In a small Texas town called Utopia, a sign at the entrance to its only school warns that staff members are carrying guns – a measure designed to prevent shootings like the one that killed 19 children and two teachers on the street. road to Uvalde.
Utopia is a dot on the map in the giant Lone Star state, a hamlet of 200 people nestled among hills and fields. It’s only a few blocks, its main street full of shops and not much else.
Like people elsewhere in Texas, the United States in general and even the world, its citizens are still trying to digest what happened 50 km away on Tuesday when a teenager shot Robb Elementary School in Uvalde before to be killed by the police.
It was the latest in a particularly bad string of mass shootings across the United States and the deadliest US school massacre in a decade.
“There’s no 100% way to prevent this stuff from happening,” said Michael Derry, who has led the Utopia School District since 2020.
The only school in town welcomes children ranging from preschool to high school.
“But I think it’s a huge deterrent when you know there are people here who are armed and we will do whatever is necessary to protect our children,” he said.
Texas, where the affinity for guns runs deep, began allowing teachers and school staff to carry guns in 2013, and dozens of schools have adopted the policy.
This defensive measure is once again part of a frenzied national debate over how to stop the unthinkable – children gunned down in their classrooms.
At Utopia, teachers or other staff who wish to carry firearms on the job must apply for and hold a firearms license. The school board then conducts a background check before deciding, Derry said.
He said the policy is also a way to compensate for the lack of law enforcement personnel in the region.
“We’re very isolated in the northeast corner of the county. And now the sheriff’s department is very connected in the southern part of the county, with people crossing the border” from Mexico, Derry said.
“So we need at least 25 or 30 minutes to be able to get law enforcement here. It’s too late,” he added.
In a classroom with a display case showing school sports trophies, science teacher Bryson Dalrymple, cries thinking about the shooting in Uvalde, where he grew up.
“It’s heartbreaking and scares me for the kids,” said Mr Dalrymple, who is also the school’s chief security officer.
He said having armed teachers is a way “to eliminate the problem before it gets worse”.
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton went on Fox News on Tuesday after the Uvalde massacre and said more schools should arm their staff.
“We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” he said, echoing the pro-gun rights argument that thugs are to blame for mass shootings, rather than how easy it is to buy a gun in the United States.
“We can potentially arm, prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly. That, in my view, is the best response,” Paxton said.
The National Education Association rejects this idea.
“Bringing more guns to schools makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement this week.
“We need fewer guns in schools, not more. Teachers should teach, not act like armed security guards,” she added.
Sugar Bennett, whose son Jason attends Utopia Elementary School, said she initially opposed his policy of arming teachers but changed her mind when she saw mass shootings after mass shootings in the United States.
“It makes me feel safer,” said Ms Bennett, sitting at Lost Maples, one of Utopia’s few restaurants.
Sitting across from her, Jason said he supports teachers carrying guns, especially after the Uvalde tragedy.
“They have enough experience with weapons to be able to protect us,” he said.
A few blocks from the restaurant, back in the classroom filled with sports trophies, Mr Dalrymple said he would do anything to protect his students.
“The children here are like mine. And if ever something bad happened like that, I would give my last breath to defend these children,” he said.