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. Dale Larson

    "Since the killing of John Kennedy in 1963, more Americans have died by American gunfire than perished on foreign battlefields in the whole of the 20th century." Economist

    Note that this includes WWI, WWII, Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  2. DefyTheGods

    Let's not be frightened into giving up our rights!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  3. Jay

    DON'T LIKE GUNS????
    YOU'RE FREE TO LEAVE AMERICA ANYTIME...
    I'LL EVEN PAY FOR YOUR WAY PLANE TICKET.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Reply
    • foreigner

      Or you'll just shoot everybody who has a different opinion?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
      • Greg Tringas

        foreigner...Jay was not trying to make that absurd point that you try to make. He is just saying what a lot of us think is that if you don't like a particular country's laws or society, there are plenty of countries that you can go live in that fit your thinking. Just leave us alone to live in our society created by our founders that we believe in and have chosen THEIR way of life as ours.

        July 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm |
  4. fubarack Obamadinejad

    I'm in a room full of loaded guns right now, and they have never attacked me. At 52 years old I'm getting to where I can trust my guns not to attack. You can even approach them straight on from the front and they don't care. I've only heard of 1 gun in US history attacking it's owner,...years back there was a guy who rolled his pickup and the .22 discharged killing him. Odd events like this probably rarely happen. So while guns can kill, it would be way more rare than being hit by lightning.
    As for people killing people, that happens through a variety of ways, and if we banned cars, guns, knives, etc, people would just use something else. In the middle east for example, guns don't do enough damage, so they just blow stuff up,...cars, buses, buildings.
    How would you like to be trapped on a island, in a gun free country, and only the bad guy has a gun? This country is very safe, outside of the liberal crime infested inner cities, but if you want to make it safer, join the call to have judges give serious jail time for gun crimes. Anything else is just hot air. If a judge lets a guy go, and he commits another gun crime, that should not be counted as a gun crime, it should be counted as a judge crime.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • Jay

      NAILED IT!!!!

      July 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  5. Jordan

    Perhaps I was a bit harsh. I am a 2nd Amendment supporter, however I do believe that proper training should be required for firearm ownership. Gun control is indeed a must needed byproduct of gun ownership. The core of this issue isn't guns or even gun control... but instead crime overall. Unemployment, social distress, a wavering economy... these all are attributing factors to 'gun violence'. I do not hate Fareed for reporting his opinion. It is his right to do so. This debate will go on and on until every gun in the world is destroyed. Then the debate will move on to the next weapon, whatever it may be. It is a never ending debacle that will perplex both sides of the argument for years to come.

    God Bless the USA. May we get over our differences and once again be a great nation full of prosperity and wealth. The days ahead are dark, but we shall endure... with, or without firearms.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  6. I will buy another gun for fareed

    The Oklahoma bonber, whose name I will intentionally omit because he is a waste of life, killed 168 people with fertilizer, 5000 pounds of it. Several mid-eastern islamic low-lifes killed quite a few using hijacked airplanes. The Mexican cartels hack people to death with a two dollar machete. Some mothers drown their children in a bathtub, others drive their car into a lake. Some killers use poison gas in highly populated places. GUNS are NOT THE PROBLEM HERE. We had a drunk driver last night, so... take away cars! You can't fix crazy and people who are determined to kill large numbers of people will do it one way or the other. Jeffrey Dahmer murdered 17 men and boys killing them with a 10 pound dumbbell set. I guess we should close the health clubs too. The unibomber killed 23 using home-made bombs.

    Guns are not the problem here. Nor the right to buy a gun.

    Perhaps Syria would not be in the shape it is today if people could fight back. Nazi Germany started out with rounding up the guns... they like a victim who can't defense theirselves. Wake up.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  7. az in these times

    I'd like to thank Fareed Zakaria for informing people (specifically the ones who want to strip us of our freedom) that should ANY group breech our military or national law enforcement structures they will be met with a heavily armed and formidable population of civilians.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  8. CRasch

    The survey used is the number of guns divided by the capita.
    I'd really like to see the number of gun per gun owner or a true assessment of number of gun owners.
    Most gun owners do not have just one gun. The usually have a handgun with a rifle or shotgun.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:27 pm | Reply
  9. Naludiablo

    Over the last decade more and more states have been easing their laws towards fans and allowing concealed carry. It would appear that the drop in all crimes correlates with this. This would lead me to believe that gun have been a good detriment to crimes. If in fact the number of shootings has not gone down, I would suggest that is it possible that there are more criminals being shot? It is safe to assume that with more guns in the hands of citizens will result in more accidents as well. I don't think that this would mean getting guns out of citizens hands is the answer as the result would be all the other crimes increasing again. The logical answer is more education and training. Even without more education and training the net result of injuries and crimes has been a positive result.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:28 pm | Reply
  10. Timtaper

    Funny how my gun can be in my bedroom at the head of my bed, and never commit a crime by itself.. It actually takes a looney tune to do that. Which only goes to say.....guns don't kill....people do..

    July 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  11. Steven

    "5 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the guns," says it all. America is not the most civilized or peaceful country in the world. American citizens are in a "cold war" with every other American citizen.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  12. Franklin

    Interesting statistic..... Over 78% of all felonies and 96+% of all violent crimes are committed by registered democrats...... Make one wonder what should be outlawed..... AND THESE ARE THE FACTS....And one cannot argue with the facts....

    July 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  13. AMP

    Hmm.. May be this is the reason why this country is so good 🙂

    July 29, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  14. Be-be

    Cris Rock had a good idea years ago when he said "we can control killings by guns in the hood by allowing anyone to have a gun, but charge 5,000K for a bullet" is this thing on

    July 29, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  15. Mike Boston

    I like the fact that since we only make up 5 percent of the world's population that we do have 50 percent of the guns.. Because when the economy is in the crapper something has to deter other nations from stepping foot on our soil!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  16. Clod

    Those who favor gun control have pounced upon the massacre in Aurora as a rallying cry to further their agenda. It seems that many who favor more gun control would like to keep your average citizen from buying guns. They would, of course, still allow the police and military to retain their weapons. I can’t help but think, at this point, about the 2009 Fort Hood shooting. The perpetrator was an army psychiatrist. To me this indicates that just because a person has a badge, or wears a uniform doesn’t preclude them from doing something wantonly destructive. About all you could say, if you only allowed police and military to have guns, is that fewer people will have weapons thus reducing the number of people who have the means to be wantonly destructive. However, that statement assumes that if you take guns away from a person who desires to kill a large number of people you will stop them. The question is: will removing guns prevent or reduce death from mass murders (or murders in general). Would Holmes not being able to buy guns and ammunition have prevented him from killing 13 people. I frankly don’t think so. This man had turned his apartment into a elaborate firebomb. This demonstrates that guns aren’t the only way to cause people harm on a large scale, and that this man had the capability to create destructive devices without the use of firearms. That is to say, it will always be easier to break something than to fix it. This is what those in favor of gun control miss in their eagerness for an easy answer to the world’s problems. If it were as simple as passing more gun legislation we would have already figured it out. Keeping mass murder from happening is not as easy as convincing voters they shouldn’t feel empowered to defend themselves or their families. The boogeyman that those in favor of gun control would have us fear isn’t going to stop the James Holmes of the world from doing harm, but it will stop you and me from feeling like we should do something about it.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  17. Be-be

    If I was a criminal and wanted to rob a house and i knew the house on the right has a gun owner and the house on the left is against guns which house do you think they will rob?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
    • ItsObvious

      The house on the right of course. See, burglers dont break into houses when people are home, but they love to wait and break into houses they know have guns because guns are easy to sell and every criminal loves to have some guns registered to someone else

      July 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm | Reply
  18. AnarchyX

    Facts, while very relevant to the educated and compassionate, means nothing to right-wing, kill 'em all let god sort them out, conservative 'Merkans.

    Of couse it would help to change things regarding guns of such devastating and destructive purposes if democrats would handle the matter with such resolution and fervor that conservatives do. To not means they couldn't care less, which seems to be where they are.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  19. Michael

    I have two basic points to make that are equally "the facts" that Mr Fareed keeps refering to. I dont understand why people keep making comparisons of the US and other countries. There are several other factors that will influence the social behavior of the society such as culture and how tough the punishments are for equal crimes being commited, One reason other countries have fewer gun related crimes is because they wont make taxpayers pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the gunman to go through the judicial system and house him in prison. They will simply kill him on the spot and no more money has to be spent on the guy.

    Now instead of looking across countries we can take two states within the US as Fareed has tried to compare states to other states but he did so very poorly. If you take California and Texas two of the largest states in the US and compare them you can see that Texas has less restrictive gun laws and California already has in place a ban on assault rifles and magazines over 10 rounds. Guess what California has nearly double the gun related crime than Texas does. Also no one seems to realize that if you go through mass murders in the US and look assault rifles are rarely used. Why try to spend time and money arguing about laws that will not change anything even if everyone would unanimously agree with them. Assault rifles are only used in an estimated 4% of gun related violence.

    On another note, yesterday I was reading up on the University of Texas tower shootings in 1966 and saw that the Austin police department gave a big credit to civilians who brought their personal firearms to campus and returned fire at Whitman and limited his ability to take careful aim. If it was not for the armed civilians intervening Whitman would have killed a lot more people.

    I cant understand why people dont see it common sense that if you look at the history and use crime statistics provided by the FBI and ATF you can see that the gun control especially assault weapons and high capacity magazines are a pointless debate.

    If you have any doubt about the points I bring up here go and do the research yourself. Make a chart of every mass shooting / murder in the us history and list what weapons were used and see how many were assault weapons versus handguns and how many utilized high capacity magazines. By the way high capacity magazine is not by default anyhting over 10 rounds it is an extended magazine that holds more rounds than the weapon was originally designed for. so all the handguns that used 15-20 rounds are not considered high capacity only if the magazine extends out past the grip and holds more than that. Similarly the ar-15 is designed to hold 30 round magazine so only magazines in excess of 30 rounds are considered high capacity.

    I welcome feedback on this post as I always like to hear what other think about these issues.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  20. celietz

    So, public gun ownership is America's problem and this is coming from the guy who insists that violating federal law isn't really a crime, but a civil offense. (Excuse me while I try to stop laughing.) I can not wait to see what Mr. Fareed Zakaria comes up with next. Let's get real shall we? This mentality of "if the guns we not here then there wouldn't be a problem" can be used for almost everything. Don't like fire, ban matches. Don't like drinking and driving, ban cars and alcohol. Don't like accidental or intention overdoses, then get rid of all the medications. Don't like plane crashes, ban the planes. Don't like food poisioning, let's ban food and Heck while we are at it, let's just ban war or let's fix everything and let's just outlaw mankind. That's right, let's just shut her down and issue a cyanide capsule to every man woman and child and let's fix this beast once and for all. Opps....we can't because we outlawed that.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  21. Ross

    Australians were recently forced by a new law to surrender 640,381 personal firearms to be destroyed by their own
    government, a program costing Australia taxpayers more than $500 million (AU) dollars.

    The first year results are now in:
    Australia-wide, homicides are up 6.2 percent,
    Australia-wide, assaults are up 9.6 percent;
    Australia-wide, armed robberies are up 44 percent (yes, 44
    percent)!

    In the state of Victoria alone, homicides with firearms are now up 300 percent. (Note that
    while the law-abiding citizens turned them in, the criminals did not
    and criminals still possess their guns!)

    While figures over the previous 25 years showed a steady decrease in armed robbery with firearms, this has changed drastically upward in the past 12 months, since the criminals now are guaranteed that their prey is unarmed.

    There has also been a dramatic increase in break-ins and assaults of the elderly, while the resident is at home.

    Australian politicians are at a loss to explain how public safety has decreased, after such monumental effort and expense was expended in 'successfully ridding Australian society of guns.... yet you don't see this on the American evening news or on this CNN website.

    The Australian experience speaks for itself. Guns in the hands of honest citizens save lives and property and, yes, gun-control laws affect only the law-abiding citizens.

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

      ^^^Great comment^^^

      July 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  22. rs

    It is also a fact that while certain firearms may become restricted by special license, no one will ever take away our right to bear arms as long as this country is called America. I would guess the over/under on the life expectancy of the first politician that tries it would be about a day.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  23. Dwight

    That is the biggest bunch of BS, I've ever heard on guns. You are you who needs to get his facts straight. The numbers show the areas where conceled carry is allowed are so much sfer. Duh even an educated idiot should be able to figure this one out. If that person can defend him or herself, maybe i should leave them alone. Your liberal BS needs to keep off the air. Another reason CNN News stands where it does today.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Reply
  24. Mark G.

    I recently read that the USA is also the most heavily medicated country in the world too. Is there a connection? I think there is. Many of the anti-depressant and mood altering and brain altering psychiatric drugs change peoples behaviour. Some for the worst. Also, I would like to see a map like the one in this article that compares countries that do not own as many guns with oppression by their own governments. That oppresson would include where people are killed or "disappear" in the middle of the night. I would also like to see an accompanying map showing who is commiting most of these gun crimes. The problem with articles like this is that the authour starts with a premise and belief and then sets out to prove it by using only facts that support his or her theory. Bigots have been using these kinds of analysis forever for example.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Reply
    • Stop the madness

      Yes, thank you. The warning is right on the labels. And more and more people are using this stuff.

      When the label says "side effects may include thoughts of suicide and violence" why are people so surprised when some of the users go off on murderous rampages? And why isn't the use of these drugs reported for every suicide and murder? Just watch the commercial breaks on the evening news for the answer, these drug pushers run the media.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  25. Mindy

    The shooter, Jame Holmes, was breaking the law. Period.

    I 100% believe that a LEGALLY armed person in that theater could've stopped Holmes. I don't understand the counter argument that this would've created more chaos. The entire reason we have 2nd amendment rights is to protect and defend ourselves, our children, and our possessions. If we do not exercise them as such, we leave our rights to be defined by criminals like James Holmes.

    More to the point, "Gun Free Zones" are seriously harming citizen safety! Did you know that almost all public multiple shootings occur in "Gun Free Zones"? Criminals do not abide by laws, let alone posted signs!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  26. Thomas

    the problem of guns in America is best summarized on this forum: majority of comments misses the point entirely because is made by macho guys who want to brag what they know about guns and military. gun crime is not a problem of psychology or sociology, it's a problem of mentality and mentality is last to change.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  27. Realist

    Always love how even though I never cuss or anything in my posts and provide nothing but factual evidence; it seems to disappear along with others that disagree with the article. Amazing.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • Ranger

      I'm right there with you Realist. All I mentioned was that in all of Fareed's facts, he forgot to add gun homicides by LEGAL gun owners. My comment wasn't good enough to make the cut I guess.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  28. Brian

    "The United States stands out from the rest of the world not because it has more nutcases"............................

    That's a matter of opinion. Historically the United States has been a dumping ground for the flotsam of Europe. Europe has a low crime rate because their misfits, criminals and religious fanatics went to America.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  29. Vincent

    You are selective in your use of the data. You did not mention Switzerland by name in your selected list of the top 10 gun owning countries – it is number 4, but did include them on the low homicide list. So it is possible to have high private gun ownership and relatively low homicide rate. You also did not mention that Syria has a very low level of private gun ownership rate – I am sure the innocents in Syria would love to have a 2nd. Amendment in their laws right now, as, I suspect, would the people of Zimbabwe over the past 20 year. The 2nd Amendment is more about protection of the populous against a potentially tyrannical government than it is about home protection or hunters needing an edge against deer.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  30. GBM

    Somewhere along the line we need to note that,according to the numbers bandied about, somewhere between 70 and 80 million Americans own between 200 and 300 million the VAST majority of which own and use firearms responsibly.

    The claim that states with at least one law have less violence really needs to be explained and supported. You need to look at states like Vermont where firearm ownership and public carry are common and explain why they are so much safer than places like Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City and Oakland. The first trend that pops out is that the centers of violence are all metro areas. Does that indicate that misuse of firearms might be a cultural thing–part of American's URBAN culture?

    It is clear that other governments and populations throughout the world either do not trust citizens with firearms or wish to make sure the citizens are under total control. Even some of the countries that have a recent mass killing by firearm which have a moderate level of ownership have laws that restrict access or use of firearms by their owners.

    One look at countries like Mexico shows that strong firearms control don't work if individuals or groups want firearms. Nor have strong firearms control prevented sick individuals from massacring others as can be seen in killings carried out in Australia and several European countries.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
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