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. Terry

    Gee...in using the authors statistics about having at least one law controlling gun correlating to lower crime how about the fact that crime has dropped? Could this also be correlated to the fact of less gun restriction overall? More guns in law abiding hands equals less crime.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
  2. me

    Chicago – gun free zone. 1136 shootings This year.
    New York – gun free zone. 5000 illegal guns confiscated this year already.
    how are those gun laws working? doesn't seem to be slowing anyone down does it?

    LAWS dont stop Criminals..DUH. you can bind the honorable to immobility with laws and then the criminals run free..
    is that SO hard to understand?
    this is why the founding fathers clearly foresaw the need to give the individual the right to defend themselves and to make sure no gov friendly or not would ever have an easy time of converting our free citizens into subjects.

    why is this so hard to understand? is it that our educational system is so bad people are not taught to think logically?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • Joe

      Me, excellent post !!

      Sad to say, but seems this generation is too use to having the goverment feed them, shelter them and now they expect protection. Sounds like subjects in the making.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  3. Ross

    We did not need a gun ban or greater gun control in the United States. Law abiding gun owners do not pose a threat to anyone except monsters like the red-haired freak in Aurora. The proof in this is the fact that no one in that theater broke a gun law except the shooter, as evident by the fact that no one was able to stop him. If one law-abiding gun owner had been disrespectful enough to go to that theater to watch the movie armed, we could have saved a few lives and we would be seeing a far different story. Had everyone in the theater who could responsibly do so been armed we would be watching the story of the "potential" shooter who said "my bad, wrong theater" before turning around and making a hasty retreat. I have been to Texas many times, if you don't think there is some merit to what I say, visit yourself some time!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  4. Bob

    Mr Zakaria you are a FOOL if you believe that. Ever notice that the first thing every liberal calls for when some despot oppresses his people is to arm the civilians? Ever hear of Syria, Iran, Libya, etc? Ever stop to think they might not have gotten themselves into that position if they were armed?

    Forget it, the Second Amendment makes it clear that owning firearms is a right NOT to be infringed upon by the government. And it came into being exactly because the founding fathers were intimately familiar with oppressive governments and never wanted the United States to get in a position where the government was more powerful than the people.

    Sorry, I don't give a flip what the rest of the world is doing - frankly the rest of the world hasn't proved they can take care of themselves yet, let alone countries like Syria that need help against their own armed governments.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:30 am | Reply
  5. Billy Smith

    It is funny how every one is an expert on guns when 75% of them have never fired one, much less own one or held one.
    buy one, go to class on it, fire it and then maybe you will have the smarts to talk about guns. This gos twic for news media, they mess up most things in life, because they live in ther own little workd.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
  6. Drew Miller

    Stoopid article! This was more than about just killing people. If he wanted to kill people there were other methods someone with his intelligence could have employed which would have been far more devastating. How many guns were involved in the Oklahoma City bombing.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
    • WeDon'tMatter

      To answer your question, only the ones crushed that were carried by the people that were there to "Serve and Protect".

      July 29, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
  7. Kenneth Geller

    One has to also exam the current culture! A very permissive society if something goes wrong in your life, it must be someone elses fault. You don't take care of your health, you don't have the foresight to have insurance, no problem, someone else will cover you. Life dealt you a poorer hand, no problem, it must be someone's fault...likely those rich guys!Religious values...they're fake. Abortion...no problem, kill another life for your convenience. Big government...no problem..it knows best anyway! I'll keep my guns. Ask 100,000,000 million people killed by governments last century if they wish they had some!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
    • Mark

      An average of 3,322 abortions a year and we are worried about gun control. We should be worried about living in a society with warped morals.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  8. pragmatist

    Thanks, Fareed, for the article and the strategically placed "errors" to spur this conversation. As is evident from the posts here, many pro-gun folks appear to be effectively brainwashed by the NRA and gun lobby. The absurd arguments they present, i.e. Switzerland Wash DC, Chicago etc. are just propaganda being regurgitated. However, the reality is that a majority of Americans have been misled to believe being pro-gun is the best for this nation. Politicians know his well and are carefully dodging the issue. The gun violence culture portrayed in prime time TV will ensure that several future generations of our kids will maintain this progun stance. I have not heard a single rightwing christian preacher say one word about gun ownership. They too are dodging the issue. They (and other religious leaders) bear the responsibility to fight this dangerous trend. Remember what Jesus did when Peter drew the sword and cut off the ear of a soldier. Also read the sermon on the mount. Many in the US seem to practice a fake feel-good christianity where anything goes. Thanks again to Fareed for an excellently written article.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  9. Reading Comprehension

    The author concedes that violent crime has fallen in the last decade . . . what he fails to mention is that it became legal to own "assault weapons" in 2004 (the year the "assault weapons" ban expired). So, violent crime has fallen during the same period that Americans have been allowed to purchase semi-auto "assault weapons."

    Presumably the author knows this, because he tries to get around this inconvenient fact by saying that gun violence has climbed. But the author doesn't compare the rate of gun violence per number of guns in the U.S. to the rate of gun violence to # of guns in other countries. To accept his conclusion, you would have to see this statistic. Mr. Zakaria, or CNN, to present a fair debate, please report on these and similar statistics and let everyone comment. It's time the media begin reporting the full truth. Only then, can true, fully informed debate begin.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  10. kyle

    Gun control is and will be ineffective as measure to prevent crime due to the number of firearms already in civilian hands. There are over 100 million high capacity magazines already in the US, and over 200 million firearms. Stricter laws will do nothing to remove these from the system, and even the most zealous gun control proponents realize that confiscation is simple not an option in the US.

    The effectiveness of gun control laws is questionable. The article cites and links to statistics on firearm related injuries. These numbers do not control for suicides. The states listed as having the highest firearm injury rates, also have the highest suicide rates which distorts the numbers. Of the six states in deep orange (showing highest injury rates) on the map linked by the article, all have higher than average suicide rates. Three of them; Alaska, Nevada, and Arizona, are ranked #1, #2, and #9 respectively. (source: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2007-11-28-depression-suicide-numbers_N.htm)

    The murder rate in Washington DC averaged a significantly higher rate after its handgun ban was put into place. Since it was overturned, the murder rate has declined overall. It is difficult to say if this was due to an adverse effect of the gun control laws, or due to outside socioeconomic factors. What it does how is that exceptionally strict gun control laws are not effective enough to overcome those socioeconomic factors, and are largely ineffective.

    For another example

    July 29, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
  11. Humen0007

    I would require every law abiding U.S. citizen to own a firearm and receive mandatory training on how to use it. Ownership would require a clean criminal record with no felonies or misdemeanors, written testing and demonstration of shooting skills. On the legal side, anyone who clearly is guilty of murder should receive a speedy trial and executed within three years, no exceptions. For those that would like more gun control, I suggest they move to Chicago, Detroid, L.A. Washington D.C. or New York.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:35 am | Reply
  12. Brian

    I like the analysis. But there was no analysis on mental health issues as stated in your opening statement. And the biggest error is that you called mental health cases nutcases. That will only send mental health issues under ground. We need to recognize mental health as an acceptable issue that needs treatment but now anyone that thinks of you as an role model had better not have a mental health problem as they are now considered "nutcases". I think you need to apologize for that slip.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:36 am | Reply
  13. gradschooldude

    I liked the article as it prsented an alternative voice to the "woe is us, isn't it terrible, where was god, how could this happen?" You reap what you sow.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:36 am | Reply
  14. james

    I'm moving to canada

    July 29, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • Paul

      Where stabbing and beating deaths are nearly 800% higher that the US.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:56 am | Reply
  15. kit gainer

    Fareed Zakaria should go back where he came from and run his yap there if he hates America so much.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
  16. American

    I could give a Rats rear end what Fareed Zakaria thanks about gun laws in America. If he does not like the Laws here then maybe he needs to pack his bags and move back to India.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
  17. Matthew

    Wow, what a moron this guy is. He has not associated the amount of guns compared to the amount of deaths in comparison. Should that not be the case? If it is, we are far below the relative statistics. And yes, you do need a CLASS 3 FFl to get an auto sear, you just don't buy them anywhere. Morons need to fact check before opening their mouths. Sheeple, thats what you are.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:38 am | Reply
  18. NC cajun

    With guns we are citizes... with out them we are subjects

    July 29, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
  19. PaulC

    This is a part of American's exceptional ism so touted by the Repugs.
    We have more nuts, religious fanatics and extremist per square mile than any industrialized country powered by a gigantic ego. We lag behind Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, N. Korea and Somalia but not by much.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • Paul

      Do you really believe that? Over 800 million AKs produced, yet only a small fraction in the US? Keep drinking that kool-aid and one day you will wake up to having no rights left, like the right to post your comments here.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
  20. Nate

    This article is flawed in many ways. He mentions that the US has 4 times the gun violence as Switzerland. True. He did not state however that 30% of Swiss citizens own and have firearms in their homes.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  21. Bob Burns

    I am very disappointed in this article by Mr. Zakaria. At one point it appeared he often had some insight into the world pulse. However, he is obviously out of his league on the gun control issue. We don't need fewer guns; we need fewer criminals. Let's quit this debate over what should be our Second Amendment right and enforce the laws against the bad guys. Instead of punishment, we give em a pat and put them back on the streets to appease the left-wingers who cry for these underprivileged misfits. Personally, I feel a lot better having a gun in my possession rather than waiting for a response to a 911 call.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
  22. Kme

    More homes need guns so the crime rate can be held down. With Obama & congress making so many of us jobless, some of the armed unemployed people will be trying to enter your home or steal your car. Things are getting more dangerous every year from here on out.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  23. SparDean

    I would be very interested to hear his facts on violent crimes involving acid, poison, knives, explosives, etc.. .in those countries that do not have a lot of guns. I have a lot of respect for Fareed but if he wants us to focus on facts I think he left a few out that were very critical to his argument.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  24. Dave NY USA

    Hey, CNN? You think maybe you can try a little harder on guns, and God since the movie shootings?
    You are so phuqing predictable, it is a waste of time to ever post anything new, because your "message" never changes.
    Instead of getting rid of guns, why don't we get rid of liberal judges?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
  25. NH

    As I mentioned in an earlier post, simply a narrow view of violent crime and no attention paid to situations where firearms save people. Another major thought is that the US does possibly have more nutcases than other nations. Even compared to developing nations like Pakistan and Mexico, Americans get far less vacation time, maternity leave and other benefits that allow for decompression. Our focus on money makes it so many people peg their self-worth off their net worth, which further adds to many peoples' stress. Bottom line, we are an overworked, overstressed nation. We also consistently rank poorly when it comes to mental health initiatives, etc. So yes, we just might have more people at the breaking point and fewer resources allocated to help them.

    Our diverse population also plays a role. Cities like London and Toronto have seen a sharp rise in gun and other violent crime as their social fabric shifts. This is not meant to allude to any stance on things such as immigration, but it is a fact; shifting populations, urbanization and diversity trends tend to contribute to socioeconomic issues. This no doubt is another factor that adds to the compexity of violence and crime in the US.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
  26. Charlton Heston

    Fareed could enlighten us a little more by commenting on the deception in the gun rights people. Most of their talk is cliches and sloggans like "Guns don't kill people..." and "If guns are banned, only criminals..." – useless bs that the NRA loves because most people take it a face value.

    Then there are those who claim that if somebody with a gun was in the theater, Holmes would have been stopped. This is nonsense because of the darkness, chaos, body armour, teargas. Even if somebody got a couple shots off, Holmes would have stalked and killed him and made him angry. Suppose everyone in the theater had a six-shooter. Immagine the cool gun battle, with people shooting at anything that moves. The NRA doesn't want people to think about that. Gun people think they are safe with a cun. So what happens when your biting into a burger in McDonalds and three gunmen with Bushmasters burst in the door and scream "Don't anybody move!!!" You gonna drop your burger and reach for your heater? Yeah, right! and get a lot of people killed including yourself. What if your just walking from your parked car and somebody in the next car points a gun at your head from two feet? Youu gonna reach for you piece? There are a million situations where the attacker has the upper hand and they are never discussed in commentaries like Zacharia's or on Piers Morgan. That is what the NRA wants. The NRA doesn't want any intelligent public discussion about how guns are really used.

    Why does the 2nd ammendment only talk about the militia and no other reason for having some kind of arms? Nobody talks about this either. Why does it only say that protection of the "state" is necessary, but says nothing about self-protection of individuals? Nobody talks about this either. Whats wrong with guns is about whats wrong with the news media, shallow arguments and lack of details.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
    • Scott

      The 2nd amendment does not only refer to the militia (which the founders considered EVERY MAN anyways).... "The Right of The People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". "The People" is referred to often in the constiution as a "Power" in and of itself (like the states, or federal gov't) and understood to be the adult population of the country.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
      • Charlton Heston

        You didn't understand what I said. I said having a militia is the only reason given in the 2nd for people to have arms. There is no other reason explicitely given in the 2nd.

        July 29, 2012 at 11:08 am |
  27. therevolutionistproject

    I love looking at that map you have in your article. It shows America as the most heavily armed country in the world. With that being said who would ever think about attacking us by land invasion. I understand by taking all the guns away that it may save a few lives. Makes sense, but Cocaine is illegal. I know more than three people who have tried it. In fact i know three people that do it on a regular basis. How do they get it if it is illegal? Outlawing guns will just open up a new way for people to make money. Cocaine, ex, and meth are easy to get, so you think guns will be any different. This is just a political agenda that you want to spread to people who are clueless about the gun owning world. Let me remind you one more thing. If all the guns would of been outlawed before the revolution you would not have the luxury of posting this illogical article. Please go visit Afghanistan or Iraq and tell me the people are happy they gave there guns up to there gov. I will let you know now it is the worst decision they ever made. The day we give up our right to bear arms is the day we loose our democracy..

    July 29, 2012 at 10:46 am | Reply
    • Lynn

      You are so right and thanks for the post

      July 29, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • leenepa

      Well stated!

      July 29, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
  28. Sebastian2

    As usual, Fareed approaches the problem with common sense. And when you see the math? It's pretty shocking; and a bit appalling. This is a wild, gun-crazy culture we live in. I'm not saying that stricter gun controls would've stopped the tragedy at Aurora, but they might have made it somewhat more difficult at the very least; it's a hell of a lot harder to shoot up a crowded theater with a bunch of knives....

    July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
  29. Soda Bob

    According to FBI statistics, there are fewer murders now per 100,000 inhabitants now than there were in the 1960's – before the Gun Control Act of 1968, despite the comings and goings of things like the Clinton and Bush (senior) gun bans. Yes, we have a high amount of murder, but it's not due to the availability of high powered weapons. And besides, consider countries like Somalia which have very low civilian gun ownership, and a MUCH higher rate of murder...

    July 29, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
    • Charlton Heston

      Somalia? The NRA loves people like you, with deceptive irrelevent arguments comparing apples and oranges. Somalia doesn't even have a government.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
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