of the tragedy which struck three days earlier the Robb primary school in Uvalde, where a teenager of just 18 committed a massacre with a semi-automatic assault rifle.
“There’s no way to completely prevent these things from happening,” said Michael Derry, Utopia’s 2020 school district official.
“But I think it’s a huge deterrent to know that there are people here (at school) who are armed and ready to do anything to protect our children.”
This measure, implemented in dozens of Texas schools since its statewide approval in 2013, is again in the news in the United States, where there is debate once again about the best way to stop school shootings.
Teachers who wish to carry a weapon at Utopia must have a permit and apply to the school’s board of trustees, who decide after consulting the teacher’s background, says Michael Derry.
For him, this provision is also a way to compensate for the lack of police officers around this town in northeastern Uvalde County.
“We are very isolated. And sheriff’s services are very busy in the south of the county, where people cross the border (with Mexico, nldr). So it takes minimum 25 to 30 minutes for law enforcement to arrive, and it’s too late,” he said.
– Cut throat –
In a room with shelves filled with trophies won by the teams of this school, which welcomes pupils from kindergarten to high school, Bryson Dalrymple, in his fifties, has a tight throat when he talks about the killing of Uvalde, where he grew up.
“It’s upsetting and it scares me for the children”, says this science teacher who is also responsible for the security of the establishment.
According to him, in the event of an attack, the weapons carried by the teachers would “eliminate the problem before it gets worse”.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton rightly argued on Fox News on Tuesday that more schools should arm their employees.
“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” he said, saying arming teachers “to respond quickly” to an attack was “the best response.”
But according to a major teachers’ union, the National Education Association (NEA), “bringing more guns into schools makes them more dangerous and does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”
“Teachers should teach, not act as security guards,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement.
– “Until my last breath” –
In Utopia, Sugar Bennett initially opposed the decision of the school, where her son Jason is educated.
But this 46-year-old mother then changed her mind in the face of repeated shootings in the country. The measure makes her “feel safer”, she says.
His son also sees with a good eye the fact that some of his teachers are equipped with a weapon, especially since the massacre of Uvalde.
“They have enough experience with weapons to defend us if necessary.”
Science teacher Bryson Dalrymple promises: “The kids here are like my own children. If something like this happened, I would defend them until my last breath.”