I am currently an elected school-board trustee of the tenth largest school district in California. I have served as trustee since December of 2006, and I am currently clerk of the board and have previously served as president and vice president. Our governing board has responsibility for more than 51,000 students and 3,900 employees on 55 campuses in seven cities
On Dec. 14, 2012, a mentally-disturbed young man in Newtown, Connecticut, murdered his mother and removed her weapons from their home. He then went to Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeded on his evil course: He pulled the trigger time after time, slaughtering 20 first graders and six adults. As the mother of two daughters (one of whom has been a schoolteacher in three states) and grandmother of five grandchildren, I know and share the strength of the love we have for our children and how highly we regard our teachers.
This was one of the greatest tragedies in an elementary school in American history. But there have been other large-scale school massacres. In 1958, a student set a Catholic school in Chicago on fire, killing 92 fellow students and three nuns. In 1927, a school board treasurer beat his his wife to death then exploded bombs in the school in Bath, Mich., killing 38 elementary-school students and six adults, before he himself committed suicide. He had been planning the attack for at least a year.
Americans have seen terrorists hijack airplanes to hold planes and passengers for ransom. We have seen, on Sept. 11, 2001, hijacked airplanes turned into guided missiles aimed at our office buildings. To guard against this, we now have armed federal marshals and armed pilots on various passenger flights. My son-in-law is a pilot for a major passenger airline and is federally authorized to be armed in the plane’s cockpit.
But most of our public schools are gun-free zones, and people who would do evil are aware of this. Why should evildoers have a sense of comfort and unchecked power when they go on a school campus?
Wouldn’t it be better if they were wondering: Is there someone here who might stop me in my tracks before I can carry out my self-glorifying destruction?
It is a shame that we live in a time when such puffed-up viciousness is in the news. Self-absorbed people filled with spite and malevolence sometimes start attacking other people. Such twisted massacres are unpredictable and not easy to fathom. But we can learn about such self-glorifying destruction from Milton on the rebellion in Heaven and in the novels of Dostoevsky.
Strong local communities and strong families can help parents bring up decent children. We need social respect for authority based on wisdom, experience, and expertise. We need a society that upholds self-help, self-discipline, and the work ethic and does not celebrate antisocial deeds and the violent enemies of normal life. We need widespread recognition of the values taught by religion and ethical philosophy.
But even in a strong, healthy society, evil will sometimes rear its head. Sometimes evil people will obtain weapons – as in this case, when a young man killed his own mother and stole her legal weapons.
Sadly, I am only too aware of threats to children in schools. In our school district, we have sheriff’s deputies who carry weapons at various schools. Our superintendent and security administrator are reviewing our options for the future. Just after New Year’s, I was at a firing range in Orange County. One-fifth of the newly interested women who were there for instruction were teachers. At the same time, I have received communications from some constituents – teachers and parents – who are concerned about an expansion of the carrying of arms on campuses. My constituents deserve to have a careful consideration of all options in these difficult times.
I am a strong believer in the Second Amendment. The war for American independence began when “embattled farmers” fired shots “heard round the world.” The British colonial rulers tried to confiscate the guns of people living in and around Boston. George Washington and the American Revolutionary army were familiar with firearms and owned guns. Our constitutional Republic came after the war was won by an experienced armed citizenry. The Founders knew that we as individuals have the right to protect ourselves with appropriate tools for the job.
At the same time, I am an elected leader of a _local_ school district. We have 15 thousand school districts in the United States. Families often can move from one district to another district they like better. By doing different things in different districts, political leaders are able to try out new policies and match policies to the preferences of voters. But a uniform solution imposed on every school in the country would get rid of the advantages and dynamism of competitive federalism. Some people have advocated a one-size-fits-all policy of disarmament or a one-size-fits-all policy of armed guards (or armed teachers or parents) in every school. Such uniformity is wrongheaded and unwise. It makes more sense to change federal and state policies to allow local districts the latitude to apply a variety of local solutions.
We must recognize that though we strive to raise decent children in our families and neighborhoods, some few will still go astray. We must protect innocent people as best we can against renegades and marauders. We must preserve our rights and try local solutions, not sweeping utopian schemes. Only in this way will we preserve the families and friends that we love and the liberties we cherish.
Anna Bryson lives in Laguna Niguel, California, and is an elected trustee of the Capistrano Unified School District in south Orange County. The views expressed here are her own and do not represent official views of the school district.