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. Ken from FL

    s there any topic on which Fareed is not the expert?

    July 27, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  2. Mike

    The more law abiding citizens wih a concealed carry weapon, the less likely it is for a criminal to do something wrong without dying for it!

    July 27, 2012 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  3. Tom

    Sorry, you need to go farther back than gun laws. You need to backup to the woefully distorted elections system that gives wingnuts control of who gets to be a candidate. With only wingnut approved politicians making it through the primaries to the general elections, nothing will be done about any of the major problems that confront the nation.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  4. Wayne Hedani

    The reason the crime rate has dropped is because more people have access to guns. Criminals do not like to be shot. If the people in the theatre were prepared to defend themselves i.e. concealed carry permit, it would have ended badly for Holmes.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  5. kill the idiots

    I love these buttheads that have never been in the military or even held a gun , make these assanine comments ,the educational system in this country ought be ashamed of themselves , but then again you have to have pride to be ashamed, this country is doomed , its all catching up.....

    July 27, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  6. Wastrel

    As a Muslim, Farheed would love to see us disarmed and defenseless.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  7. kill the idiots

    Wayne is exactly right...

    July 27, 2012 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  8. John

    Banning guns will ONLY take them out of the hands of LEGAL owners.. Criminals will not give up their guns since they were obtained illegally to begin with. But don't take my word for it. Marijuana was banned in the US, starting back in the 1860's thru the 1930's. So, why is it that there are 12 million regular Marijuana users in the US? Why has 1/3 of the population tried Marijuana. A Banned, illegal substance.. Today, is the Most popular illegal drug out there, obtainable at nearly every street corner. Metric Tons of the stuff crosses into our borders from Canada and Mexico every single year. So, Tell me, how well has the Ban of Marijuana worked for the United States.. Banning guns will do nothing to the criminal element. If you want to Control Guns, then pass laws to punish gun crimes so severely that no one will ever consider using one. Add a 100 year, mandatory additional years to ALL crimes that involve a gun... No plea bargains, no parole possible. As for James Holmes, what he did is an act of Terror. Put him in Gitomo for life. He took away the rights of those that he killed,. He's a terrorist plain and simple, hold him under terrorism laws...

    July 27, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply
  9. hoosier1234

    Read carefully. Washington DC’s low murder rate of 80.6 per 100,000 is due to strict gun control, and Arlington, VA’s high murder rate of 1.6 per 100,000 is due to the lack of gun control.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:54 pm | Reply
    • John

      Exactly, DC's gun control has only taken guns out of the hands of Legal, Law Abiding owners. Crimanals have nothing to lose by obtaining guns illegally. Gun control has doing nothing to help the District of Columbia.. Now, if they took the logical step of punishing all gun crimes with 100 year prison terms, people will think again...

      July 27, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
      • Raven223

        Unfortunately they won't think again. Having been on the receiving end of a "state sponsored" 2 year vacation I can tell you that 99% of the people in prison don't think 3 hours ahead of the present. Those same people would have no qualms stealing a firearm to commit a crime whether the sentence would be 1 year or life without.

        July 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm |
    • virginian76

      dude have you been to Arlington? it's a yuppie town. Arlington is only a few minutes away from DC where most likely the criminals come over to mess with passive rich kids who don't own guns.

      July 28, 2012 at 2:49 am | Reply
  10. kill the idiots

    The only reason there has never been a war in this country is that the opposition is so afraid of the number of weapons in this country.

    July 27, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply
    • Heknowsitall

      yup that Civil War never happened.

      July 28, 2012 at 1:52 am | Reply
  11. kill the idiots

    Phah Q CNN

    July 27, 2012 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  12. Sagebrush Shorty

    If you are going to use statistics then correlate gun crime in each country with it's racial and ethic poulation. Then calculate the percentage of gun crimes by race or ethnicity. To much to ask? To politically incorrect? Afraid of the results?

    July 27, 2012 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  13. hovey19

    oh yes & if your half-baked theory were correct there would be next to no crime in Chicago, New York City & DC b/c they have some of the strictest gun laws in the nation.

    WHOOPS again! they also have some of the highest homicide rates in the nation.

    rationalize that one for me sir!

    July 27, 2012 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  14. Zakaria Uneducated

    Zakaria thinks more gun laws will reduce crime. Vermont (very lax laws) is the safest state in the union while California, Maryland, and New Jersey (with very strict laws) have much higher crime rates. Chicago has draconian ant-gun laws and is a crime wasteland.

    Zakaria = retarded.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Reply
    • Matthew

      Crime and gun ownership is not related. Crime directly depends on education, lack of opportunity and poor upbringing of children. A loose gun control will have more dead bodies in the street.

      July 31, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  15. Ed Straker

    Fareed, I am a little confused with your logic >> The US has 88 guns per 100 people and light green countries like India have between 0 and 10. So then the US has between 8.8 and 88 times the number of guns per 100 people as compared to India. Then you state that the US has 10 times the number of homicides per 100K people as compared to India. I am not a statistician but it appears that the US does very well considering the number of guns in our possession. And your article does not factor how many homicides are committed with illegally obtained weapons. There are plenty of those no doubt- where gun control laws are irrelevent to begin with. Sorry Fareed, I like most of your articles but I'm not buying your argument here,

    July 27, 2012 at 10:17 pm | Reply
  16. Trevor

    The problem with Fareed's argument is that the parts of the USA with the most guns have the lowest violent crime rates, and the places with the strictest gun control laws have the highest crime rates.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
    • giggity

      and your source is FOXNEWS, I am sure

      July 27, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Reply
      • sevenseas

        or you could use Google, it's free and easy. Of course that may contradict your hyperbole

        July 27, 2012 at 11:03 pm |
  17. dave

    here is some more facts fareed.you attend bilderberg which would to see a population of 500 million and who desire to have a one world government and kill all freedom in the world. do my facts matter more than yours?

    July 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  18. Lazy Ace

    Mr. Zakaria:

    Before you rattle off any more of this nonsense, I ask you to take a look on the map and tell me what colors have been painted on Egypt, Syria, and Lybia.

    Supposedly, according to you, they have less guns per capita than the united states.

    All three of these countries are going through the termoil of revolution.

    Two of the countries have toppled their dictatiors, and the third is hanging on by his finger tips.

    They didn't do this with water pistols.

    According to you, they all have fewer guns than the United States.

    Now, let's compare deaths by firearms between these three countries and the United States in the last two years.

    Who has had the most deaths by firearms?

    And by the way, Afiganistan is quite green as well.

    When people want to commit horriffic acts they will find the tools or make the tools to do it with .

    Banning guns is not the answer.

    July 27, 2012 at 10:33 pm | Reply
    • virginian76

      the answer is..... cuz Americans have the luxury to spend money on guns...that's why we have more guns than anyone else.... our country was formed because of the rule of tyranny and that's why we will never let any government including ours to step all over us. but with so many guns, what do you expect? no crimes committed by guns....it's all stats ... it's like if you have more cars on the road, the chances of an accident is higher... duh

      July 28, 2012 at 2:46 am | Reply
      • nina

        What do you mean by ”our country was formed because of the rule of tyranny and that's why we will never let any government including ours to step all over us.” I find that statement very confusing, incomprehensible. What is your agenda?
        Then, you compare cars (accidents, I imagine) to guns? Most people who own guns are well aware of the dangers of owning them. Yes, not all people are as careful as they should be and children die. However, by far, gun owners are most responsible or there would be “accidents” every minute.

        July 28, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  19. dave

    yes lets give up our right to own guns. only police and soldiers should have guns, yes. none of them kill people by mistake nor do any of them kill people illegally and none of them are bad or evil. i think that makes sense. also people in the media never loe and are never wrong and are the smartest people in the world. also, politicians do not lie. i am making so much sense right now. fareed, such an american name. can we rename george washington fareed washington?

    July 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm | Reply
  20. cacique

    There has to be a lot of discourse on gun possession, sales and purchases in the USA. We can not deny the fact that we have a lot of gun violence for a first-world country. Apparently having guns, having the 2nd amendement, and the liberty to deal guns, and the enourmous lobbying machinery wielded by the NRA have not diminished the number of deaths our society suffers annually at the hand of someone exercizing his or her right to shoot a gun.
    Especially, The NRA...howcome they have not proposed any strategies to minimze gun violence..? How come they only predicate the right to have and buy guns?

    July 27, 2012 at 10:43 pm | Reply
    • Raven223

      The reason the NRA only advocates the second amendment, and the right to bear arms because that's their job. It's the Brady campaign's job to advocate recinding the second amendment. Just because more people agree with the NRA, and therefore make the NRA more powerful doesn't make them inherently evil.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  21. cacique

    Too bad we can not count on our professional politicians as all they care is not disturbing the peace of all those affiliated to the NRA. Anything related with gun control means losing millions of votes.
    On the other hand, those affiliates..how are they a part or a solution to avoid mass murders? I don't see how their help has produced any favorable change. Other than being a captive market for gun sales; they won't do anything, wont propose any ideas to reduce the damage of so many guns out on the streets...and let the victims continue falling

    July 27, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  22. cacique

    It looks like only the victims have the right to continue dying so that those with the freedom to have guns and to sell guns can continue to exert their right.
    Personally, I thank Fareed for opening this window for us to discuss this tragic dilemma.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:02 pm | Reply
    • abbydelabbey

      I concur.

      July 27, 2012 at 11:11 pm | Reply
    • sevenseas

      It looks like only the victims have the right to continue dying so that those with the freedom to have cars and to sell cars can continue to exert their privilege.
      (over twice as many deaths as guns, could have gone with falls but makes more logic to compare inanimate object to inanimate object.)

      July 27, 2012 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  23. abbydelabbey

    Too many Americans have an unhealthy obsession with guns and violence. The combination is deadly. Literally,

    My heart breaks for the lives lost and their grieving families.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  24. Eric

    Most pointless article ever. I will NOT give up the right to defend myself just because of a few unfortunate instances of wrongful gun violence. The trade-off in safety is not worth it. If a ban is ever even considered I will immediately buy 50,000 bullets and 10 additional bazookas to live out my life in safety.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
    • Burning Ignorance

      Ummmm, why not just move to a more peaceful country then? If yu need all that to keep you safe in the US....

      July 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  25. tzeroJD

    Lmao, love it when people just keep attempting to correct people, even though someones already done it. Well put Lazy Ace, gives me confidence in my belief that there are still logical reasonable people out there.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  26. kame

    Just take away all guns and the U.S. will be a safer place to live. Just that simple.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
    • UallRwrong

      PPPFFFFFFF!!!! DID u tink of dat all by you wittle self? MWUAHAHAHAAAA!!!! Does anyone else out there think he might actually believe he was the first one to think this one up??? BAHAAHAHAHA!!! You are to funny.....

      July 27, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
    • David

      you are so naive your should have your computer, cell phone, and any other communication devices taken away from you permanently!

      July 27, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Reply
    • Combat Veteran

      When you must fight, fight to win. Criminals do not fight fair. If you fight fair like most victims, you will lose. My advise: Never fight fair. do not become a victim.

      July 28, 2012 at 2:24 am | Reply
    • desertgranny

      take away all guns and this would be a safer place???? this is a joke ??? right???

      July 28, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
  27. UallRwrong

    The second amendment evolves with the people it was designed to protect, just as governments no longer use muskets, neither do we. It survives once again and I also won the bet,lol....

    July 27, 2012 at 11:22 pm | Reply
  28. ReligiousGuy

    This site lists the intentional homicide rate for many countries. UK & India have very strict gun laws compared to US.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_intentional_homicide_rate

    Following are the rates per 100,000 population (taken from that site)

    Country USA UK India
    2000 5.5 1.71 4.0
    2001 5.6 1.79 4.0
    2002 5.6 2.1 3.9
    2003 5.7 1.75 3.5
    2004 5.5 1.60 3.6
    2005 5.6 1.38 3.5
    2006 5.7 1.42 3.5
    2007 5.6 1.46 3.4
    2008 5.4 1.26 3.4
    2009 5.0 1.17 3.4
    MostRecent 5.0 1.17 3.4

    Now you decide if gun control is good or bad when India has 4 times the population of US and a much lower rate of homicide due to gun control laws.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:24 pm | Reply
    • UallRwrong

      Yeah, because they get off using stones, swords and setting their women on fire instead. A bullet to the head just isn't cruel enough for them.....

      July 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm | Reply
      • Jean Sartre

        At least they don't stand a block away, throw Bibles at the person until they fall down, and then shot them as they start to get up...

        Again, we are talking about GUN DEATH here... try and keep up...

        July 28, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
      • nina

        Jean – you are not making any sense at all.
        What are YOU talking about?

        August 1, 2012 at 6:07 pm |
    • virginian76

      ummm most of them live in poverty? they can't even buy a bullet.

      July 28, 2012 at 2:41 am | Reply
    • jlacke

      You controlled for population size by giving RATES (# of events per 100,000 people), so its not relevant that India has four times the population. Stats 101.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
      • ReligiousGuy

        @jlacke: The very fact that there are 4 times more people in India than here in US and at the same time the rate of gun related homicides per 100,000 people is so much lower than US, shows that gun controlled works in large population as well as small population (like UK). US has population more than UK and less than India and yet has higher rate of gun related homicides than UK & India. To me it is very clear, if we have gun control laws as in UK/India, the rate of gun related homicides will fall down here too.

        July 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm |
  29. UallRwrong

    A shout out to ALL u gun owners!!! PEACE!!!! You get to keep yo PIECE!!! Did we win again? I'm sorry. I wasn't keeping up with it, since I knew it would be a waste of time again. (YAWN).....

    July 27, 2012 at 11:30 pm | Reply
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