July 27th, 2012
04:33 PM ET

Time to face facts on gun control

By Fareed Zakaria

It has now been just over a week since a lone gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. The airwaves have been dominated by soul searching.

Most of the pundits have concluded that the main cause of this calamity is the dark, strange behavior of the gunman. Talking about anything else, they say, is silly. The New York Times’ usually extremely wise columnist, David Brooks, explains that this is a problem of psychology, not sociology.

At one level, this makes sense, of course, as the proximate cause. But really, it’s questionable analysis. Think about this: are there more lonely people in America compared with other countries? Are there, say, fewer depressed people in Asia and Europe? So why do they all have so much less gun violence than we do?

The United States stands out from the rest of the world not because it has more nutcases – I think we can assume that those people are sprinkled throughout every society equally –but because it has more guns.

Look at the map below. It shows the average number of firearms per 100 people. Most of the world is shaded light green – those are the countries where there are between zero and 10 guns per 100 citizens. In dark brown, you have the countries with more than 70 guns per 100 people. The U.S. is the only country in that category. In fact, the last global Small Arms Survey showed there are 88 guns for every 100 Americans. Yemen is second at 54. Serbia and Iraq are among the other countries in the top 10.

We have 5 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the guns.

But the sheer number of guns isn’t an isolated statistic. The data shows we compare badly on fatalities, too.  The U.S has three gun homicides per 100,000 people. That’s four times as many as Switzerland, ten times as many as India, 20 times as many as Australia and England.

Whatever you think of gun rights and gun control, the numbers don’t flatter America.

I saw an interesting graph in The Atlantic magazine recently. A spectrum shows the number of gun-related deaths by state. Now if you add one more piece of data – gun control restrictions – you see that the states with at least one firearm law (such as an assault weapons ban or trigger locks) tend to be the states with fewer gun-related deaths.

Conclusion? Well, there are lots of factors involved, but there is at least a correlation between tighter laws and fewer gun-related deaths.

I've shown you data comparing countries, and comparing states. Now consider the U.S. over time. Americans tend to think the U.S. is getting more violent. In a recent Gallup survey, 68 percent said there’s more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago. Well, here’s what I found surprising: the U.S. is actually getting safer. In the decade since the year 2000, violent crime rates fell by 20 percent; aggravated assault by 22 percent; motor vehicle theft by 42 percent; murder – by all weapons – by 13 percent.

But guns are the exception. Gun homicide rates haven’t improved at all. They were at roughly the same levels in 2009 as they were in 2000. Meanwhile, serious but non-fatal gun injuries caused during assault have actually increased in the last decade by 20 percent, as guns laws have gotten looser and getting automatic weapons has become easier.

We are the world’s most heavily-armed civilian population. One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not to his or her own facts. Saying that this is all a matter of psychology is a recipe for doing nothing. We cannot change the tortured psychology of madmen like James Holmes. What we can do is change our gun laws.

Should U.S. gun laws be tougher? What would you change?


soundoff (2,981 Responses)
  1. HarleyLoverMO

    I don't know about all of the statistics you all are spewing but I've got one I'd like to see if you might now the answer to. How many US citizens who own there guns legally do you see just giving those guns up? I've gotta a lot of friends who believe the second amendment was written for just this type of discussion. When the government tries to take away the guns that my friends own they will have a fight on there hands, I can assure you of that.
    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.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
    • jlacke

      They can take our guns when they pry them from our cold, dead fingers.

      July 28, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Reply
  2. greg

    "I saw an interesting graph in The Atlantic magazine recently. A spectrum shows the number of gun-related deaths by state. Now if you add one more piece of data – gun control restrictions – you see that the states with at least one firearm law (such as an assault weapons ban or trigger locks) tend to be the states with fewer gun-related deaths."

    Presence of laws don't make a case for cause and effect. Look at chicago, washington dc, oakland, any most other major cities. They all have the most laws regarding firearm owneship and they also have the highest crime rates.

    July 28, 2012 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  3. Mike S.

    Interchanging "Automatic" for "Semi-Automatic" seems as common as using "Immigrant" for "Illegal-Immigrant". The terms are not the same and will change the meaning of the statements in which they appear if used incorrectly.

    July 28, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  4. dljr

    Mr Fareed, quit comparing the USA to the rest of the world. Sure, we have issues that need addressing. But our success, thus far, comes from the USA NOT being like the rest of the world. We have more freedoms than most countries. But people like you want us to be socialists like much of the world. Innovation rarely thrives under socialist regimes. Please go home. Or, if you gave up your citizen ship to become an AMERICAN. IF you desire to continue to enjoy your American citizenship, then embrace WHO we are and quit trying to make us into the country you left behind.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      You're probably big and fat.

      July 28, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  5. hilo, HI

    PROPAGANDA!!

    Right, Zakaria, you cannot have your own facts, but you can pick and choose which facts you put forth and which you omit.
    Facts such as, Most gun murders are by handguns, not assault rifles, in the hands of UNLAWFUL owners.

    Can't have it BOTH ways, NO US-MX Border to speak of AND a ban on ANYTHING!! lol

    July 28, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  6. Christoph

    Come on Fareed, you know as well as anyone our gun violence rates are so high because of cities are filled with gang bangers who think every time they pull a trigger their penis grows an inch.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  7. Tom

    The unfortunate reality is that gun control won't do any good. There are too many other methods of killing. From knives & clubs one on one to arson & explosives for mass murder. There are many, in fact MOST of us capable of killing with our bare hands. Most just don't know they have the capability. There are at the MINIMUM tens of millions of unregistered guns on the street. Most people ARE NOT going to give them up. Criminals surely won't. IEDs are simple & cheap and MUCH more dangerous than guns. Be careful of the law of unintended consequences.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      How come countries with gun control don't have as much gun violence or as many homicides?

      July 28, 2012 at 10:50 pm | Reply
      • grant hemenway

        Cause they banned guns from the start.. + we are a country bent on freedom. We are casing our tail to the death.. And I am armed only to avoid that death.

        July 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm |
  8. Redstates

    wii republickins dun sowt don lyk u demokrates triin 2 tayk awhey r gunz. wii lyk r gunz fer pertekshun. wii republikins dun wunt r taxiz razed neder fer skools. wii kin bii hom skoold lyk mii. ger republikins!!!!!!!!!!

    July 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      I home-schooled your two moms!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
  9. Jeff

    This article is absolutely right. There are too many gun nuts in America. They should all go start their own country and leave the rest of us – and the rest of the world – in peace. Yes, crime will still exist whether guns or around are not, but with guns, it's much easier and convenient to kill someone. The shooter wouldn't have been able to set up his booby traps in a crowded and watched theater.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Reply
    • Ed

      You lead the parade, Jeff.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
      • grant hemenway

        It's be a short parade..

        July 28, 2012 at 11:28 pm |
    • JYTex

      Is this guy for real? C'mon Fareed, quit pretending your name is Jeff.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  10. Jeff

    Gun owners are dumb. The debate is not that if we had more gun laws that all gun violence would go away. Of course there would still be gun violence! But, there would be much less violence than there is now with stricter laws and with harder to find and obtain weapons. Anything can be gotten illegally. Just because drugs are illegal doesn't mean we don't have people with drug problems, but it would be a much bigger issue if there were no laws against drugs.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply
    • Ed

      Does your Mother know you are using her computer? Childish posts son.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • grant hemenway

      We don't get how gun owners are dumb though, Jeff. Is the theater in Aurora dumb because they prohibit law abiding citizens from carrying their gun in there?? YEP. What good are guns everywhere if you cant have them in society? Somethings dumb, Jeff.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  11. Ed

    Zakaria speaks a lot about a subject he knows very little about. This "article" is a waste of band width.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  12. grant hemenway

    Too late to control guns laws if you just said America has 50% of the worlds guns. -You just said it.. Plus, let's say you require heart meds and they are on the 2nd fl. of your house, you are in the bsmt. one day and fall to your knees in heart pain. It's no good on the 2nd fl.. Same with guns- we have guns, but the Aurora theater prohibits law abiding people from bringing them in. And we see how the shooter walked right around that. I would sue the theaters ass off if my ked died when I wasn't allowed to protect myself- we need more good guys with guns. Are you one of them?

    July 28, 2012 at 11:20 pm | Reply
    • Ed

      Grant, we are on the same page.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  13. Hans Dorfwald

    STOP using Switzerland in your pro gun arguments, you are making yourself look ignorant.

    Guns in Switzerland are a very diffrent story. Private ownership and collecting is regulated with private ownership of military weapons being prohibited by law. The military weapons in our homes are not ours they are the militaries and there are rules, restrictions and penalties for using them without proper authority. Many Swiss chose to hand them in after their service as they do not want an assault rifle or hand gun in their home. These weapons are for military use not for private paranoid protection.

    We are a very content society, we are not lonley, disenfranchized, and angry with the world. That is why we do not have as many gun crimes. It is not because of our arms.

    By the way we do have a small standing army, who do you think flys our F18 and trains our militia.

    And the assault gun / semi auto argument is a misnomer as the patterns of the weapons are similar, they have similar roles and in many ways semi auto military rifles are just as dangerous as each shot is aimed while the shooter fires where a fully automatic has vibrations and is harder to aim. Fully automatic are tipically for suppression keeping heads down where as semi auto is for targets. Having shot many a machine gun I know this.

    As far as I am concerned military patterned auto or semi auto weapons should be for trained personel only. That also makes it harded for criminals to acquire these weapons. But for this to work you need a content population.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  14. MC in TX

    I personally hate guns and the very sight of them scares me. But I firmly believe the right to bear arms was a very hard-fought right and the reasons for having this right are as valid as they ever were. I think that we are too quick to believe that our country is incapable of the problems we have seen elsewhere in the world and that tyranny is something we will never have to face. We are also too quick to believe that gun control will ultimately stop mass murder. Recall that Timothy McVeigh used fertilizer. Are we going to outlaw fertilizer too?

    Gun control needs to happen and happen soon. But it needs to happen in a way that does not make the government the only body that has access to weapons. Particularly at a time when our government is becoming so influenced by special interests that is a scary thought.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:31 pm | Reply
  15. Keith B. Rosenberg

    One thought I keep having is that if we make it illegal for civilians to own guns then the police will not need guns either and they will not be outgunned since no civilian will have them. If that is wrong, and it probably is, the police will still have to carry guns, And then only two classes of people will have guns and be shooting at each other. The government and criminals, neither of which we Americans trust enough to allow them the sole right to bear arms.

    It is likely that a total ban on guns would not stop massacres since there are so many other things that could be used. Ground vehicles, airplanes, flammable liquids, chemicals, improvised explosives, kitchen knives... you name it.

    In any event guns are a symptom and not the disease.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:32 pm | Reply
  16. Seal killer

    America is a free country. Simple statement, very complex concept. For example, an American life is incredibly precious, but it is not as precious as American freedom; freedom established in the blood of our forefathers and often refreshed by those called to protect the freedom only Americans possess. Sacrificing a piece of that freedom–no matter how small or large–can never be acceptable to the sons and daughters of those American patriots: And all American citizens, whether related to those who fought and lived or those who fought and diaren't not, are direct descendants of each and every one that served or shed a drop of blood. Freedom is not ours to give away; it is ours to defend in every way we can. Some find it hard to think of any relation to people dead for well over two centuries, or almost a century or 51 years ago or even a few decades ago. If you are such a person, then just look around you and you will see defenders of your freedom all around. Maybe they are your brother or sister or mom or dad or your son or daughter. The blood shed by the founders lies on the ground upon which they were born. Sacrificing any freedom is like diluting that blood with urine. Guns in the hands of citizens bought American freedom. Guns in the hands of American citizens protect American freedom today. The price of freedom? No price is too great to pay.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Reply
    • David

      Your argument is weak since there are limits. We can likely agree that civilians should not have nuclear weapons. We then go back and see where we diverge. Grenades, bazookas, tanks, machine guns, napalm. Freedom also require others to have limits imposed . Pretty sure you would not be okay if you neighbor felt they had the freedom to launch rockets at your house.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:15 am | Reply
      • Seal killer

        David, agreeing with you is not necessary since the arms you mentioned are accepted by our society to be illegal in the first place. Thank you for thinking about this, however. By thinking about it, writing about it here on CNN and continuing to discuss it, you are doing more to promote your considered opinions than most Americans. Engagement in the arena of words directly leads to the battle of thoughts so necessary to promote a dynamic society. Cooperating, battling, and entwining thoughts command lives of their own often making servants of their former masters while searching for a forum to be expressed, a square on which to be heard, indeed; a life of their own such as that in 1776.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:55 am |
      • sirleo

        David,I havn't seen napalm in the hardware store or on surplus ledgers, but i've an effective recipe should I need it.

        July 29, 2012 at 7:16 am |
  17. Mike Denver

    Well being that we have that many guns and far fewer deaths than Yemen, Serbia or Iraq the next countries with the most guns, I'd say we are doing pretty well.

    Comparing the gun deaths in the US to England where citizens can't own guns is assinine and irresponsible at best.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  18. Joe

    This guy is an idiot. Switzerland is the most heaviest armed civilian nation in the world. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_politics_in_Switzerland They don't have a standing army, so every male from 18 -50 has a fully automatic weapon at home. Wow, liberals are idiots....less than 9,000 people die from guns in the us, to include criminals shot by cops, yet we make it out to be such a huge issue. Just like a liberal to emotionalize an issue. Lets forget the facts and scare everyone. I don't feel comfortable around guns, so no one should have them!

    July 28, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
    • David

      The Swiss have guns but no ammunition. Unlike you I am only going to say you are an idiot for this comment though from others the entire NRA culture is clearly idiotic in fighting for unlimited guns sales. 9000 is okay to you? Would 100K be okay to or do you have some limit on murder you find unacceptable? If you don't find mass shootings an emotional issue that is a problem you really need a lot of help.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:12 am | Reply
      • Joe

        Your right that 9,000 isn't acceptable, but statistically it is nothing. 200,000 die from doctor Malpractice, so you are way more likely to die from a doctor's mistake than a mass shooting. Around 15,000 people die from drunk driving a year, so lets make alcohol illegal, or better yet ban cars. One of my teacher brought up a good point many years ago, we as a society waste money on the exotic. His examples was all the money rushing into the fight against flesh eating bacteria, which kills around 10 people a year, but in a news worthy way. So millions of dollars spent to save a few, vice that money going to more common cancer research. Another is the drive to put seat belts in school bus after a child dies. One average, a child dies in a school bus crash every other year. It would cost estimated billion dollars to install seat belts in all school bus, so one billion dollars to save .5 lives a year. Yes, sounds cold, but we can't spend money or effort on everything. The real problem is the lack of MORALS in this nation. That I blame on liberals too.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:00 am |
      • Jeff

        Your right that 9,000 isn't acceptable, but statistically it is nothing. 200,000 die from doctor Malpractice, so you are way more likely to die from a doctor's mistake than a mass shooting. Around 15,000 people die from drunk driving a year, so lets make alcohol illegal, or better yet ban cars. One of my teacher brought up a good point many years ago, we as a society waste money on the exotic. His examples was all the money rushing into the fight against flesh eating bacteria, which kills around 10 people a year, but in a news worthy way. So millions of dollars spent to save a few, vice that money going to more common cancer research. Another is the drive to put seat belts in school bus after a child dies. One average, a child dies in a school bus crash every other year. It would cost estimated billion dollars to install seat belts in all school bus, so one billion dollars to save .5 lives a year. Yes, sounds cold, but we can't spend money or effort on everything. The real problem is the lack of MORALS in this nation. That I blame on liberals too.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:01 am |
    • Hans Dorfwald

      Are you referring to me? Me an idiot? Don't think so.

      I am Swiss, I never said people should not have guns, I am saying that there is much ignorance towards your opinons of my country. That you are so self involved with your own rights that you fail to read and educate yourself on other countries. Because I don't suscribe to your beliefs you are choosing to only see what you want to see.

      Most Swiss are more trained and have more respect for weapons than people like you. We don't take our arms for granted. We also respect are fellow man more than you. We don't feel the need to carry concealed weapons.

      I however will not call you an idiot.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:12 am | Reply
      • Hans Dorfwald

        We do have a standing army it is small, and not all Swiss have an automatic rifle.... That is a lie. My brother is a driver and he has a pistol, my cousin is a band member and he has a trumpet. No gun at all. My freind chose not to join, he had to join the civil service. He has no gun.

        Not everything you read online is true.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:17 am |
      • Hans Dorfwald

        We dohave ammo in our homes but it is sealed until we are ordered to open it. There can be penalties if you do. I am also not a so called liberal as you call me. Just because I call for responsibility and maturity along with stricter rules does not mean I'm a socialist.

        You need to educate yourself more. Pointing your finger at liberals as a defence to your argument is poor.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:24 am |
  19. David

    Automatics are easy to get, period. Buy a semi and convert it. The garbage about needing a skilled gunsmith is just lies. You can also buy 100 round clips. Argue that civilians should have unlimited ability to buy guns if you want but don't lie that they are hard to get. As for gun laws they don't apply to straw purchasers once they buy the gun since they can sell to whoever they want without any checks. The stats are clear, the US has more guns and more gun crimes than the west of the world including countries at work. Taking all guns away would put law abiding people at risk but putting some limits on clips and weapons only makes sense to those that use their brains.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:07 am | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      Go choke on a pork sandwich, you no-English speaking buffoon!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
    • Ken Biloxi

      Yes you don't have to be a gunsmith to convert a semi to fully automatic. It isn't as easy as you let on but the point is doing that makes you a criminal if you don't register it like any other fully automatic weapon.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • JYTex

      Wait...I thought Fareed was calling himself "Jeff"...now it's David? How many people is Fareed supposed to be?

      July 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  20. Joe Cholewinski

    The United States has 5% percent of the population, and 50% of the guns! But the United States has none of the wide spread famine where despot dictators starve their populaces, or genocide caused by tribal wars, or people dragged out in the middle of the night, from their homes never to be heard from again. The list goes on and on! We are fortunate to have an armed society, much to the chagrin of the liberal left.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:19 am | Reply
  21. DuluthMN

    This pleasant chat ought to be about behavior control because that's where the problem lies. If those who commit violence didn't have guns they'd use something else. Like usual whenever violence gets public notice the call goes out to take guns away from law abiding citizens while leaving them in the hands of bad guys.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:29 am | Reply
  22. Ryan

    1. Automatice weapons are already tracked and difficult to get. 2) None were used in the Theater shooting. 3) For the love of God, stop claiming that the M&P 15 could shoot 100 rounds per minute. The capacity of the magazine doesn't equal the rate at which that weapon can fire (without jamming). 4) Should we have access to higher capacity magazines like the drum magazine used? I don't think it is necessary. 5) Gun control should be about allowing all non-fellon citizens access to a firearm if they choose anywhere in the country.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply
    • Ryan

      *automatic

      July 29, 2012 at 12:34 am | Reply
  23. dcpintx

    Sorry Fareed – Stick to what you know best – and I haven't figured out what that is. With you, it appears that you think you know what is best for everyone – sounds a lot like Obama. I do and have owned guns for most of my 65 years and have never shot anyone except in combat – and that is because I was given orders to defend my country. You Liberals are so interesting in changing laws, but not very interested in having people become accountable and responsible for their actions. A good example is how they are keeping a mass murderer alive that murdered many more people in Killeen, TX than Homes did in Colorado – OH – But he's a Muslim and we certainly don't want to upset the Muslims of the world. Personally, trying Hasaad and Holmes is a waste of taxpayer money – line em up, shoot em – or execute them quickly regardless of how. Their is no "reasonable doubt" about either's guilt – but why Liberals will murder babies – they will fight like hell to keep people like this alive – and then scream about gun control. The way you control guns in the hands of evil people is to eliminate these evil people when they commit crimes like this – simple solution so they don't do it again.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply
  24. noillusion

    The American male ego is stunningly embarrassing.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:35 am | Reply
    • john

      LOL. My girlfriend had 3 guns to my one.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:45 am | Reply
  25. Beefburger

    To the author: Go fuq urself in the ear.

    Do you understand why criminals are criminals? Because they do not follow laws. They do not respect laws. They break laws. How many ways does this need to be said?

    There is a trite expression which is nonetheless true; when guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:36 am | Reply
  26. alan brown

    Fareed, go back to India if you don't like americas gun laws ! keep your hands off of the 2nd amendment and keep your hands off americans' guns !!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:39 am | Reply
    • john

      Sadly, immigrants like Fareed want to make the US into another India. And we all know that India is a portrait of justice and opportunity. Right, Fareed?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:44 am | Reply
  27. Chris

    Wow, I don't always agree with Zakaria, but he usually makes thoughtful arguments. This was just silly. His argument is not one for more gun control, it's an argument for an impossibility – rolling back time and preventing the current saturation of firearms. He makes the completely fallacious assumption that further restricting law abiding citizens from purchasing firearms will have the slightest impact on anything other than the number of law abiding people with firearms. It won't keep firearms out of the hands of criminals. Studies have proven that if all firearms manufacture stopped tomorrow, there are more than enough guns out there right now to satisfy all possible nefarious purposes for well over 200 years. Pass laws that take guns away from law abiding citizens – do you really expect the criminals to turn theirs in? All these laws would do is turn good people into criminals.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:52 am | Reply
  28. Hans Dorfwald

    Ahhh how very American, don't like it go back home. Nice

    July 29, 2012 at 1:08 am | Reply
  29. JohnnyYuma61

    Personally, the statistics comfort me. This is the real problem for the NWO. Try to take 88 guns from 100 people. Good Luck!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:09 am | Reply
  30. AdolphH

    Author is probably a Muslim of course the towel heads want us unarmed. 70 weapons that number is a bit low for my family of 4. Since California loves to deny us our 2nd Amendment rights I had to buy a Ranch in a gun friendly state so that I can buy for myself and my sons at the same time. 70 weapons that's funny, these dress wearing liberal wingnuts would soil themselves if I allowed them a peek in my safes.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:27 am | Reply
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