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. jorge washinsen

    Watch yourself if you happen to be close to our southern border and don't get trampled.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  2. Walt Szambelak

    The following are 2 solutions that I believe would help combat gun violence. Number 1: A gun doesn't leave the factory without a ballistics fingerprint being taken. This fingerprint will be entered into a national database where it can be matched to guns commited in crimes. Number 2: Random audits. You can own as many guns as you like but every once in a while, you will be required to bring guns a, b, c, and d down to your local police station where they will be inspected to be sure that the serial numbers match and that they have not been altered. Doing this will help limit straw purchases and also give assurance that people aren't messing with their guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  3. founders1791

    There are ALREADY 22,000 GUN LAWS IN THE US .....ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.

    Socialism is a disease that Zareed, and Socialist Democrtats, suffers a fatal version of.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:24 am | Reply
    • Walt Szambelak

      Evidently we need 22,002 laws. So as long as your behaving yourself, these 2 simple laws will not affect you beyond taking your guns down to the police station every now and then.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
  4. L Berry

    I just love it when Liberals use a tragic incident like Aurora to press their Gun Control Stories. Our Muslim friend is correct, Americans own more guns than any other nationality. But several other facts come to bear. American has never been invaded...Why, because Americans can defend themselves. Before every dictator has arisen, guns were Controlled, or deemed illegal. Why not use a better statistic than gun deaths...Just use homicides, not just a gun homicide. Killers in other countries use other weapons. Like knives, clubs, bombs...yes like in the Arabs country suicide bombers kill thousands of innocent victims. But you don't see bomb control critics do you??? So come on liberal media folks, compare apples to apples. In the countries where guns are outlawed, they have less gun deaths. But not less homicides.
    I guess Fareed doesn't include suicide bombers as homicides. Why not, because the leading cause of death in Iraq was not bullets, but bombers, and not the aircraft type.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • LOL

      Please... America has never been invaded? Maybe that's because it's surrounded by two oceans and has the highest defense spending in the world? I doubt the supposed 'invaders' are intimidated by gun-wielding citizens who they could simply demolish with a missile. Plus, did you ever hear of nukes?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
      • kirk

        umm did you ever go to school might want to check history
        like 1812 Washington burned
        or the Mexican army
        or Alaska in ww2
        your pretty slow aren't you

        July 29, 2012 at 11:40 am |
      • L Berry

        I love your response, filled with might’s. If you would like to do some research, you will find many examples where experts have stated that gun ownership is a key in self defense of America. I must admit to a mistake in my posting and I am sorry. We are being invaded every day by illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border. Worse that that is President Obama’s recent decision to stop stopping the flow and deporting of illegals.

        July 29, 2012 at 11:41 am |
  5. Gus

    Whe you can guarantee me that every single gun in the country will be confiscated through searches and magical gun finders, then I will give back my gun. Gladly.
    Guns are awful, but if only the criminals have them (criminals, by they way, don't care much about laws, they're funny that way) then we have a much bigger problem...

    July 29, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  6. LOL

    Have fun with your guns America while the rest of the world laughs at you.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
    • WeDon'tMatter

      The World laughs at us because of our arrogance not because we are allowed to own guns, so ha ha.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:31 am | Reply
    • D

      Have fun with your poverty or value of Euro.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  7. Chris

    http://www.tallahassee.com/article/20120726/OPINION05/307260025/Mike-Olivella-Don-t-let-Colorado-tragedy-dictate-policy-guns

    July 29, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
  8. JulianCA

    The article isn't interpreting the stats right. Sure you might have more gun homicide if you have more guns, since that will be a method of choice, but the real thing to compare is rate of homicides generally. In other words, when someone wants to kill they will kill with whatever means available. If you look at that, you see that US isn't such an outlier, lower rates than Russia or Thailand, comparable rates with countries like India, Canada, Taiwan, Finland, and Israel having similar murder rates. Furthermore, with 50% of the worlds guns you'd think that the rate would be extremely high if guns actually increased the murder rate.

    In other words, yes Americans do use guns to kill more than people in other countries but the stats actually show that they don't increase the likelihood of killing. I.e. guns don't actually make it more dangerous.

    By the way, I don't really like guns generally, but I hate bad math being used for political purposes more...

    July 29, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
    • pb

      Thank you. Well said.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
  9. Jake in Texas

    Fareed, if you can guarantee that all the criminals would turn in their guns, I'd consider giving up some of my self defense firearms, maybe. Then if you can guarantee me that our government will not become tyrannical, a despotic dictatorship, then maybe I will give up some more, but never all of them.

    As to one poster who said maybe anti-tank weapons and RPG's should be legalized also, yes they should.

    When our founding fathers (that all Patriots dearly cherish their wisdom) provided the second amendment, it was for protection against tyrannical governments, both foreign and domestic. During the first American revolution, arms were pretty similar between the revolutionaries and King Georges troops, cannons being the heavy weapons. Farms, Plantations and towns had cannons for the Revolutionaries to use. During the 2nd American revolution (The War of Northern Agression), Weapons were fairly well even on both sides until the latter part of the war when the North had a greater ability to produce them.

    Today, the Federal Govt. has at it's disposal, Apache Gunships, M-1 Abrahams Tanks and A-10 Warthogs so it is already a very un-level playing field and the general public would not stand a chance on a battlefield against a modern army.

    I believe in Equality. God did not make all men equal, Samuel Colt did.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
  10. I will buy another gun for fareed

    WFC what Fareed says? Who is some dune slime to talk about nut cases in the US? The mid-east is a mess and has been for years. Every time some idiot blames gun owners and guns for the actions of killers, I buy another gun. Fareed is from the land of little sand people who kill with whatever they need. Fareed is a waste of life, stop running his column and get a real journalist.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • Jiminy

      And here we have an excellent example of American statesmanship and intelligence.

      He doesn't like what he hears so he fires off personal insults. He replies with a child's mind because he can't use reason.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  11. lilgtogirl

    Why does CNN allow this ugly little monkey have a say in everything? He is here to talk about economics, and he can hardly get that right. He is a worthless immigrant, and if he does not like the guns in this country he can return to his own and be impoverished. The greatest thing about America is the opportunities and the rights. He has a right to be ugly and famous for no reason, and I have the right to own any guns I want. I stay because I like those rights. He can go at any time.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:32 am | Reply
  12. JimSalem

    Suppose they psychology argument were the right argument, and all of America is more depressed and insane then the rest of the world. Why give them guns? Asylums don't dole out weapons to their patients, do they?

    July 29, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
  13. RJ

    You said it yourself Fareed, in the US gun ownership has gone up and at the same time crime has gone down. How does your overly simplified statistical analysis explain that?

    July 29, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  14. Justsayin

    Gee, wonder what the Cricket bat fatalities in the states are compared with UK?
    Folks will use whatever is handy to accomplish their goals.
    Banning an item doesn't make the violence disappear.
    By the way, go and order one of those "readily available" kits off the internet and let us know how that works for you.
    You do know we have an agency called the BATFE, correct?
    Have you ever heard of a "sting"?
    Lets also ignore the fact this lunatic did most of his damage with a common hunting shotgun and pistol, not the evil magic AR-15.
    The days of factual unbiased journalism are dead.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  15. Bill P

    The problem with anything that Zacaria says is that he does not have any credibility. Libya vs. Syria: From the start, Zarcaria was taunting the President Obama to attack and bomb Libya – in which no more than 1000 people died. Syria? That is another thing. Zacaria has said: "For now, I think we should continue isolating the Syrian regime. We should help Syria’s opposition politically and perhaps economically. I would not, however, advocate arming the rebels or embracing any other kind of military role for the United States." (12 Feb 2012) And, now, about 20,000 Syrians have died. The difference? Libya was Western and Israel "friendly". Syria is Iran "friendly" and Israel "hostile". Now, Zacaria would tell folks in America, time to disarm.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  16. TSspot

    Wow automatic? Not an easy thing to do legally, illegally yes. Crime is going down, and with so many people having gun I feel is the determining factor. Criminals pray on the weak and defenseless people. If everyone was required to have a gun all violence would be down further, I feel. In reality it doesn't matter what the weapon is death will be a result. If nut cases want to kill, they will kill. It is a right we have in America to stop such people! No law biding citizen wants to kill another human being, but we have the right to protect are person and property.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
  17. Chris K

    What needs to be considered along with all these "facts" is what is the number of gun crimes committed using illegally obtained guns vs. legally obtained guns? My guess (and it is just a guess) is that we will find that a huge majority of crimes committed with guns were committed with "illegal" guns – ie. not obtained legally. What does this say? Simple, it is not an issue of gun laws not existing. In reality, it is an issue of inner city violence – criminals illegally obtaining guns and using them in crimes.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
    • jfriend

      Agreed. The black market needs to be addressed. But how do we go about doing that. Seems to be almost impossible with serial numbers erased and non-existent weapon records.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
  18. jfriend

    No one ever looks to the black market for these statistics. Sorry, but gun laws will never affect the black market. I have a hunch that many gun related deaths (especially due to gang violence) comes from the black market. Those people aren't the folks buying in a gun store.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:39 am | Reply
  19. Scooby

    I think the argument is fallacious by over-emphasizing the distinction between homicides caused by firearms versus other weapons or methods. This discussion would be different if Holmes brought his grenades to the theater to commit mass murder instead of using them to booby trap his apartment. His method would be different but his madness would be the same, and there would still be a very tragic outcome.

    I'm not against gun control and I am very against firearms being easily obtained by criminals or the mentally unstable, but gun control does not control the intent to kill.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
  20. RetiredLEO

    As a retired police officer I am familiar with gun violence. Let me be clear. THE POLICE CANNOT PROTECT YOU. Anyone who depends on someone else for their protection is a fool.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • jfriend

      Good point. I feel that just the show of a weapon may be enough to diffuse situations without ever discharging it. Situation relevant of course.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • Charlton Heston

      So are you gonna drop your burger and reach for your heater, when three gunman burst in the door in McDonald's with bushmasters and scream "Don't anybody move!" Or how about when somebody points a gun at you from the car parked next to yours when you have a bag of groceries and keys in the other hand? Reach for your piece? If he has a knife you can run into the store, but nothing you can do against the gun, except hand over your money.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
      • jfriend

        As I said (but maybe you didn't read this part): Situation relevant. Of course I wouldn't draw my firearm against 3 well armed individuals. HOWEVER, if they began to fire on people you better believe I'd do my best to place a few hot ones in their chests. As a former Marine who has taught thousands of Marines rifle and pistol marksmanship, I'd make every shot count.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
      • Manuel

        Run rabbit run! Throw down your groceries and run home. Oops! There are armed villians inside my house. Run rabbit run! Call the police. Oops! The police are busy. Jump in your car and flee. Oops! Car and wallet stolen at a stop sign. Run rabbit run! Your being chased for your clothing. Oops! 65 years old and can not run. Hmm! Let's ban villains. No offence Charlie. But your plan has never worked. Sincerely: Genghis Khan.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • Mark

      @RetiredLEO,

      Wow, you are one heck of a police officer aren't you? If I was in a life or death emergency and I dialed 911, and you were dispatched to the scene, I KNOW that I would be safe. NOT! LOL. Way to go chief! Keep doing your duty just the way you are, and we all will have nothing to fear! LOL

      July 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  21. California

    The economy is bad. You can spin it any way you want but Obama IS responsible for where it is now. When Obama passed the stimulus it changed the dynamics of the economy and therefor he is responsible for it for all this time. QE1, QE2 and consideration of QE3 or something lke it proves tht jt throwing money at the stuation does NOT work. The Obama Admnistration knows nothing about busiesses hence the stagnant situation we're in now.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
  22. JT

    Dear Mr. Zakaria, Facts by themselves are meaningless and even misleading. You have deliberately left out important facts which make your point weaker. This is intellectually dishonest. Did you know that the homicide rate in the US is not in the top 10 of countries. Our homicide rate is actually similar to Europe where gun control is tougher. Bottom line is people kill each other. Guns are not the only way to kill. This is just another attempt to blame to problem on a political issue. Tragedies occur. We are all sad. Comfort one another and move on because no knee jerk reaction is going to keep the next tragedy from happening.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • fastball

      Guns however, are the best and fastest way to kill LOTS of people. Rarely do you hear of a massacre in a movie theater by a bat-wielding crazy person. You don't hear of HUNDREDS of kids accidently stabbing themselves to death with Dad's old Bowie knife that they found in the closet. How many people died in drive-by stonings?
      The fact is that you have 300 million guns in circulation...and easy access to more. America is a gun culture nation. Simple as that. Basically, the only difference between the lunatics in the Middle East firing off their AK-47's in the street, and what goes on in Middle America....is what they wear on their heads.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  23. fbrookman

    Ye gods...Reading the posts here prove Zareed's point: people in the US know and care WAY too much about guns. Guns don't kill people – people obsessed with killing devices kill people. Get a hobby or something. Better yet, quit talking about taking lives and get one.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:42 am | Reply
    • ChicagoAl

      Guns are my hobby.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
  24. fastball

    You have more crazy people with access to guns...that's what the problem is.
    You can't tell me that America has more crazy people than any other country. But the simple equation is that the more guns you have out there...the easier it is for these nutbars to access one.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:44 am | Reply
  25. Frank

    The second Amendment is to protect the people from tierney period. And guess what we need it more than ever today. Our so called leaders do not relate to the average American at all. They are on another planet for sure. Its the super rich in there own world leading the average people. We have the power to vote them out but when will that happen. After all is ruined and lost? Wake up people.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:45 am | Reply
  26. Bob

    Let me make this simply CNN so you can stop all the bs and interviews for ratings: No one wants to take your guns and violate the 2nd admendment. What they want NO assault weapons and No high capacity clips. Anyone has a problem with this is a problem. If you cannot hunt or protect yourself with 10 rounds you had better which to the bow and arrow.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:46 am | Reply
    • RetiredLEO

      Bob you really don't get it. I'll keep all my guns. If you want to face an armed individual with a bow go ahead.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
    • Justsayin

      Bob,

      This lunatic caused most of his mayhem with a common hunting shotgun and pistol, not the "evil AR-15".
      Most of what yourself and the media mistakenly refer to as "assault weapons" are functionally IDENTICAL to any number of lower capacity hunting rifles out ther, in MUCH smaller calibers than any common "deer rifle".
      The fact that more folks use the AR-15 for varmint hunting than big game should illustrate this point.
      When you refer to "large capacity clips", what is your "acceptable" limit?
      10 rounds?
      Ok, consider this:
      The "gold standard" most folks of your opinion use is law enforcement.
      Most law enforcement officers carry pistols with magazines exceeding 15 rounds, and typically, with all of their magical training and expertise, manage somewhere south of a 10% accuracy rate when forced to use their sidearms.
      In most cases where law abiding citizens are forced to defend themselves, they face more than one attacker.
      Considering many attackers continue their attack after being shot more than once, where does that leave the victim facing two attackers with 10 rounds?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
      • RetiredLEO

        Well said. I think the point most people miss is that "banning" large magazines and "assault weapons" does not make them disappear. During my career I have had far more positive contacts with armed law abiding citizens than I ever did with criminals. The more law abiding citizens that carry guns the safer we will all be.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm |
  27. Justsayin

    Here are the facts:

    The world is a dangerous place, filled with many people who make their living taking advantage of, and victimizing others.

    To many of the weak, handicapped, infirm, and elderly, the only thing that enables those individuals to defend themselves, is a firearm.

    If they are faced with a younger, stronger, or multiple assailants, the firearm is the ONLY way they could possibly hope to balance the scales in the situation.

    Read news articles abroad, of victims unable to defend themselves, completely at the mercy of a criminal who decided they would enter the homes of the assailed, and do what they wished.

    The right to defend oneself is a basic civil liberty not shared by many people in nations abroad.
    If you think your family members, wives, children, parents, grandparents, don't deserve the right and ability to defend themselves in your absence, I pity them.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:47 am | Reply
    • dfeaster

      fortunately I do not live in a country where that is a problem. Driving is the most dangerous thing I do.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  28. AbleWitness

    The homicide rate among Americans of European decent is equal to the European rate of homicide among Europeans of European descent. Europe, however, does have higher suicide rates. Here's some U.S. federal Bureau of Justice numbers:
    http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/homicide/race.cfm

    July 29, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  29. Dean

    Chicago has one onf the strictest gun laws in the country. More Americans have been shot in Chicago this year than all places overseas (including the Middle East) COMBINED. Shut up Zareed.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
  30. freedomringingnow

    Automatic weapons are for the military. They are built to mow down people with intense extreme prejudice...

    When NRA tell us that hunters need these guns it makes one ask... just how dum are we supposed to be to buy that line. How many people have eaten a deer, bear or duck full of one hunred bullets clicked off in x seconds.

    The ten year ban started by Bill Cliniton reign needs to be put back in permanently.

    This psycho kid bought these guns and we should thank god his gun jambed and he could not reset or we could of seen tripple the casulties....

    SO yes people don't kill people but guns do... Well guns in the hands of idiots that spary hundreds of bullets is not good thing. If this kid would of had a 9 MM we could of seen minimal casulties. (This is sad enough but putting a military gun in the hand of an idiot is worse..)

    How sad the NRA is to try to push this off as a right to bear arms...... When these amendments were written these type guns did not exist.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:54 am | Reply
    • Justsayin

      Please do some research before posting.
      The AR-15 is not an "automatic rifle", and I challenge you to find me a legally owned one that was used in such a situation.
      The AR-15 does not "sparay" hundreds of bullets in seconds, and to suggest as such is "dum".

      July 29, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Reply
    • Brent Jacobs

      Wow. Not only are your "facts" wrong, but so is your grammar and spelling. If you come across as unintelligent, your posts will not be taken seriously. And no, guns do NOT kill people...People kill people more efficiently with guns, but they would still kill anyway. Is this only a tragedy because of the number of people killed and wounded??? This guy would have killed anyway, and what needs to be focused on is WHY (and so many others) did it. The attention shouldn't be on the guns, it should be on the killers and what leads them to do what they do!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
    • jfriend

      First off, your spelling is quite good. Sets the tone well for presenting an educated answer.

      The AR-15 is not a full auto weapon. Also a 9mm pistol can do just as much damage if every round hits. Especially with a high-capacity magazine such as the one used in Arizona.

      I will make a concession here: I don't think we need to be able to buy 100 or 200 round ammo drums. I think 30 round magazines ( the normal magazine for an assault rifle) is more than enough.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
      • chad

        yeah because its harder to carry three thirty round clips than a 100 round drum????? If you girls want to control something. How about putting and alarm system on the exit door that shuts things down sounds and alarm , turns on the lights. That door being unsecured was the main reason the idiot was able to do what he done. Laws, Laws!!!! Hell its the laws that keep letting the nut jobs back on the streets , time and time again. Maybe not this particular case. It was also a law that kept a mental doctor from alerting authorities of this individual. Quit looking at the guns and ammo!!!

        July 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
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