Since 2005, 72 people on US soil have been killed in acts of terrorism – while a total of 301,797 have died as the result of guns (source:  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, gun-related deaths (including accidents but excluding incidents involving law enforcement) accounted for 1.3% of all fatalities in the US during 2013. Readers may be surprised to learn that the US is not the most violent nation on the planet when it comes to gun-related killings. That dubious honor goes to Honduras, with Brazil and South Africa not far behind. However, compared to Canada, Australia, South Korea, Japan and the EU, it is still appallingly high. The US is definitely at the top of the list when compared to similar advanced, industrialized nations.

This issue is once again being brought to the forefront in the wake of last week’s tragic mass shooting  at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon. And while countries like Australia have tightened up their gun ownership laws in response to such incidents, the US government has done absolutely nothing. Why is this?

Aside from lobbying efforts from the National Rifle Association and paranoia whipped up by the mainstream corporate media, there are numerous factors that come into play – not the least of which is sheer numbers. There are almost 90 guns for every 100 people in America – and most of this ownership is concentrated into the hands of a small minority, according to a survey from the Pew Research Center. There is also a demonstrated correlation between the number of firearms and the rate of gun-related deaths. Furthermore, studies clearly show that states with the most restrictive gun laws have the lowest number of fatalities due to firearms.

Ironically, the majority of US Americans believe that more restrictive gun laws are needed. Unfortunately, their elected (so-called) “representatives” in Congress are so beholden to the NRA that they refuse to listen. At the same time, increasing numbers of Americans say they support the 2nd Amendment “right to bear arms,” even though they have little understanding of what that actually means. It’s about a “well-regulated militia” that can be called upon in case of a national emergency – something that Thomas Jefferson favored over maintaining a standing army.

Part of it is ingrained in our national psyche as well. During white settlement of the frontier during the latter part of the 19th Century, law enforcement was an afterthought.  Semi-legendary “boomtown” communities like Deadwood and Tombstone sprang up, with virtually nothing in the way of government or law and order. In contrast, the British government in Canada established RCMP outposts well before allowing western settlement. Competition for resources and tensions left over from the recent Civil War created conditions in which violence was the accepted method of conflict resolution. After the official closing of the frontier in 1890, the entertainment sector – including dime novelists show people like “Buffalo Bill” and the nascent motion picture industry – romanticized the myth of the “Wild West” for decades.

Sadly, too many low-information Americans fail to discern the difference between history, legend and current reality. They forget that John Wayne was an actor, not the character he frequently portrayed on screen. Add to that lax gun laws that allow virtually anyone – including the mentally ill and unstable – to easily obtain firearms, and you have the recipe for more tragedies like the one in Roseburg.

Meanwhile, as people in other advanced nations look at the US with a mixture of pity and disgust, politicians like Donald Trump and Jeb Bush continue to advocate for more of the same, while lawmakers continue to kowtow to the NRA – and more innocent people are slaughtered. People should remember the words Albert Einstein: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

K.J. McElrath is a former history and social studies teacher who has long maintained a keen interest in legal and social issues. In addition to writing for The Ring of Fire, he is the author of two published novels: Tamanous Cooley, a darkly comic environmental twist on Dante's Inferno, and The Missionary's Wife, a story of the conflict between human nature and fundamentalist religious dogma. When not engaged in journalistic or literary pursuits, K.J. works as an entertainer and film composer.