A school board resolution calling for tougher gun laws was sharply criticized Thursday, March 22, by a retired sheriff's major who accused Durham Public Schools leaders of "carrying water" for the Democratic Party.
Retired Durham County Sheriff's Office Major Lucy Zastrow, who in 1979 became Durham's first female deputy, said the school board's resolution and others like it, chip away at the Second Amendment, which grants citizens the right to keep and bear arms.
Specifically, the amendment reads "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."
"This resolution is clearly carrying a Democratic Party agenda," said Zastrow, a life member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and an unaffiliated voter. "Limiting my gun rights chips away at Constitutional rights. The Second Amendment is a right, it's not a privilege upon which infringement can take place."
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The school board's resolution calls on Congress and North Carolina lawmakers to pass laws that more "effectively regulate" access to firearms, funds research on firearms-related issues and advances mental health support. It also states the board's opposition to "dangerous legislation" that would allow teachers to be armed on school grounds or permit citizens to bring weapons on school grounds.
Zastrow, who retired 10 years ago, also challenged facts stated in the resolution. She said the statement that "hundreds of students and school employees have been lost to the plague of gun violence" is misleading.
"This is not true for in-school shootings, but your resolution doesn't say that," Zastrow said. "It just talks about them in general."
Zastrow took issue with students who staged walkouts across the Durham school district in recent weeks to show support for students in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were killed in a gun attack on Valentine's Day. She said in an interview that the walkouts were staged by adults who support a Democratic agenda.
"They're carrying water for Democrats," Zastrow said in an interview. "The kids didn't organize these walkouts. The teachers and the staff did. I wasn't telling them that the students couldn't have a voice, what I was telling them is it shouldn't have been done on school time. If it had been done after hours, a lot of the kids wouldn't have even come. They just wanted to get out of class. That's the bottom line."
The DPS resolution comes days before area students are scheduled to hold rallies over the weekend in support of stricter gun laws. And many students from around the nation are planning to travel to Washington, D.C., Saturday, March 24 for the national "March for Our Lives" rally to demand tougher gun laws in the United States.
A "UNC Rally for Our Lives" event planned for Thursday, March 29 at 5 p.m. at Polk Place, the main quad at UNC-Chapel Hill by students from UNC, Duke, N.C. State and Elon universities, will feature speakers from Parkland, including Robert Schentrup, the brother of victim Carmen Schentrup, and two juniors from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who survived the shooting. Sarah Chadwick and Jaclyn Corin have been active in the gun control movement pushed by the school's students, appearing on national television.
Undaunted by Zastrow's attack on the resolution, which lasted nearly 10 minutes because two supporters attending Thursday's school board meeting yielded their three-minutes granted for public comment to Zastrow, the school board unanimously approved the resolution, which school board member Minnie Forte-Brown said was vetted by the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA), a professional organization that represents local boards of education in North Carolina.
Forte-Brown is president of the NCSBA's Board of Directors. She said the organization has drafted a similar resolution.
"We're not against the NRA. We're not against people having guns. We're not against gun ownership. We're not against conceal and carry," Forte-Brown said. "The North Carolina School Boards Association has no policy on gun ownership, but it does have a policy about bringing guns on the campuses and I think that's where the rub is."
Forte-Brown said however citizens choose to protect their homes is their decision to make. But she said it's the job of educators to protect students while they attend school.
Other members of the board also voiced their support for the resolution, which based on one adopted by the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) earlier this year.
The also disputed Zastrow's claim that the board is supporting a Democratic agenda by adopting it.
"The only thing that saddens me is that we're at such odds that this would even be perceived, something that came from school psychologist who work with children everyday, as being partisan because it's not and we've lost common ground to talk about things," said school board member Natalie Beyer.
Beyer noted that the resolution acknowledges the Second Amendment in a paragraph that states that the school board "supports the U.S. Constitution and believes that effective laws and policies can reduce gun violence and fatalities without undermining the Second Amendment."
"I appreciate that it actually asserts Second Amendment rights in this resolution," Beyer said. "I was so moved by the powerful voices of our students who organized their own statements about their safety and their way to dream this conversation forward."
School board Chairman Mike Lee said he supported students' right to walk out in support of stricter gun laws, free of punishment.
He applauded Zastrow for her courage in taking a stance against the resolution, specifically because he believes the resolution is supported by a majority of residents in Durham, which he called a progressive town.
"That's a tough thing to do, because Durham is a progressive town," Lee said. "I do find it very interesting, the speaker's concern about infringing on Second Amendment rights but she complains about the First Amendment right of our students to walk out and protest."
He added: "I don't see this as a partisan issue. I don't see this as a grab for guns. This does not say anything about taking guns away from law-abiding citizens in their homes. It has nothing to do with that. I realize that's a popular talking point in a lot of circles and I realize the NRA would like to have all of our teachers armed because how many teachers do we have in America?"
Lee said the gun companies supported by the NRA would reap huge profits if America's teachers went to school armed.