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 (2,982 Responses)
  1. Douglas Manuel

    From what facts I can gather, mass shootings seem to be relegated to gun free zones (schools, churches and movie theaters etc.). Is there any record of a mass shooting at an NRA rally, gun range or concealed carry class where participants are expected to be defensively armed?

    July 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • cucotx

      Well said.
      Supposedly, the theater in CO had a sign about not bringing guns inside. Well, that was great news to the crazed gunman. He knew there would be no one inside to shoot back. And then, once he was confronted by armed cops, he gave himself up. Guess why. He didn't want to get shot.

      I think that a better direction for our country is to allow any law abiding citizen older than 'x' years old, and without a history of mental problems, to carry a concealed weapon. If the Government feels that they need to keep a gun out of a certain area, building, etc, then just don't put the sign up, but check with metal detectors. The way they do at airports, etc.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  2. Poofy Stats

    oh never mind

    July 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  3. Belseth

    I hate it when they cherry pick data. You'll notice he didn't mention a drop in violence and the murder rate when there was an assault weapons ban and no spike after it was lifted. That clearly shows that the availibility has nothing to do with the violence and is not in of itself causing the violence. There are many countries with low gun ownership and a far higher murder rate. According to his stanch we should have the highest murder rate on the planet by far and yet that isn't the case. When he quotes the 3 in a 100,000 are killed by guns it's meant to be shocking but the number sounds really low. I checked and a 115 people die every day from car crashes and a good share of them are innocent victims. A disturbing percentage are also drunk drivers. Wouldn't the resources be better spent making the roads safer? If this is really about saving lives and not just taking guns away from people. You could save 10X as many lives as auto accidents just by banning cigarettes but no one seriously talks about that one. This is feel good BS after a tragedy. Make the bad guns go away and everyone will like each other. Rather than a protracted Congressional battle that will take away from things that affect us all let's enforce what laws we have now and not let crazy people buy them. We can all agree on that much. Anything else is a distraction from the real problems like why there's so much hate to begin with and it isn't the guns causing that!

    July 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  4. Micko

    "U.S has three gun homicides per 100,000 people. That’s four times as many as Switzerland" Yet Switzerland has no gun control laws whatsoever, and one of the highest gun ownerships in the world.

    "There is at least a correlation between tighter laws and fewer gun-related deaths" Yet the cities with the most restrictions on guns are also the same cities with the highest murder rates. Chicago, Detroit, Washington DC.

    Where is this Zakaria getting his information from?

    Here are a few facts of my own.

    Dictators who support gun control, so they can disarm the populace in order to systematically wipe them out.

    Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  5. Loki

    Just where in the world did CNN find FZ ? Somebody get him a sailor suit, a pony and a lolipop.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
  6. edmundburkeson

    This is good news. No matter what the stooges in Washington or the rest of the world do, we will always be an army of 300 million.

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

      We should pass a law to start tactical training drills for private citizens.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  7. edmundburkeson

    You should make Arizona a darker brown. Don't tread on us!

    July 29, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply
  8. KJ Lewis

    The facts not proffered in this article are the statistics on per capita violence, both mortality and injury, from all sources. Has lesser gun ownership reduced overall violence, or merely adjusted the methodology? The logical fallacy utilized in this argument is the straw man fallacy – that guns are the only method with which one can commit violence . Additionally, gun injuries are often self-inflicted. The careless individual who self injures with a gun would be highly likely to self-injure with some other method, had not the gun been available.

    The founding fathers created the 2nd amendment because they fought against a corrupted government, and desired that their newly founded country be limited in how much abuse it was capable of inflicting upon the people it governs. That is a principal most of this country still holds dear, and is, in most people's opinion, worth the price it comes at.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  9. Jonboy1225

    Lets get the facts straight, there was a sociaopath in CO as the shooter. Gun laws did not stop his sinister plan, just like laws against texting while driving work. Maybe we should ban phones since they cause accidents and sometimes deaths. Or maybe we just need to take away everyones cars since they kill 50000 people plus every year (BTW more than guns cause).
    Lets address what some of the real issues area, violence in the movies, games on Xbox, playstation, or maybe it is the music industry.

    IT ALL STARTS WITH PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY!!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
  10. obamahastogo

    The number of murders has declined with rise of gun ownership.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  11. Dan

    Typical gun control omission: gun homicide statistics that don't differentiate between justifiable homicide and murder.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  12. JC in Western U.S.

    In The District Of Columbia vs. Heller, the Supreme Court upheld (again) the right to own guns. Justice Scalia wrote the following: "The [Supreme] Court's opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms."

    " should not be taken to cast doubt on ....laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms".

    We CAN'T BAN GUNS. The Supreme Court has ruled on that at LEAST four times. So we need to move on and figure out what we CAN do to reduce gun violence and the access to guns by criminals who use them to kill people.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Reply
  13. joeinalabama

    Mexico didn't seem to come up, they have strict gun laws, how many people have been killed in Mexico in the last few years.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  14. Victor N

    oh look at me quoting statistics as if i know what i'm talking about... America also owns more car per capita and has more vehicle fatality than other of these so called low rate of civilian firearm ownership countries...should we try to lower car ownership too?

    July 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  15. Minister Mike

    The problem isn't gun control, it's a lack of self control. There is no way that harder and harder gun control is going to help the situation. It won't and never will. Making it harder for people to own guns, and as it is now, keeping felons and people convicted of domestic violence for owning them, will not help, it actually makes it worse. Having gun control doesn't help simply because if someone wants to take another persons life, they will, with or without a gun, many time resulting in a more horrendous outcome and more suffering. Our government is constantly looking for reasons to tighten gun control not because they think it will help, they do it to take away our right to keep and bare arms. This right was given to us by our founding fathers to fight against an oppressive government if it came down to it. If people will look at our government now, they can see that our government is constantly trying to take away peoples rights. No wonder they want to keep more people from owning guns, it has little to do with helping society, it's about control over people. As I stated before, if a person wants to kill another, they don't have to use a gun.

    Parents should teach their children the difference between right and wrong, and they should teach their children the proper use and respect for guns. But overall, parents need to actually take the time to be with and teach their children about life and instill in their children proper morals, principles, and responsibilities. Simply put, parents need to start being parents and stop letting other people raise their children.

    People need to stop fearing guns, they are only a tool. What people need to fear are people that don't care about others or anything else but themselves. Those are the people that don't respect life, those are the people that will take another persons life because it benefits them.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @Minister Mike: So knowing that many people do not have self control and there are higher chances that people can loose there mental stability and thereby go on a killing rampage, you want to make it easier for people to own military grade weapons so these nutcases can kill many when they loose their mental stability. I do not think it makes good sense.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
      • Minister Mike

        Every firearm can be used as a military weapon, it doesn't matter if it's an AK-47 or a 22 pistol. A block of dry ice, Chlorine crystals, break fluid, bleach, a knife, a set of keys, the list goes on. Every one of those items can be used in some way to take a life, it doesn't have to be a gun.

        The problem isn't gun control, it's people that haven't been brought up to respect life or even to respect others.

        The one fact that everybody seems to overlook is the fact the everything that anybody does is a personal choice by the person that does it. Nobody can force another person to do something, everything anybody does is based on personal choices.

        July 31, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
    • AK's n AR's

      You are right. There is a problem in this country and its NOT guns.
      Open your eyes and look, it is all around you, people have become disrespectful, vulgar, cruel, self serving, selfish , greedy , self centered creatures. That is the problem.
      Fix that, and you will not need to even speak of gun control.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  16. Loki

    "One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot." ... Where in the world did FZ find that ridiculous statistic ? I guessing he means 'personally knows'.... Doesn't anyone find that "fact" just a bit false ?

    July 29, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  17. Woody

    The nut in the Aurora case was emulating a MEDIA FIGURE when he rampaged. He was influenced by violence in the Batman movie series. Where are the calls for restrictions on the 1st Amendment? Why is the press reporting what the killer had for breakfast his first morning in prison? Why do they always immortalize these nuts in infamy when stuff like this happens perhaps enticing more nuts to get their name up in lights and in the history books too? Why no calls for media controls and restrictions on what they report and incite?

    July 29, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  18. richwood7

    Guns make murder sanatized. It no longer is personnal in scope but just point and shot. It actually empowers people to kill cleanly. I am reminded of interviews of pilots of bombers in WWII and Vietnam who said that they didn't know if they could do what soldiers do because from miles up they can't see the enemy die. Neither can they in a darkened theatre. Do guns kill people, yes and no. A gun makes it far more convient and who needs a 100 round catridge for hunting unless it is people you are hunting. You don't need an AK-47 to shot a deer. As to defending America do you really think the US military is just going to flee in terror if someone invades us??? Get real. The real threat to America is Republicans.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      As for defending America..... Its not foreign invaders we have to worry about. Its the domestic enemies. if it so ever happens that we find ourselves indentured to Tyrants, only the GUN will liberate us.

      and if that sounds crazy to you ... I would suggest you open your eyes and look at the events on the world stage right now, egypt, libya, iran, syria, etc. This very thing is happening before our eyes.

      I personally will not give up my guns, my freedom, and my liberty for a small tiny tiny bit of percieved safety.

      The reason you feel helpless in the face of an event such as the aurora situation , and look to the government to takes these evil guns from the bad people to make you safe, is simply because you do not carry a gun. If you carried a gun and had proper training to use it, and if others around you did the same, then there would be minimal threat from a shooter such as in Aurora because he would have been put down very quickly. In fact I would go so far as to say if that was commonplace he would have never attempted this massacre in the first place. You would not look to the government to make you safe by stripping you of freedoms because you would feel empowered to protect yourself!

      Stop burying your head in the sand and praying to the all mighty all knowing government to make your life perfectly safe and perfectly easy. That is a false god for sure.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Reply
  19. Ruben

    Weapons are always of importance for personal use,or for protection.Firearms are as safe as the person in control of them,if a individual is a psychopath,then why would anyone in their right mind hand him/her a firearm?A person who owns any kind of weapon should be evaluated for mental disabilities beforehand.The government should enforce structured laws in order to control the mentally disabled from owning any type of firearms.Tests will determine who fits the IQ criteria.And future tests need to be performed for renewal basis.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @Ruben: What you say makes sense if no man can ever loose their mental stability after purchasing guns. Secondly, assault rifles and military grade weapons do not make private citizens safer, it only raises the danger of mass killings.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  20. dave

    Why does everything have to be a partisan argument? Liberals want to ban guns because it is mostly conservatives who support gun rights. Yet liberals argue that it is a bad idea to have any drugs illegal and that banning drugs creates the black market and violence. Yet they would abandon that principle when it comes to banning guns. Shouldn't liberals also try to ban alcohol or cars because drunk drivers cause many deaths?

    July 29, 2012 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @dave: I don't think liberals oppose banning drugs in general. Secondly you cannot compare drugs and guns......guns are used by gun owner to kill others while drugs are used by people who own it to kill themselves.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Reply
  21. MorkfromOrk

    Wow, I have never seen a blog with so many angry comments! With so many problems facing humanity today such as the degradation of our environment or poverty and disease in poor countries, it is a shame that some people get so emotional about defending their right to own devices whose sole function is to kill others. Looks like these people have too much time to spend, spoiled brats! But let's not be surprised, while Americans spend a lot of their time thinking they are free and claim they would die defending their freedom, big corps and lobbies such as the NRA rule their lives and tell them what to eat, think or buy. Keep on dreaming, in the meantime China is staking over the world and soon India and others will follow. And all the guns in the world won't save America from being surpassed and surclassed. Just try not to shoot yourselves in the foot out of surprise when you realize it has happened.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  22. tj

    I am a proponent of gun control. I am not, however, a proponent of opening medical files. There have been some horrible tragedies by some unstable people. These account for the most news worthy but not the majority of gun injuries or deaths. Each of us is capable of "losing it" and producing or becoming a statistic. The root issue is with the NRA and it's proponents. That is the espousing guns as legitimate and necessary. We live in a culture so obsessed with guns and "defending our right to own" them that it has become a means of solution. Wild West mentalities abound. "Go ahead, make my day". I murdered a human being but I was "Standing my ground". It is the responsibility of those who are proponents of gun ownership to change this culture. Teach that guns are used for sport or for defense. Period! They are not a means of making yourself heard. They are not a means of solving you domestic problems. They are not a solution to ANYTHING. Even in defense, there then comes a reckoning. Only if you are about to be murdered, should you use a weapon against another human being. Make it uncool to die by the gun. Make it as undesirable as it is now desirable!

    July 29, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  23. christy

    Fareed you fail to mention 75% of homicides in the U.S. are committed with handguns.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  24. Opkode

    You'll notice he only used gun related statistics. Of course we will have more gun related homicides than a country that restricts guns. How about comparing TOTAL homicides?

    July 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @Opkode: Even then US has a higher rate than UK & India both countries where strict gun laws are followed.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  25. darkrunner

    Fareed, please don't try to appear intelligent. You only embarrass yourself. The same with your co-worker Soledad. Your network's ratings are in the tank because of you two idiots.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @darkrunner: uh....whats wrong in what he stated?

      July 29, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply
    • badcafe

      Wow darkrunner - big words, big challenges. Would you dare to run out of the dark and put your resume next to Fareed's? Fareed gets big money and really big named people talk to him daily – premiers, nobel prize winners, heads of state, gives commencement addresses at Harvard and Duke..... and what exactly do you do?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  26. logan

    The uniform crime reports compiled by the fbi lists all homicides even justified homicides and police shootings in to one category as homicides. So not all homicides listed are committed by criminals. Many are justified homicides by law abiding citizens defending themselves. With concealed carry laws in all but one state it is now easier for law abiding citizens to defend themselves. That is why homicides committed with firearms are increasing. Fareed please check your so called facts, you obviously decided to write a biased article before even doing your research.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @logan: homicide is murder – calculated. When police or some private citizen shoots a killer in self defense, it is not considered by FBI as homicide. Which world do you live in?

      July 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Reply
      • ReligiousGuy

        @logan: As per FBI stats (http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/offenses/expanded_information/homicide.html), in 2009, there were 13,636 homicides. Justifiable homicides (which you say is more) in 2009, was only 406 by police and 261 by private citizens. When you say " Many are justified homicides" do you mean to say that 667 justifiable homicides (406 + 261) is "many" in terms of the total homicides of 13,636 homicides? Why lie?

        July 29, 2012 at 7:06 pm |
      • logan

        You called me on how homicide is reported. I was wrong I stand corrected. I never said justifiable homicide was more than nonjustifiable. But of the 13,636 murders in 2009, 71% involved a firearm. That drops it to 9,681. There were 667 justifiable homicides, that is not more but many. If you look at the trends, homicide over the years is dropping every year while justifiable homicide has been increasing thanks to the increase of laws that allow us to defend ourselves.

        July 29, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
  27. Mr_No_It_All

    One in 200 million American is a nutcase. This Batman freak had a real-life Batman kill kit, even orange hair like one of the characters. Next watch out for chandaliers at Phanton of The Opera showings...

    July 29, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  28. Gary

    Other facts
    The US ranks 50th among developed countries in treating mental illness
    The US has more immigrants than any other country.
    At least 8 mass shootings have been committed by immigrants since 1993
    The US has the highest GDP of any country
    but there are 22 countries with lower poverty rates

    July 29, 2012 at 7:08 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      Gary, I totally agree with your excellent point !
      Get rid of all the mentally challenged immigrants.
      Good post.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  29. Free Man in the Republic of Texas

    WE Can be like Europe
    if we try real hard...

    July 29, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Reply
  30. Gold-n-Gunz

    You go Rob...your post rocks...you know that the movie theater just may be held liable for the safety of those that were hurt in this place of business. I urge all who had any involvement to heck with their legal advisers. I am not a lawyer but I have been told that if you do not allow someone the rights to carry their weapons into a public place. You are injured and not allowed to defend your self, then they can be held liable for your safety and or lack of protection to keep you safe while in their place of business. I would consult legal advice, also for you business owners take down your signage prohibiting the personal carrying of legally licensed concealed weapons. I have a concealed carry permit, as well as an insurance policy, Check out this website hopefully with more of us we can defend our lives and the lives of others in cases such as this...

    July 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm | Reply
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