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. UtahProf

    What Fareed doesn't say is that picture is actually his Silhouette target from last weekend at the gun club ...

    July 29, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  2. SDC

    What Fareed is also ignoring is the single biggest elephant in the room; half of all murders in the US are committed by young black males, the majority of whom are unable to buy a gun legally (you must be 18 to buy a longarm, and 21 to buy a handgun) in the first place. Why is a cohort that composes less than 1.5% of the population committing HALF of all murders in the US? Solve that problem, and you'll solve the larger problem, and without taking away any more of our freedoms.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:19 pm | Reply
  3. Jim Johnson

    I am part of the 88 per 100. Most of my guns were inherited from previous generations and will be passed down the same way. We live in a rural area. The local school district mandates hunter safety for EVERY student. I have two children, a vegetarian daughter who hated the class, but knows how to handle a gun safely, and a son who has never had a hunting license but is a certified expert marksman in the military. If there is a problem, the teachers are not shy about recording their observations in the school record. Could we get a nut-case here? Possibly, but far less likely. I would advocate for a weapons safety course in EVERY U.S. school. As a gun owner, I am not at all against a criminal records check, but a criminal records check says very little about an individual's mental stability.

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

    Fareed – There is a difference between journalism and one more idiot with a pen. Given you are part of the entertainment media (that would be the latter) it's a waste of time to tell you about journalism. But your entertainment skills are well honed, with a subtle combination of misinformation and stacking "facts" to one side of your opinion. Much like the court jester, you make a fool of yourself for our entertainment. More peanuts?

    July 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      @Virginia,
      Your mockery mocks yourself. Here, some peanuts. Yum yum yum!

      July 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  5. 28Mamerican

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

    You are a professional journalist ? Really?

    July 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  6. Mick

    I'm all for the right to bear arms, but look at in context. When our forefathers declared such, the single shot weapon was all there was. Therefore, under their wisdom, we should have the right to a single shot weapon and nothing more...Dare I say that we have exceeded the wisdom of the forefathers and our Consitution.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • UtahProf

      Did you know that it only take 5 to 7 seconds to reload a musket? Probably not. Oh, and you are just as dead at the end of the day if you are in the line of fire.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • UtahProf

      Did you know that it only takes and experienced shooter 5 to 7 seconds to reload a musket? Probably not. Oh, and you are just as dead at the end of the day if you are in the line of fire. I can just about guarantee you that an experienced shooter with a musket could have killed 12 people in the same situation when given the same amount of time. The modern weaponry was actually a hinderance to the shooter in this case as his black rifle jammed.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  7. Dave

    The data are pretty clear. I own firearms, and support the right to own firearms. That being said, I don't need a 100 round clip. I don't need five-seven ammo designed to punch through Kevlar. My Remington 870 12 gauge is MORE than enough to stave off an intruder or punk. I do NOT support private ownership of assault rifles (after all, they're for ASSAULT, right, not just a clever name), massive clips, or other things that endanger our police. Responsible gun ownership? OK. Wingnut militia assault rifle cop killin' stuff? Not so much. There IS a middle ground. Let's get there. Soon.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  8. Nate

    Another point this article doesn't address is that while we may have the most firearm fatalities compared to other countries what is our murder rate like in comparison to the other countries? Guns aren't the problem, a murderer will kill someone with a shoelace if they so decide. It's these lunatics who kill people and always will that is the problem. We live in an imperfect world, there will always be some murders. We need to punish these people harshly to make an example of them to keep the killings to a minimum.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  9. JackD

    I won't rest until guns are banned and the insatiable bloodlust satiated.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • lepke

      With you on that.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • UtahProf

      Yes, you will – because you will die of old age before you see it. Bank on it.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  10. nolongerarepublican

    25% more people are killed in the US from knives than guns ( UDOJ, CDC).
    Why don't you go to middle east and do stories about how your great people are the only terrorists in the world, Fareed?

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

    I do not own a gun but I enjoy the fact that I have the right to own one if I so desire. Guns are not the problem. People are the problem. I am fully convinced that a lot of people in this country are not afraid to go to jail. Look at the whacko in Colorado. He will plead insanity and most likely get off some how. The Founding Fathers would have asked who's turn it was to buy the rope. A couple of days later and it would have been a memory. Watch a couple of hangings live and people would be less apt to do something crazy. OK, so we will not go back to the days of quick justice (although I would think Home Depot would donate the goods and someone would sell commercial time to watch) so lets outsource the jails to like Bangadesh. We will take low bid and save a bundle. Any jail term over lets say 10 years and you go to the low bidder, Siberia, China, India take your pick. After we put this in place I bet people will be more civilized. See how well a gang member is treated in a foreign jail. What costs the taxpayer millions in defense costs and then millions to house can be lowered greatly. Our $ 200.00/day would drop to maybe $ 10.00/day.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  12. dday_1944

    This article is nothing more than left wing propaganda by a left leaning news sight to persuade others to accept their views.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • anotherday_2012

      Then, stop visiting and reading this wesbite.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  13. American Exceptionalism

    Lets see...Country with the most guns- 1.) No multi million citizen deaths brought on by the Central Govt. (Germany, Russia, China- Hitler, Stalin, Mao – for the uninformed) 2.) Most productive and prosperous nation. (14 trillion GDP) 3.)Nation with the most technological innovations 4.) People from the world over flock to get in here. 5.) Nation least likely to be invaded by foreign nation.

    Apparently a well armed citizenry propagates exponential growth. It would seem when guns are only in the hands of those in power do they seem to be a REAL problem.

    Yes. Lets keep our guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  14. nolongerarepublican

    Hey Fareed, how about a story on The Middle East and murders and terrorists?
    That's your people.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  15. ak

    it is a shame that idiots like this animal can trap folks in a theater and commit a crime such as this....taking away guns will never solve this type of problem. there will never in our lifetime be a way to predict what type of person can or will commit this type of slaughter.....i am guessing there will always be mass murders of this manner.what if we had car bombs going off in our cities each day,as in the mid east????.....alot of talk by alot of self appointed expert talking heads solve nothing....past,present or future.life will go on........

    July 29, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  16. Gary

    The only way obama or the U.M.will get my guns is to pry them from my cold, dead hands!

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

    People do not be fooled by this op-ed. The elitists never have to live under the same law as the rest of us. If we had a complete ban on firearms in this country, people like these well-connected voices would still be able to get bodyguards and others who would carry a gun. Meanwhile, the average citizen could not afford such protection.

    This is still the same struggle that's been going on for centuries: the ruling elite against the people.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  18. BamaFan26

    You'be done some homework. The interesting thing to note with this yahoo in Colorado ISN'T the gun rampage that he went on. No. It is his abode that he rigged with explosives. Are you suggesting that since he used electrical wiring and epoxy, that we should "control" (code word for ban with Socialist's) electrical wires? You seem to skip right over the facts. The other countries that you point out with lower gun related crimes, have much stiffer penalties. If you want to control the idiot's, you need to make them scared to commit the crime. Honestly, I have yet to see an AK-47 or a Glock walking (or running) into an establishment, and start killing people. I tend to think no one has witnessed that.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  19. FreeBlogger

    Conservatism is a modern confederacy, we all need to Re-defeat them, they all are bunch of hypocrites who believe life starts at conception but ends by death penalty (which is mostly caused by a gun crime).

    July 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  20. inkhogneato

    Gun control = using both hands. End of story.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  21. Brett

    Here's an idea, keep the guns, but hike the price of ammo to something ridiculous like $10k a bullet. Gun violence would drop with everyone wanting to save their only bullet.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
    • JackD

      *like*

      July 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Reply
  22. GUN OWNERS AGAINST ANTI GUN, ANTI AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE

    BANNING GUNS OR COMING UP WITH NEW GUN LAWS IS BY FAR THE WORST THING THE GOVERNMENT CAN DO FOR THIS COUNTRY. AMERICA WAS FOUNDED ON GUN OWNERSHIP, IT'S SO SAD TO HEAR ALL THESE ANTI GUN AND ANTI AMERICANS OUT THERE TALING ABOUT GUNS LAWS!!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  23. sharpchargers

    Yes and we also grow most of the worlds grain. So your saying we should change these things to be like the rest of the world. Truth is you can't take our rights away because of a sadistic madman. Truth is bad people with bad intentions would still find guns but none of us law abiding citizens would be able to protect ourselfs or our families. We have a ton of drunk drivers that kill people so should we also outlaw guns? Or beter yet people have killed people with there bare hands since the begining of time so should we cut everones hands off. Get some damn common sense and know you will never take my GUNS!!!!!!!! I'm allowed to have them to protect myself from people like you that wamt to come to my house and take my things and my rights.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  24. patrick harris

    being an American is a total embarrassment sometimes, whenever people talk about how many guns we have is one of those times for me.

    We should abolish guns, ammo, weapons the redneck NRA etc – I mean why do we really need them? Hobby? Too bad, get a new one... hunting?? get over it, go to the supermarket, they have anything and everything all ready to go for you... why else?? protection? spare me.. if you really need protection, then move to a better neighborhood.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • GUN OWNERS AGAINST ANTI GUN, ANTI AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE

      COMMUNIST!!! I BET YOU'RE A MUSLIM, AREN'T YOU? YOU DON'T HAVE A CLUE ABOUT THE AMERICAN LIFE AND TADITION OF AMERICA !!! IT'S PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT DESTROY THIS COUNTRY

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

        Muslim?? You MUST be conservative or racist!! or both..

        July 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm |
    • Betterthanyouall

      Ashamed to be an American ? move to N. Korea...kbye

      July 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
    • dave

      We have guns because an armed citizenry is protection against a tyrannical government. There is a good reason why it is the 2nd amendment because in this country it is the people who have the power not an exalted government. Want gun control? Look at Syria, North Korea. In the 20th century, many genocides started with gun control (Soviet Union 1929-1953 20 million killed after 1929 gun control, Turkey 1915-1917 1.5 million after 1911 gun control, Germany 1939-1945 13 million after 1938 gun control, China 194-1952 20 million killed after 1935 gun control, Guatemala, Uganda, Cambodia same stories). You can kill people by driving your car into a crowd too should we ban them? Personally I don't like guns but I fear more a government that has all the guns. The government needs to fear the people not the other way around. Just because we have become violent obsessed bad characters as a people doesn't mean the solution is to get rid of our right to bear arms. They are not dangerous in the right hands. Military and police are not the only ones who should legally own weapons or we will become a police state.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  25. Cosmo

    To compare the US to all other Countrys Is really Lame. The Article is BS..lefty way to argue for gun control. No other country comes close to the way America lives.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • JackD

      You seriously need to get out more.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  26. Gary

    To own an automatic weapon, you need only a background check from the FBI and a special $200 stamp from BATAF!

    July 29, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • Tiglath

      Only?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
      • GUN OWNERS AGAINST ANTI GUN, ANTI AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE

        WHAT YOU MEAN, ONLY ? THE FEE SHOULD ONLY BE $10 !!!

        July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
    • GunsVersusBombs

      They can also come and inspect your weapons anytime they want to. The process for obtaining and selling one of these guns is more of a pain in the butt than going to the Department of Motor Vehicles and better tracked than your cars VIN.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  27. Pomplemoose

    I believe Colorado already has some fairly strict gun control laws, and yet the shootings occurred. It is time to face facts, gun control laws do nothing to stop lunatics. Stop trying to legislate all the problems in the world away. It is myopic fantasy generated by the same people who think they can legislate their own meals into the population who generally does not believe or want these laws. See environmentalism versus land use as a perfect example of what I am posting.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  28. MoronsandNonsense

    Approximately 188 people a day are killed by cars, the US has the highest number of vehicles in the world. We should create laws banning cars, cars are bad, they kill. A car has never had an irresponsible driver leading to the death of anyone. It has always been the car that has killed people. Just like guns, guns are bad they kill people too, just not at the rate of cars. Gun control is for idiots, more gun control means more criminals with guns. When did a gun ever kill anyone? NEVER that's a fact! Laws don't stop criminals, they create criminals, maybe we as a society should go back to discipline instead of coddling, instead of life in prison for murder immediate execution may send a clear message, but libs want to hug everything and give participation trophies then blame an object for a crime instead of the fool who created the crime

    July 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
    • FreeBlogger

      Gun crimes are mostly intentional, car accidents are not, use some common sense.

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

      The primary purpose of a car is transportation, not killing. On the other hand, guns are designed to kill. That is their purpose.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  29. Vandi

    Unfortunately, Fareed doesn't know what he is talking about. Automatic weapons are highly restricted and very expensive beyond the affordability of the average person. Also, some gun education on TV and educational certificate for a person who would like to buy a gun ( let's say once every five years) in order to buy guns, would be a good idea.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  30. Voice of Reason

    The numbers of homicides are bogus. First, the U.S. number are skewed because most of the deaths are coming from Obama's adopted home town of Chicago... about 290 homicides this year (well above the average). If Chicago had a decent mayor, with a clean police department, then the numbers per thousand would be a lot lower. The other problem with his numbers is that in other countries, most of the violence occurs with explosions instead of gun violence. I remember India had that massacre at the Tag hotel with about 160 killed in India. Of course, bombs and guns were involved, but I'm curious if that is considered in his numbers. There's no question that if citizens had guns, that incident would not have happened to the degree that it did. There are many examples of mass killings with guns in countries with strict gun laws. One thing is for sure, a lower unemployment rate would help violence in this country, and in other countries.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:31 pm | Reply
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