Oakland has been anything but normal over the past year during the pandemic. But we are starting to see glimpses of normality. Little by little, the whole country is returning to “business as usual”, as they say. And the first real indication that normality is on the horizon for the US was a recent story out of Arkansas.

On the first day of in-person instruction at a junior high school in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, there was a school shooting. Tragically, a 15-year-old boy died.

When I saw this story, I realized it was the first time I had seen such a headline for an entire year. It is difficult to find any data on gun violence in the US since pro-life Republican legislators have courageously banned its collection per the dictates of their masters at the NRA.

The sparse data that I could find confirms my intuition. There were “only” around 10-15 school shootings in 2020. EducationWeek reports 10 while Wikipedia lists 8, though the two data sets are not mutually inclusive. It was quite shocking to learn, considering I do not remember hearing about any of them. By contrast, in 2019 there were about 5 times the number of school shootings, averaging at least 1 per week. CNN reports 45, Wikipedia lists 55, and EducationWeek reports 25. Again, the lists are not consistent. Yet NBC’s School Shooting Tracker reports very different numbers — 1 in 2020 and 5 in 2019. Shockingly, still a 5x difference year-over-year. EducationWeek points out:

The COVID-19 pandemic appears to have interrupted the trend line. That fall off in numbers is probably due to the shift to remote learning for nearly all schools for part or all of 2020.

The discrepancy in data is due to two main factors: the heroic prohibition of a centralized national database which makes it difficult to accurately track every incident, and the fact that each organization tracking data on its own uses a different definition of “school shooting” — both of which, yes, are fucking ridiculous. So we are left to pick up the pieces to understand the full picture. The lists on Wikipedia seem to be the most broad, essentially indicating that “someone brought a gun to a school with malicious intent and attempted to use it” or “a firearm was discharged inside a school for any reason”. We can argue about what qualifies, but in my opinion, there should be exactly zero guns being discharged in any school.

So here we are, one month away from the 22-year anniversary of Columbine. Closing schools because of the pandemic likely saved dozens of children’s lives, and avoided traumatizing hundreds of others — not because they avoided exposure to a deadly virus, but because they avoided the threat of indiscriminate gun violence. Nothing is more American than murdering school children in their own school and pretending like there is simply nothing we can do about it.

As schools across the country begin to fully re-open in the coming months, I wonder how many more Sandy Hooks and Parklands we will have in 2021. Like everyone else in this country, I am looking forward to the “normal” America coming back, the America where kids are killed in schools not from a virus, but from effortlessly acquired assault weapons. When regular school shooting trends return, we will know we have fully recovered from this life-threatening disease.