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. J

    What the author fails to address is that even though we have more firearm fatalities than most other countries, its still an insignificant amount. Far less than alcohol related deaths (where is the outcry to ban booze ) and, not including suicides, similar to drowning. There is no firearm problem in the USA and even if guns were made 100% illegal tomorrow there are already so many out there the criminals will get them just as easily as they currently do.

    This entire argument is coming from an irrationally emotional perspective.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • Ret

      There were no car accident, alcohol or what ever unrelated statistics involved with the incident that started these recent articles. It's about people shot with guns. I don't see how people lives can't be spared and why you want to turn this into a minor thing compared to other types of death using totally unrelated statistics. This is ridiculous. These people were shot with guns and that's why we are talking about guns not cancer or car statistics.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  2. Joe Rioux

    Mr. Zakaria:

    CORRELATION DOES NOT EQUAL CAUSATION.

    There are numerous other variables in U.S. society at work to create the statistics you mention. Example: educational system, religion, juxtaposition of multiple ethnicities, etc. Comparing the U.S. to the rest of the world based on two factors only (gun possession and violent crime) is like comparing apples and oranges.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • Kevin K

      Did you read the article? Or did you dismiss it as left-wing BS a couple paragraphs in? I copy-pasted this from the article...

      "Conclusion? Well, there are lots of factors involved, but there is at least a correlation between tighter laws and fewer gun-related deaths."

      It even had its own paragraph to try and address people like you. Guess next time he'll try bolding it?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Reply
  3. furianxo

    Like I said in numerous other posts.... I'll give up my guns when EVERYONE gives up their guns. Police, Armies... ALL OF THEM... ALL COUNTRIES.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  4. James

    So if it's so hard and the government knows you try to buy a semi automatic and te rules r strict. Then why is America the most unsafe industrial nation in the world? How did this colorado but job who was seeing a shrink able to obtain a semi automatic? Take away guns and u make world safer. Stats don't lie

    July 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  5. California

    It's not the guns but society in general. Ethics and morals in this country are pathetic. You want to keep blaming gun? I suggest you look at society in general because that's the actual problem.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  6. JPMN

    The problem is with gun manufactures and the powerful NRA who own most of congress. The NRA does not care who they sell guns to, criminals, drug cartels, or everyday citizens. They do not care that weapons are used to kill innocent civilians including children or border patrol agents. All they care about is selling guns and more guns and raking in $$$. I personally will not vote for any politician with an A rating with the NRA.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  7. Daniel

    The data from the CDC for firearm homicide and non-fatal injuries in 2009 seem to conflict with the BJS and the FBI's Uniform Crime Report.

    http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/glance/firearmnonfatalrt.cfm

    http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10shrtbl08.xls

    both of which seem to sugest an overall Downward trend of Gun violence (both fatal and nonfatal) in the United states.
    Overall I Give Credit to Fareed for at least presenting a factual argument about ot this facet of violence in america, And adressing the disconnect with americans perception of violence in this country with the reality. If more reporters reported the facts as they are, there could at least be productive debate about the issue.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  8. RangerDOS

    YAWN!! Puh-Lezz, spare us the same old uber-liberal arguments for gun control, it boils down to liberals (communists) want to control the lifes of others. Ain't happening. Whats really the shame is that you'll jump on you band wagon at the expense of others tragedy... that's just sick.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  9. Claude Balz

    I can't remember when I've seen so much ignorance (starting with Fareed's article) on public display. Listen people, if you don't have a clue what you are talking (I'm talking to all you "experts" who believe a semi can be converted to full-auto by anyone with a screwdriver) then STFU!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  10. elitephpcoder

    We need more people trained and armed. If people were armed at any given public event these gunman would think twice about doing it and if they did they may not get very far in there agenda to mass murder. We need more civilians armed and trained to use their weapon. Taking away guns from law-abiding citizens will NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER stop a criminal from getting any weapon they so desire from the black market. Having said that people that advocate gun control should wake up and smell the logic and reason because their though process is flawed.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  11. eli

    Guns are not the problem. They never were the problem.. People are the problem. I'm a gun owner and so is my whole family . all of my kids ages 10-16 all have there own as well as my wife and my self. we soot safely at a private range and we enjoy it immensely. along with close to 1000 other members of the same range. we are not criminals, heathens, evil people, or bad. i here the question all the time why do you need a gun and i reply with... why do you need a car that go's over 100MPH ? why do you need alcohol? cars kill more people per year than guns do. so does alcohol. and what happens when you combine them.. may be we should make every one have to ride public transportation in buses that don't have the ability to go faster than 55MPH? or may be we don't punish the 95% of the people that do it the way they are supposed to because of the 5% that don't. guns are an integrated part of my family's life. my kids are all honor roll students ALL OF THEM. we spend hours together as a family outdoors enjoying each others company. we are not a family of fat ass sitting lazy Americans.. and we don't deserve to be punished because of a few idiots.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
    • Drew

      The issue isn't banning the guns, it"s banning weapons that can do unheard of levels of damage without reloading. That's why we ban unsafe cars, rather than banning cars.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
      • California

        Your analogy isn't correct. If there was a recall on a defective gun then your argument would have the correct analogy.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
      • Drew

        Actually, cars without insurance are banned from using public roads. So the analogy is apt.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
      • California

        You stated about "banning unsafe cars" and nothing about insurance. You want to "change" your statement then so be it but your original statement's analogy was terrible.

        You liberals can't even admit when you're wrong. Pathetic at best.

        July 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
  12. dd

    Now look at many of the "green countries" on the map and tell me how many have dictatorial governments and mass murders. Compare the murder rate in Mexico to that of the US!!! Look at Chicago with tough gun controls. Only the Democrat Party Drug Gangs have guns and cause several shootings every day. Parents don't have guns to protect their innocent children from Obama's gangs. (No Black drug gang member has ever voted Republican and Chicago is, after all, the most politically corrupt city in the nation – the gangs will work with the criminal politicians).

    July 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  13. Drew

    I own three guns: an old Montgomery Wards .22 rifle and a Ruger .22 handgun I got as a gift, and a Remington 30.06 with a five-shot clip that comes out for one week during the Wisconsin deer hunt. That's it. I was raised in a culture where guns were commonplace, and these guys that think they need an AR-15 to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights are full of it. If they could limit access to guns capable of firing several dozen rounds or more without reloading, I wouldn't feel my 2nd Amendment rights trampled upon a bit.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      You are as dumb as any sheeple. You don't have a clue what the 2nd is about. Guess you should have paid A LOT more attention in social studies class back then.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  14. Ben Springer

    I forgot to thank you for referring to me as a nutcase. That really makes me want to continue receiving treatment. I mean, I shouldn't feel bad about seeking treatment if I'm considered a nutcase right?

    July 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  15. Nate

    Because we have more guns than everyone else means nothing. We have more money and more surplus of everything than the majority of the world

    July 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  16. Brian

    I think it's funny when "smart people" try to use number, many times unrelated, and sometimes unsubstantiated to prove a "fact". I wonder if these "smart people" ever bothered to take a logic class while they were getting "smart". I would bet not.

    This is the "logic" that they use:
    Fact: Osama Bin Laden was Muslim. (True)
    Fact: Osama Bin Laden was a terrorist. (True)
    Conclusion: Muslims are terrorists. – False, yet this is exactly the same logic used here, and by many people of extreme views. While using true facts, or statements it does NOT mean that combing those facts or statements means that the new "fact" or statement is true.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  17. Nick Beef

    This hack journalist is trolling for posts with his garbage article. Give up your pen/keyboard sir and get into a profession for which you are qualified.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Reply
  18. Randygnyc

    There are more than 200 million firearms and between 10-12 BILLION rounds in the US. Who's gonna take them away? The only thing I know is that those guns would be turned on those responsible for trying to take them away.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  19. Vik

    Very good article! As someone who mostly sides with the republican viewpoint, even I am surprised how critics seem to put aside common sense when talking about the need for stricter laws for gun control.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  20. bob

    Here we go again. Every time some nut cuts loose with a gun we have to go through this painful rhetoric about gun control. We live in a free society which sometimes has undesirable results. Taking guns out of the equation isn't going to make our society a better place. Many countries have much more restrictive gun laws than the USA, but they are not any safer; there is still violence, murders, kidnapping, all manner of crime and some of that is perpetrated by the police and military regimes.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  21. Chris

    My biggest problem with this whole thing is that he killed 12.....3 days later a truck crashed in texas killing 14 and not one single person has said we should ban cars....get real people

    July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • Drew

      Um, one was an accident, the other homicide. Any better examples?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
      • Chris

        Why does it matter? A life is a life is it not? The reason for the second amendment is so the people with weapons will outnumber the army of the government to protect themselves from tyranny.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm |
    • Drew

      Intent is the crux, Chris, and makes all the difference.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  22. Stlchicago

    Let's stop concentrating on the guns – just make each bullet $1,000.00 a piece. Then put a tax on top of that.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • FreeBlogger

      I like the idea of 1000$ a bullet.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      Your messiah is already trying to enact that. And the word is "round", not bullet. You won't be invited over when the @#$% hits the fan, if the messiah is re-elected. On second thought I'll just give you some .224s for $1000/piece. Then you can have fun throwing them at everyone looting your house and r aping your wife. How's them apples??

      July 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
      • UtahProf

        Heck, I'd give him a fully loaded magazine for free just to watch as he stood there helplessly with ammo but no weapon ... these people are a lesson in Darwinism. Let their defective genes be culled from the pool ...

        July 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
      • Stlchicago

        Hey Fred Jennings, as you're compiling your guns and bullets; who guaranteed your fat a_ -as will even be around when the "@#$% hits the fan"? Fred Jennings, you also said – "Then you can have fun throwing them at everyone looting your house and r aping your wife. How's them apples??"" Mr. Jennings tell you what, you can come with any guns you would like to use, and I'll show you the art of knife work up close and personal on your fat a _ -as; the same way we do it in the brush.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm |
      • Stlchicago

        48 killings without the use of one bullet. You would be a walk in the park.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm |
  23. FreeBlogger

    NRA should be declared as Terrorist Organization because they are promoting the agenda of weaponization of entire society, Gun Laws needs to be more strict and psychiatric evaluation should be mandatory on every Gun sale to determine what kind of insecurity a person is going through which makes him to buy or even think to buy a Gun in 21st century. I don't buy the "hunting Guns" point of view, clearly Gun kills more humans than animals.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • UtahProf

      Annually, doctors kill 10.3 times as many humans as all types of firearms combined. What is your plan there?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • eli

      this is exactly the mentality that that is actually causing the problem ... guns will never go away (period) and criminals will always have them (period) by taking them out of the hands of those who obey the law the only ones left with them are the criminals.. in my mind the only true terrorism going here is Americans trying to take away the rites of other law abiding citizens.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
    • Joe D

      Lets go ahead and buy the 9000 deaths per year figure. (I don't if it includes suicides since suicide rates do not drop in countries with strict gun control, but for the sake of argument, we'll take the number.) If you count the numbers of deer, elk, moose, and wild hogs shot for food by sportsmen using rifles they eclipse the 9000 number. Add in the number of ducks, geese, pheasants, quail, and other game birds and the number skyrockets. Then total the number of varmit species shot and your argument about more people being killed than animals shot by hunters goes right out the window.

      As the platform has developed over the last few years, AR style rifles have been chambered in new calibers and are being used for everything from jackrabbits to elk. While some people are afraid of any rifle in black that looks like an AR, the truth is they are becoming much more the norm than they were even ten years ago.

      BTW – all the sales of firearms and ammunition are taxed and the money is earmarked for wildlife preservation and habitat development. In other words, the hunters who you downplay are responsible for a great deal of the conservation effort in this country. They are not mass murderers, they are just sportsmen (and women) who are doing a lot of good for the environment.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:32 am | Reply
  24. Kevin K

    Boom. Fareed Zakaria is the best writer and thinker in journalism today. And kudos for him for taking this bold stance on gun control instead of deferring to the argument that, well, crazy boys will be crazy boys. For those who disagree, get YOUR facts rights: if you have money and you don't have a felony, you can own an automatic assault rifle. Regardless, automatic or semi-auto, they both fire enough rounds fast enough to kill mass amounts of people. Unfortunately, there is no compromise on this issue. You either have to remove most or all of the guns from the country (very doubtful) or just let everyone walk around strapped. Maybe that's the path we're headed down? Especially since there's enough illiterates around that suspect Red Dawn 2 from China to vote it into action

    July 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  25. California

    Bottom line is that democrats want to end the 2nd amendment and this is (as usual) just a start.

    Give them and inch and they'll take a mile.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
    • Drew

      Kind of a broad, unsupported statement, no? Even Obama has come out in support of legal gun ownership and he's sort of the "top Democrat."

      July 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  26. Isma'il

    Gun control doesn't solve anything. Just like the war on Drugs didn't solve anything. Either has the war on terrorism stop the production of terrorist.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  27. OkayMan

    I am so impressed that the gun owners on this board can explain the nuances like automatic versus semi automatic. If your mama, daddy, child, nephew or anybody you care for is pumped full of lead, I promise you want even care what caliber bullet it was. Death is permanent and guns facilitate death! My gun control semantics at work!!

    July 29, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  28. M. J. McAllister

    For all the talk of how this horrible crime came about and hand wringing about gun violence why don't we as a nation do a bit of real soul searching and look for causes. Like the totally ignored fact that we LOVE violence. America LOVES violence more than we love ourselves. You say no, I'm wrong? Lok at the movie all those people were there to see. Very violent! What do you expect. Most "action" films are nothing more than murder and mayhem interrupted by some weak storyline. What's on TV? More murder and mayhem. Sports? Football is primarilly a game of kill the quarterback, just look back on last years season where they found a team with bounty's for injury of an op'posing player, then there's hockey. And NASCAR? Lets go see the wrecks and see who wins.
    Does anyone not see what's going on here? No wonder someone who's on the edge clicks and decides it's time to act out what they see as normal.
    Like I said America LOVES violence. It's not the guns, it's how we're taught hate and disrespect that's the real issue here.
    I'm not religious but I do wish those who CLAIM to be would start actually start being what they claim to be

    July 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  29. El Flaco

    A gun makes a little man feel like a small man.

    There are a lot of little men in this nation.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  30. jeff

    Chicago has had 274 MURDERS this year and nobody is talking about that. Instead, we have a patsy go in a movie theater under mind control (CIA covert operations) and he kills 12. Wake up people..... This Holmes guy is NO different than Lee Harvey Oswald, Sir Han Sir Han and Mark David Chapman- a PATSY.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
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