The nation was once again confronted with the horror of a deadly school shooting on Thursday, this time a massacre at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. A gunman killed at least 10 people and wounded seven before police fatally shot him. It marked the 45th shooting on a school campus this year, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group pushing for legislative reforms to reduce gun violence. It was the 142nd shooting at a school since the December 2012 rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Those numbers alone may come as a surprise, because we typically don’t talk about school shootings unless they inflict a level of devastation that makes them impossible to ignore. Most people are familiar with Columbine and Sandy Hook. When we look at the bigger picture, however, those mass shootings are revealed as tragic outliers in the overall trend of gun violence that has infiltrated American schools.
On-campus shootings are themselves just a small part of U.S. gun violence. School shootings and even mass shootings — of which there have already been hundreds in 2015, according to some counts — are overshadowed, at least statistically, by the hail of bullets that rip through the nation each day, claiming an average of 36 lives.
These victims, more often than not, die without much public attention outside their communities. They are men and women like Annoqunette Starr, who was killed on Wednesday. People who knew her called her Ann. They say the 41-year-old was endlessly compassionate, and that her community in Louisville, Kentucky, adored her.
“We’ve known her for years, grew up together,” one of Starr’s friends told WHAS on Thursday. “She was a sweet person. She’d give you the shirt off her back if she had it. Food, if you need it, she was there. Ann was just Ann.”
Starr’s 10-year-old niece was in an apartment on Wednesday morning when her aunt’s boyfriend allegedly pulled a gun and started shooting. Police arrived a short time later to find Starr dead from multiple gunshot wounds. Starr’s niece was uninjured, and her boyfriend later surrendered. Starr would end up being one of at least 13 people killed by gunfire on Wednesday, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation that tracks U.S. shootings.
That toll makes Wednesday a relatively peaceful day in the U.S. An average of more than three times that many people have been killed by guns each day this year, which has seen more than 9,900 gun deaths so far. More than 20,000 people have been injured by guns in 2015.
Attention seems to gravitate toward high-profile instances of gun violence, whether they take place at a church, a political campaign event or a community college. And it’s not hard to see why.
School shootings serve as a flashpoint for otherwise uncomfortable conversations about gun violence. These episodes terrorize students everywhere, because they can happen anywhere. They terrify the parents and families, who entrust the safety of their children and loved ones to schools every day. They disgust anyone who believes that people should be able to obtain an education without fear of being gunned down in the process.
But when, or perhaps if, we decide to discuss how to address gun violence, we should keep people like Annoqunette Starr in mind, along with the victims at Umpqua Community College.