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. Russell Woodall

    Mr. Factreedloser .. You are a socialist PIG with ideas bordering on communism.. I bet you voted for Obama.. lol

    July 29, 2012 at 8:07 am | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      He feltches Obama on a regular basis!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:29 am | Reply
  2. KP

    "I think we can assume that those people [nutcases] are sprinkled throughout every society equally"

    While I don't disagree with gun control being part of the issue, you refute the other side of the argument with an assumption. How about some statistics on rate of depression or psych cases in the US versus the world?

    July 29, 2012 at 8:10 am | Reply
  3. mike

    of course gun related deaths will be lower in areas with fewer guns – that is expected; the statistic that should be used is total homicides from all causes per capita.

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

      for example; russia is a light color on the graph above and has twice the number of homicides/100,000; serbia is mentioned in this article as having a lot of guns/unit population but its homicide/100k is one quarter that of the united states. there does not seem to be much correlation between number of guns/population and number of homicides( by any cause)/population http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/homicide.html

      July 29, 2012 at 8:28 am | Reply
  4. Rick McDaniel

    At a time when we have a subversive administration, infringing on the freedoms of the people, imposing a political party's will on all Americans, it is NOT the time to take away their ability to fight a corrupt government.

    Guns don't kill people, people kill people, and that has ALWAYS been the case. Humans are the most violent creature on the planet, and restricting guns will simply allow the criminals, and the corrupt politicians, to take control against the defenseless.

    I personally do NOT own a gun, although I was once a qualified instructor. However, I see great danger in the current environment, in restricting access to firearms.

    Crime is rampant, and all police do, is try to catch the criminal after they commit the crimes. they do NOTHING to reduce the level of crime. Only citizens, defending themselves with firearms, will reduce crime.

    Political corruption is rampant, subversive behaviors in our government are rampant, and our freedom is at risk. Firearms are what gave us that freedom, and firearms are all that protect it from the political corruption.

    No, I would not agree with you, at all. Guns are not the problem, but rather people are the problem. If you can fix humans, then you might have something.......problem is, you can't fix humans.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:13 am | Reply
  5. TheBlueLion

    I usually don't get all worked up over media frenzy stuff, but this Aurora thing really got me thinking. What if my family and I were at a theater and this happened? I ordered a Sig Sauer .45 yesterday from gun broker dot com. Taking a CCW class in two weeks. I will be prepared. We will never live in utopia, make everything illegal...it still will not matter. Protect your family, yourself and others and take a safety class, get a permit, practice/familiarize, and strap it to your ankle.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  6. Bob B

    Fareed you have it backwards, it's because there are more nutcases. With over 300 million people, that might have something to do with it and more gun control won't help.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  7. Darrin

    Fareed.....Time to Face the Facts about the plummeting ratings for CNN.......we can't thank you enough for doing your part......

    July 29, 2012 at 8:16 am | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      Heh heh! Farweed with a cardboard sign, panhandling "Will write mindless drivel for $$$"

      July 29, 2012 at 8:32 am | Reply
  8. RealityCheck

    NYC has the most gun related violence. NYC also has the strictest gun laws. This entire article is flawed, UNLESS you want to say that cities with the largest populations of Blacks and Hispanics have the most violence. Is that the conclusion you intend to present here? It's not the guns, but the people who have them? And the people who have them HAPPEN to be minorities who obtained them illegally anyway?

    July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
    • cvwheeler

      I honestly think it has to do with deterent. Most of the countries in blue use torture on their criminals which is a huge deterrent. The criminals in the US get 3 square meals a day and cable TV.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:15 am | Reply
  9. crotalus

    Fareed's map is deceptive because it 1) only shows "civilian" gun ownership–as if a world full of military dictators doesn't use military weapons to kill people–think Syria, and 2) it only shows legal ownership–as if a world full of corrupt governments doesnt wink at illegal gun ownership among groups it favors or cannot control–think Mexico.

    And by ignoring the many, many gun deaths at the hands of government operators, Fareed is ignoring, what, 99% of the world's gun deaths.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:18 am | Reply
  10. john v

    Fareed, look at the map again. I would rather live in a country far more fee in america, than in one of those gun free zones where guns are controlled by warlords like Kony who would gladly shoot your ass and leave you dead ON A WHIM. I am sorry, I still feel far safer in dark green countries or brown america any day of the week. I am glad you are not running for government. shame on yourself for calling yourself a journalist!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:19 am | Reply
  11. Evarin

    In my state of Maryland it is nearly impossible for a normal citizen to obtain a conceal and carry permit for a handgun. Until that changes, I see no reason to support any gun laws. Why? Because this is what the ultimate goal is of gun control. To chip away at existing laws until they make it nearly impossible to carry a weapon outside of your house. Until Conceal and Carry laws are like Divers Licenses, standardized and recognized in all 50 states, I will never back a damned law to further restrict what we as Americans have access to.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:20 am | Reply
  12. Fred Jennings

    Even though Romney is not well-liked in most-gun rights circles, Obama just lost the election with his reaction to Colorado. Romney is far from the best solution, but thanks to radical Liberals like Mr. Zakaria and Obama (whose true colors are now flying), Mr. Romney will secure the Presidency in November. Independents will be the key. And Obama just lost the rational vote there and among conservative Democrats who voted "Blue" last time.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:24 am | Reply
  13. Frank

    "YOU" face the facts Liberal!! The only way your going to take our guns is if you come out victorious in the civil war the government will start if they try and CANCEL the second amendment and collect all the guns from 270 MILLION PIZZED OFF AMERICANS!. I dont know ANYONE that is willing to give up their right to DEFEND themselves. GOD ALMIGHTY gave me that right and NO ONE is going turn me into some scared little punk hiding in the corner saying "PLEASE DONT HURT ME" while OTHERS hold a gun on me that DONT OBEY THE LAW or corrupt state or federal government doing so.

    If you want to live like a coward and roll the dice have at and move to Canada or Europe and HOPE you never have to defend yourself.

    BUT LEAVE ME OUT OF IT! YOUR NOT TAKING MY GUNS. Im sick of this discussion. Move on to something else. I dont see anyone raising he11 about the "TRUCK" that killed 12 illegal aliens in South Texas and injured another 12. But thats not INLINE with the "LIBERAL" agenda does it? Lets ban CARS AND TRUCKS WHILE WERE AT IT!? Oh thats right, the liberal poozies dont want to do that. Saving lives only counts when its inline with what THEY WANT!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:24 am | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      Couldn't have said it better myself Frank. Let 'em try. Then "revolution and change" will come real quick...real quick.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:29 am | Reply
  14. Highly Motivated

    In our state they are very quick to arrest and convict the wrong person (the victim) in domestic violence situations and then take their gun rights away. My wife jumped on me and I had to defend myself. They convicted me because of the courts gendor bias.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:27 am | Reply
  15. Debra

    Finally, someone that makes sense!! I am so sick of hearing people kill people not the guns. Or more car accidents kill people. How many cars do you use intentionally as a weapon? People wouldn't kill people if they couldn't have access to guns. Common Sense and when will we wake up!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:28 am | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      Why don't we ban rocks then? Thereby no one will ever be able to be killed again -will they?? Your logic is delusional and appalling.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:33 am | Reply
    • Aussie

      Actually a lot of people use cars as weapons everyday, ever heard of drunk driving? Ultimately statistics will tell whatever story you want them to. In this case the gun ownership stats are bogus as many countries don't participate in the homicide stats reporting, much like the reporting of firearms between us and Mexico are skewed to tell a particular story. The are a lot of guns in this society, it's unlawful misuse (like cars) that's the problem. It takes one generation to lose a right and misinformed rhetoric like this article doesn't prompt sane solutions

      July 29, 2012 at 8:38 am | Reply
    • RealityCheck

      Actually, nearly all of the gun crimes are committed by folks who have ILLEGALY obtained the guns. Banning firearms will not prevent people are MURDERERS from harming you.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • JYTex

      Well.....here's a link to a CNN story where a woman tried to run her husband over right after they left a courthouse:
      http://wtkr.com/2012/07/25/police-investigate-hit-and-run-accident-in-newport-news/?hpt=ju_bn4

      And that's just just one instance from t his week...

      July 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  16. familyriderssc

    In 2010, 11.72 people were killed each day.
    How?
    Walking across/along a roadway.
    That is 11.72 per day, not as some isolated incident the media could glom onto solely because it fits their left wing agenda.

    It is time to come to grips with pedestrian roadway safety, and evidently 365 times as important by the numbers, but not up there on news muppet's priority lists.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:28 am | Reply
  17. bananaman

    dont waste your time arguing facts...explanations dont seem to affect the other side. for example, you can explain that a .308 hunting rifle can be – and often is – a semi-automatic weapon...you can explain that you can buy a semi-automatic shotgun...you can explain that even if you ban handguns in one place, they will show up on the street...you can say and prove anything...you can stand on your head and explain that gun laws may squeeze guns down but will not do anything except render defenseless millions of people who cannot be defended by governments or crooked police departments...none of it will have any affect...they want to feel better, not solve the problems...they will feel better when you are disarmed,,,that's it...the argument is endless and hopeless...ask the norweigens and that nut who wiped out the campers...ask the canadians and all the shootings they deal with in their gun-free countries...or don't...some of us are willing to accept restrictions if they make sense but most gun owners know that gun laws simply disarm the public and nothing more...and most of them won't accept that...end of story – for now.

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

    The Second Amendment is not open-ended. Regardless of whose interpretation, our government DOES impose limits on the right to arms ownership. None of our homes have a nuclear missile hanging over the fireplace, because our government consideres them to be a weapon designed to kill people en masse. So where should the line be drawn? Is a semi-automatic assault rifle (easily converted to full automatic) with a 100 round magazine simply an outdoor sports enthusiast hopped up rabbit hunting gear? Of course not. That weapon too, was designed to kill PEOPLE, en masse. Let's draw some lines of common sense.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:33 am | Reply
    • JYTex

      We should be able to own anything that our military does. What puts one group of people above another?
      Religion has done more harm than my firearms and I ever have....

      July 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  19. Sas

    Facts don't lie. Fareed is exactly correct in comparing our statistics with other nations and proving that our love for guns is killling our children. People in this country will continue to clutch to their guns in the name of right, egged on by the NRA. No one can change that. The next generation is more aware of these facts. Their thoughts are different. I recently read that they prefer publc transport over driving cars, facebook over field game. In the same vein, I hope they will rejects guns after seeing the idiocy of 'Guns don't kill people'.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:35 am | Reply
    • Bob

      Actually, it's quite easy to make facts "lie". He's cherry picking data and ignoring overall violent crime.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:38 am | Reply
    • vet4life63

      Actually Fareed's data is skewed. He says 3 gun homicides per 100000 people. Guns are used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense. Law-abiding citizens use guns to defend themselves against criminals as many as 2.5 million times every year—or about 6,850 times a day. Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz, "Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun," 86 The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law,

      July 29, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
    • NH

      Gun culture will change as fewer people hunt, etc. That said, your argument still follows Fareed's lead in taking a very narrow view of violent crime, and all but discounts the role that firearms play in effective self-defense.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
  20. Bob

    Let's say, purely for the sake of argument, that everything Fareed said is accurate and forget about overall violent crime rates in other countries and the countries that have strict gun controls and more gun violence than the US. There are many things we could do to make life safer, but we don't because it would impinge on our personal liberty. I think if you want gun control, you need to change or repeal the second amendment, but since the Supreme Court has decided otherwise, if you want more gun control, then live in a state with more gun control. That's the beauty of the system our founding fathers created. They knew not everyone wanted to live under the same rules, so we don't have to.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
  21. Sam

    A fun activity is to pick out all the countries with less gun ownership, and decide which ones you would prefer to live in. The map could just as soon be used to highlight countries with wildly unstable governments, oppressed citizens, and economic blight we couldn't fathom.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:39 am | Reply
  22. welldonefarid

    farid... well done! facts are scary things to the ignorant masses as evident by the volume of responses to your article. thanks for having the courage to say what every intelligent person in the country would agree with...

    July 29, 2012 at 8:40 am | Reply
    • UGottaBKidding

      Third world maybe...

      July 29, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  23. vonnyc

    Fareed Zakaria, always ready with some biased "facts".

    Here's another fact: If just one of all these gun owners in America had been in the theater with his or her gun the massacre could have been limited. The police is a useless after the fact force. Only we as civilians and citizens can put an end to nutjobs with guns in a crowded public place.

    You think lesser guns create less massacres? Look at Norway, a country with extreme gun control. The psycho Breivik had no problem getting access to guns, killing scores of unarmed people before the police arrived. You think one of the victims would have liked to have a gun that day?

    I know I would.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:40 am | Reply
  24. Bob

    I find it funny that the same people who evoke the incorrect Benjamin Franklin quote: Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither, when talking about the 4th amendment seem to completely forget it when talking about the 2nd.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:43 am | Reply
  25. Saber

    Fareed you are a MORON! You need to check your so-called facts before you start blathering more of your Liberal Media BS! The common public cannot obtain fully automatic weapons without the Class 3 License mentioned several times above. Law Enforcement and Military are about the only folks who can obtain that license, to include special Private Security firms which have displayed a special need for those types of weapons. Yes there are several states which do allow civilians to own them, but you have no idea what type of background checks are involved for that license. Gun Control Laws do nothing for the criminals who obtain them ILLEGALLY. Gun Control Laws create crminals out of the common public where there were none before. The effect the law abiding portion of the population making it more difficult to defend our families, property our ourselves. Fareed, you will have room to speak when you are placed into a situation where you will be defending your own life or family from harm. Then and only then will you truely appreciate the need for a firearm in your home! Nuff Said Here!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
    • Frank

      No, he is a Muslim pushing Civilization Jihad to help his fellow Muslims disarm America to continue their KORAN DEMANDED unabated agenda of World Domination .

      July 29, 2012 at 8:56 am | Reply
  26. Shawn Irwin

    Had there been several people armed in that theater, the gunman would be in the morgue, not under arrest.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:45 am | Reply
    • Obama 2012

      He was wearing body armor. Armed patrons would have been ineffective.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
      • So..

        Except those of us who shoot, frequently, and could have hit an unprotected area. Besides, have you ever been in body armor and been hit by a round? You don't simply shrug it off. I carry a 10MM. I guarantee he would have been lying on the ground with one shot to the chest. Quit being a pansy lib. You people need sterilized.

        July 29, 2012 at 8:56 am |
      • Fred Jennings

        You sound like a firearms expert. Care to elaborate why body-armor would have prevented the attacker from being taken down?

        July 29, 2012 at 9:02 am |
  27. Obama 2012

    Firearms are a deadly tool from a bygone era. America needs to catch up with the rest of the world and ban the private ownership of all firearms. Hopefully during his second term, President Obama will make this a high priority. Americans are tired of the daily carnage. America needs to get rid of all these guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • So..

      People like you should be sterilized

      July 29, 2012 at 8:51 am | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      The criminal elements and government don't seem to think they are a "bygone tool" of another era. Laughable comment. And keep preaching that btw. Thanks.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
    • Frank

      Phuk Barrack Obama

      July 29, 2012 at 8:54 am | Reply
    • carbon dioxide

      Then government turns in their guns, the people can be safe to turn in their guns. The government is much more dangerous than private citizens and their guns. You want to disarm the public but keep the lying government armed? That is like asking a lion to protect a herd of cows and expect the lion to be good while doing it.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:25 am | Reply
    • UGottaBKidding

      He has a point...in South African countries the butcher each other with machete's. And a lot of people have been getting lit on fire. And there was that whole 9/11 thing with aircraft and boxcutters.....

      July 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm | Reply
    • irby

      Judging by al te pro-gun comments, you are the minority on this subject. Lets have a vote on who's in favor and who's against gun control. Loser has to find a new country to live in. Romney 2012

      July 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm | Reply
  28. boniman

    So, if someone drives down a side walk drunk and kills 12 people and hurts 50 others would we end drinking in the US. Tobacco, Booze and Meidcal accidents are the top 3 killers in America. Stop all of them it is madness. 🙂

    July 29, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
  29. vet4life63

    Just ask the Native Americans how gun confiscation/not having the right to own a weapon worked out for them at wounded knee. You can also ask the Turks, the Jews, The Ugandans, The Rwandans, The Russians under Stalin, They all have one thing in common. They were made to give up their firearms. Then they were made to die by their own Govt. Those that do not learn from history, are doomed to repeat it.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
  30. Jeff S

    To put this in perspective:

    In 2010, Drunk driving deaths were 3.3 per 100000 people in the United States.
    In 2010, Automobile fatalities were 10.73 per 100000 people in the United States
    In 2008, Cancer deaths were 175 per 100000 people in the United States.

    Seems to me we should be focusing on our efforts on the actual larger threats to our survival than the perceived ones. Cancer kills more of us than guns, yet Gun deaths get more time in the news. Why? People need to stop getting caught on in the hype of the media. Let's stop fighting over something that really is not that big of an issue when compared to others. Just because the media talks about it non-stop doesn't mean it is a big issue.

    Guns kill fewer people than drunk driving yet more people believe we should put stricter laws around guns, or ban them altogether but alcohol gets a pass? Automobile fatalities gets a pass? Cancer gets a pass?

    July 29, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
    • Frank

      Guns are always in the news at the bad guy because LIBERALS OWN ALL THE MAJOR MEDIA OUTLETS.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:53 am | Reply
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