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. Frank

    'm not a fan of fire arms because they project a lethal force for such a large distance. Allows an individual of any mental state to do a lot more damage than one can do otherwise. But I also realize that many people are in favor of this and the argument becomes heated emotional shouting matches. That will never end.

    However, I do feel the cost of any economic good should cover all the costs associated with it. Guns and ammo do a lot of damage to humans and other property. We should be taxing ammo/ guns and use the funds to setup a shooting victim recovery fund. I also strongly suspect a majority of the people who own guns would not trust the government to handle this, so we should empower the NRA to collect these levies and make them responsible for all the damage done by weapons.

    Its the least we can do for the thousands of people who get injured and maimed by weapons.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:30 pm | Reply
  2. mahmoud el-darwish

    I just ran across this posting in a seemingly unrelated search but think about this and you'll realize that guns are merely instruments of darkness.
    This is where the real darkness lives....
    http://www.defensivecarry.com/forum/defensive-carry-tactical-training/58324-happened-across-unique-tactic-sub-caliber-hostilities.html#post853626

    July 29, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      I don't understand your point?
      This article has some good advice on stopping threats.
      If someone had a gun, and this advice when the Aurora shooting happened, 12 people would not be dead right now.
      Probably only 1 or 2.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  3. Tyranny Response Force

    ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ

    Come and get them

    July 29, 2012 at 7:43 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      hoorah dude... hoorah.
      Ill be standing right beside you.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  4. Krytrons

    First off I don’t write as eloquently as most of the people responding to this article. But I think you need to 1. Do some more research 2. Go purchase, shoot, or just get familiar with a weapon before writing anything. Why don’t you do some research on how many times weapons stop crime in the US but, hey the media doesn’t write about things like that because that would be against their agenda. The man didn’t have an assault weapon he had a tactical sporting rifle by hey that doesn’t have as much shock value as the words ASSAULT WEAPON but who cares if it’s a lie if it gets you published right!!! And finally since your all about the statics why don’t you look up the amount of people killed last year with rifles it’s like 10% of the people killed by pistols but all the liberals want to band is anything that looks scary because obviously it has to be the worst thing. You talk about since the 2000’s crime rates have dropped dramatically but your quick to point out the gun murder rate hasn’t dropped however since 2000 Americas have purchased around 100 million more weapons so by your logic and the central theme of your article we should have higher murder rates. And brush it off if you want to but the wacko in CO was being treated for schizophrenia and he sent an entire notebook full of his plans to a mental health professional well before he committed this atrocity and obvious cry for help! He should have been reported to someone and he shouldn’t have been able to get them in the first place. And finally for the morons on here that think you can easily convert these weapons to FULL auto do some research that extends a little past my cousin bills buddies uncle did it in his garage with a file and a screw driver in five mins.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  5. AlwaysPointMissing

    Why do people posting here know so much about guns? What's the fascination with them?

    July 29, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      I like the piece of mind that if someone breaks into my home, I can handle the situation. If someone intends to do me harm, I have a means to inflict harm with equal or greater force. I like the fact that 100 million people in this country have guns, and that if we are ever faced with Tyrants they will not be able to subjugate the people of this country without one he11 of a fight.

      guns are just a tool, we used to kill each other with sticks and rocks. I am not going to give up my guns when other humans have rockets and tanks and bombs. If you want to live in a gun free world, then the people need to disarm the governments and armies of the world first, then I will give up my guns when everyone else does. Anything else is slavery.

      Malon ABEE ...

      July 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  6. Dan Slaby

    God, Guns and Gold – the axis of evil in America – it all seems so foreign the the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:50 pm | Reply
  7. Dagobert II

    If, as Fareed suggests, civilian ownership of firearms makes the US an unsafe country to live in, then Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan must all be much safer places to live due to far their lower rates of civilian firearm ownership.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  8. Ronald Pies

    Fareed Zakaria makes so much sense, we can be fairly sure that his proposals will go nowhere, unless we wake up, pry the gun lobby's choke-hold from our necks, and act like a responsible and civilized country.

    For those who want to learn more about what is driving the gun-related carnage in the U.S., please see the following website:

    http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/research/hicrc/firearms-research/guns-and-death/index.html

    R. Pies MD

    July 29, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      PHD huh? in what? Liberal Arts?

      Listen guy, I get it.... I really do. You are a scared little weakling and you need the all powerful all knowing government to make it all better.

      You are feeling ... you feel guns are scary ..and you feel like you would feel much better if big brother government makes it all better right?

      When government gives up their guns, and they are there only at our pleasure ...in every nation(which I think may very well be possible in the future) THEN I will put down my guns. and only then. Otherwise as the saying goes ... pry them from my fingers.

      MALON ABBE

      July 29, 2012 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • Krytrons

      Ronald as a person with an opposing view I was interested to check out your link and what I find more interesting about this web page is that the majority of the information is almost a decade old so I woud like to counter with this site! http://prospect.org/article/did-roe-v-wade-abort-crime

      July 29, 2012 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  9. bob

    Fareed hear this loud and clear - NOTHING WILL CHANGE ! Go to the middle east and preach,where muslims are killing everyone – NUFF SAID!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:28 pm | Reply
  10. JC in Western U.S.

    I've read a lot of comments by gun activists who say that cars kill more people than guns but nobody is screaming for cars to be banned. That's very true. Car accidents do kill more people ...because there far more cars being used daily than there are guns. If every person who owned a car owned a gun, and spent an equal amount of time using each, I suspect the number of deaths by shooting would be much closer to the number of deaths by car.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  11. Rose Kelliams

    Do you think the criminals will obey the proposed gun laws? I am just asking because it seems to me they don't now. A mad man will always find a way to do harm if that is his intent. I would rather have a chance to protect myself.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:00 pm | Reply
    • plaster city

      There are criminals in all these other countries too. So that is no excuse. We need to try to reduce guns. At least try. It might help.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  12. Corey, Charleston, WV

    What I want to know is, how did this man obtain all that ammo, in so little time? How does that go unnoticed? And, I believe you should look more into illegal guns in America. Where I live, you always here people talk about how easy it is, to go downtown, and buy a automatic weapon. I should also say, when you tally up homicides by guns with other countries, Look at the total population of each country.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 pm | Reply
  13. Sb

    Saying that this is all about psychology is correct, but it is not "a recipe for doing nothing". Shooting like this did not occur with the frequency we have today prior to the proliferation of drugs as a psychiatric treatment. Fifty years ago one in a hundred people were diagnosed with mental problems. Now something like 25% of Americans have some form of this disease. We are not counseling insanity as much as we are drugging it. At the very least, they seem to be overprescribed, and one could argue that SOMETHING we are doing to treat mental illness is not effective, and in some cases may exacerbate it.

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

    In 2011 there were 9146 murders by firearms in the US. There were 79,000 deaths from alcohol. What is more deadly?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Reply
    • OOO

      OK,
      Lets find the single most deadly thing in America today and work only at that, because we can't chew gum and walk at the same time, you know.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:20 pm | Reply
      • XxMacleodxX

        just shut up and be steered along little sheep...one tragedy happens and you are ready to scrap that right as a whole...the point of the post is to show you that your hypocritical logic isn't out in arms to ban alcohol. Think more or just stfu.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:26 pm |
    • OOO

      At least we tried to ban alcahol once (prohibition, remember). It didn't work. I say lets try a 20+ year experiment prohibiting all guns. Let's see what happens. We won't know until we try.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:05 pm | Reply
  15. joegar

    a gun is a gun is a gun.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:17 pm | Reply
  16. Elmer

    All of this talk about "automatic" weapons from uninformed morons- NO automatic weapons were used in the Colorado tragedy, automatic weapons have been banned from civilians since the 1930's and are VERY difficult to obtain- remember Timothy Mcveigh? he killed 168 people and injured over 800- ALL WITHOUT A GUN- it's not about guns- it's about an individual determined and obsessed with killing as many as possible. No law is going to stop that, certainly one further regulating guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
  17. Elmer

    Also, thanks to the Dems and Libs for turning this horrible tragedy into what you think is an issue that will further your anti-gun agenda- you have been here before and sorely lost this battle- you will lose it again- and it will only help seal the deal for a Republican White house in November.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Reply
    • at last

      Elmer,
      As far as this article goes, can you point out his mistakes or facts that he has wrong?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:24 pm | Reply
      • common sense

        Stating that there are more murders using firearms in the US is like saying more carpenters hit their thumbs with hammers than others. It doesn't mean the carpenters are clumsier. For a real comparison look at murder rates per 100K globally. people kill each other with the tools at hand. And while you are at it look at the cities with the TIGHTEST gun control.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm |
      • AK's n AR's

        The idea the the american people want to give up their freedom and liberty and 2nd amendment rights.

        Can YOU tell me exactly what part of allowing the government to enslave you sounds appealing?

        Lets just for a second throw this hypothetical out there. and this is only hypothetical.
        Lets say the government does succeed in shipping the population of firearms.
        Now lets say they decide they are going to rig the elections ..just like ... yup..Iran.
        and then the people say ...wait ..thats not fair ! We protest !
        and the government says ... well they don't say they just shoot people in the streets until they get tired of being killed and go home.

        Now in contrast lets look at Libya, and Syria .. yes they are being provided guns from outside .. but the end result is the same as had they had them in the first place. They decided they didn't like being RULED over by tyrants and they did/are doing something about it.

        What is wrong in the article .. his IDEOLOGY.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:39 pm |
      • at last

        Common sense:
        Fareed says the US has 3 homicides per 100K, 4 times higher than Switzerland...
        So is he wrong?

        July 29, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
  18. DarthVader's Mentor

    Zakaria,

    Get you facts straight. One of the jurisdictions with the most stringent gun control in the United States is in the island of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is an island which is a territorial possession of the US. Since the early 1950's the island has been politically dominated by gun control advocates. They are right up there with New York, Massachusetts, Chicago and California.

    However, Puerto Rico has one of the highest murder rates with weapons in the world. In the last few years, even though very much resisted by the government and extremely expensive (over $1000 a year), the populace has started to arm itself with concealed carry permits and the armed violence has just begun to slow down just a bit.

    It's interesting that the places in the US with the toughest gun control laws also seem to have the highest crime rates years after enacting such laws.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:31 pm | Reply
  19. EXILE =[LRRP]=

    Example!
    About 25,000 more or less...people are killed each year from alcohol related accidents in the US each year!

    About 10,000 more or less...people killed from stabbings in the US each year!

    About 30,000 more or less...people die from firearms in the US each year!

    About 700,000 more or less people die annually due to Prescription Drugs and improper/unnecessary medical procedures....Modern medicine is the number one cause of death in America today....Drug companies are in the business of keeping us as a customer, not curing us...If they cured everyone, they'd be putting themselves out of business....

    Yet they always focus only on GUNS!!??...Read between the line people!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Reply
  20. Jake

    I am no gun enthusiast. In fact, I've never even shot one, much less owned one...and I am an American who has enjoyed living a third of my life in Europe, which honestly just feels safer from violence than the States. Gun control is not the issue here, though. If there's one thing we've learned from recent tragedies in Canada and Norway (THE worst homicidal rampage in modern history), it's that crazy people will always find a way to go crazy. In much of the world, it's the sane people who have trouble accessing firearms. Preventing gun ownership would be a typically simplistic leftist "solution" to what is, sadly, a much more complex problem. It's not the weapons that are creating the crazies in America–it's something else and, unlike the talking heads, real problem-solvers (I count myself as one) still don't definitively know what it is and that is the truly scary part.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:37 pm | Reply
    • AK's n AR's

      I am a gun enthusiast and owner, and I like your post.
      This is what I have been saying al along, just not as eloquently.
      Its a problem with people, not with guns.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:44 pm | Reply
  21. Big P

    Guns???? Did you know that 28 people die daily due to drunk driving? This is an average, but it is still 28 per day, and nearly half of those are NOT DRUNK! Anyone out there trying to outlaw alcohol? Didn't think so. What happened in CO was horrible and inexcusable and should be punished severely, but the rest of us gun owners did nothing wrong that day, the days prior to that day, or since then. In the mean time, you do the math. How many Americans died SINCE THAT TERRIBLE DAY due to drunk drivers??? Yeah. That's my point.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:38 pm | Reply
  22. johnh77

    Simple solution, Fareed Zakaria and all those with him that believe gun control is the answer, then go to a country that takes that freedom away from it's citizens. I believe the answer is fool control. Until that changes, I will make it a point to carry my own firearm when legal and trust that I am capable enough to defend myself from a madman that might think he can take my life and those that I love.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  23. cj

    You must demonstrate that there is a correlation between per capita mass killings and the guns per capita, and the percentage of gun caused mass killings to total mass killings correlated to the guns per capita in order to complete your thesis. One thing is for sure, in cities with the strictest gun control, you see the highest crime post gun control. If you completed your thesis, you would conclude that guns are only a means to an evil end. Take away the means, and another mean is found, like IEDs or car bombs.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:41 pm | Reply
  24. Deckard

    You're a liberal hack, Fareed.

    You say "look at facts," but fail to mention that the cities with the most gun control have the highest incidents of gun violence, e.g. Chicago and D.C.

    Stop lying to people, you wretched fool.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  25. JamesS

    "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."

    Why don't you read the details of the graph, where you'll see it says "Note that these figures include accidental shootings, suicides, even acts of self-defense, as well as crimes."

    Every state has some kind of gun control law. There's no state in America where one can purchase a firearm without going through a background investigation and police check. It's also obvious that when you don't separate out criminal shootings from accidental shootings or even suicides, you're going to see more gun deaths in states with more guns.

    Aurora already had laws forbidding shooting a firearm inside city limits except at a licensed shooting range, and the theater had its own "no firearms" policy. All those laws accomplished was to ensure that law-abiding gun owners were disarmed and at the mercy of the madman.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:45 pm | Reply
  26. Mark

    I do not agree with the conclusion. The real statistic that needs to be displayed is how many of the crimes were by previously arrested people? We are way to lenient on the people commiting violent crimes. SWIFT Severe punishment is the only answer to violent criminals no matter what weapon is used. Anything else is just politically biased nonsense.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  27. mark Still

    If the madman with the gun doesn't have one in the first place, you don't NEED to stop him. How can we argue that we're right when other countries do not have the same problems? You're just sticking your hands over your ears and crying "LA LA LA!" You want to talk about psychology? It's this: people will say and do ANYTHING to justify their views.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Reply
    • Deckard

      Call me paranoid, but I fear the US government far more than some wacko with a gun.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:51 pm | Reply
      • The Devil's Duo

        As a muslim terrorist, you should fear the government of the USA.
        Similarly, you should fear the individual gun owners as they would take you down in a flash.

        July 30, 2012 at 7:41 am |
    • Mark

      So you actually think it is possible to "round up" all the legitimate weapons in circulation and those who have them illegally will do the same? Talk about justifying a view, wow.....

      You think the police will actually be there to protect in time if some criminal wants to hurt you?

      A big government supporter no doubt

      July 29, 2012 at 9:53 pm | Reply
    • at last

      Mark,
      We have to start somewhere. At least we wouldn't be flooding the population with 15 million more weapons every year.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
      • Mark

        Sorry, but address the real problem and that is a lenient "justice" system. too many chances, too short of time served and a mandatory death penalty for voilent homicides, no exceptions, ever, That would sort out half the thug gangsta rap moronic generation we are stuck with.

        July 30, 2012 at 12:04 am |
  28. Sarah

    Compare the gun statistics in those 'perfect' countries with knifings and you will find that the US is ahead. There is a market to sell Kevlar school uniforms in the UK... We don't have that problem over here, do we?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:47 pm | Reply
  29. Paul

    To be objective CNN seriously, US most guns lets look at Africa, Somalia, Mexico, South America, Iraq, Afghanistan. War zones. Yes civilian ownership of weapons very high. You say your looking at civilian ownership. Well they are the civilian populace and they have arms to protect themselves from militants and others
    Lets be fair and not slanted. I am sure we can look at that number again.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:49 pm | Reply
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