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. Uno

    This article reflects what I've been thinking from a long time. There shouldnt be any guns.(period)

    July 29, 2012 at 9:52 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      you must live in utopia.......voted for Obama and think that the government is actually there to help you and not themselves. Reality check needed 🙂

      July 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Reply
    • Deckard

      "There shouldnt be any guns.(period)"

      There are guns, so this sounds like something a child would say. The question is who should have them. Answer: Every good citizen.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:56 pm | Reply
  2. sbsler

    why are we letting the paranoid, ignorant gun nuts run this country?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:55 pm | Reply
    • Deckard

      I'm only paranoid if they aren't trying to get me.

      Go take some history lessons.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  3. Mark

    maybe we should let left wing wackos run the show....I mean it works other places right??
    in a dream world maybe.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:57 pm | Reply
  4. Vats-a-Weiner

    The beauty of surveys is that you can take 2 totally unrelated items and group them together to get any result you wish. The Insurance companies did this years ago with credit reports and driving records. They concluded that people with bad credit scores were more likely to be in an accident. So now when you go to get auto insurance the first thing they do is run a credit check. If you have missed a couple of payments on a credit card then sucks to be you. you're paying a higher premium. It does stand to reason that a country with more guns would have more gun related deaths, but does that mean we should not have guns? I'm guessing we have more automobile accidents than siberia. I guess we should turn over our automobiles and start walking every where. There is a reason we have remained the world leader. Enemies take on the easy targets first. Do we want to become an easy target? The right to bear arms is to protect us not only from external enemies, but from the potential enemies within. A balance of power if you will. This doesn't mean we should use them this way, but it means we could, and as long as that thought runs through the enemies mind, then you have a chance. It is a shame that the crazies in this country are keeping honest upstanding people from being able to exercise their rights. Why am I being thrown in a bucket with the loon. I know I am just wasting my time here. I have had this conversation with lots of people and the truth of the matter is, some people will always beleve in the system. I say good luck with that. When the system fails, and it will, I hope you haven't cut your own throat by not leaving yourselves any options.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  5. joshd1

    It is statistically 170 times more likely that you, a loved one or family member will be shot ( to be fair – not necessarily killed ) with YOUR gun than it is that you will legally use your gun to defend yourself.

    I can't see a rational reason to allow non police/military/security personal to have hand guns. I want to remind everybody that almost every black market gun out there was originally purchased by a good intentioned citizen... before it found its way into the hands of a criminal.

    I can't see a reason to keep allowing guns into our society. I'd like to remind everyone that ammo has a shelf life, if we were to stop selling it, it would eventually disappear .

    Also if a smuggler can fit $3000 worth of heroin in a hollowed out plastic ball point pen, why would he risk trying to bring a 4lb metal object into the country?

    i dont understand the pro gun argument?? nothing in the above comments seems rational?... do you think your handguns are going to protect you from a tyrannical government? ... the video camera in your cell phone is a far more powerful tool to keep our government in check

    I honestly do want to understand why so many people feel like its important to for citizens to have the right to carry guns?
    can somebody please explain... thanks!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      Simple Josh. I was born free and my gun gives me the right to control my destiny. Unarmed you are a victim. I don't make a good victim. I am not afraid to die and I am not a criminal. My ability to defend myself will make any person think twice about trying to hurt me or my family. I am willing to die in defense of my American born second amendment right. Are you willing to die to try and take it from me? See why I want to own a gun? It keeps people that would take my freedom, like you, from being able to become a tyrant. Savy?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
  6. ben

    creative use of facts. you can interpret all this data very differently, and especially in light of other facts such as the high homicide rates in areas such as DC, Detroit and other cities and easily tell that gun restriction doesn't prevent murder rates. Yes firearm control will restrict firearm related incidents, but it doesn't actually mean less violence will occur. Criminals and non-criminals alike will find a way. Look at Mexico which has far stricter gun laws.

    Another thing: the gun control population needs to do the basic research to be able to speak out guns in the proper terminology. when you say things like "automatic weapons" when you clearly mean semi-automatic weapons you look stupid and ill-informed and thus not likely to be a credible font of information

    July 29, 2012 at 10:02 pm | Reply
    • what's the attraction

      Now I know how a girl feels watching sports with her sports-crazy boyfriend. What's there to like about it?
      What's this huge love affair with guns anyway. I just don't get it.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm | Reply
      • ben

        what's to worry about then?

        July 29, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
  7. GAW

    Based on the responses to this article and to the some of the comments of others its a good thing that people can remain anonymous. It's one of the reasons that some of you are still alive or still have teeth. People do shoot each other for the silliest reasons.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Reply
  8. jamest297

    I'll bet there are a few rebellious folks in Syria who wish their country was a brown color on the map!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
    • at last

      We'll, I'd say Syria today is probably more like colonial America than the US now. The 2nd amendment was good for us then, and would probably be good for Syria too. But I don't think it is good for the US today.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  9. Aaron

    While reading this article everyone has to keep one thing in mind, the statistics that are shown relating to the number of guns per 100 people is skewed way of presenting this information. In most countries, there can be a safe assumption that of the people that own guns they own 1-2 guns each. In the U.S. however, the number of guns per owner is much higher due to vast amount of sporting opportunities. This means that the number of people who have guns out of every 100 people is much less than the 88 quoted in the article. So much so that I would not be surprised if we then ranked lower than Yeman, Serbia and Iraq.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:11 pm | Reply
  10. Gun Owner 101

    I own a few handguns and rifles. I love shooting for sport. So many gun owners enjoy going to the range to shoot for fun. It is a challenge and skill. I love shooting semi-automatic weapons. You do not get the sport if you have not done it. I've witnessed so many people that were so afraid of guns try it and realize it is not that bad an actually quite fun. All this talk about you don't need assault rifles for protection is missing the point that most people do not have them for protection. It is a sport. In fact, if someone breaks into my house they are going to be starring down a 12 gauge shotgun before they see an assault rifle. Absolutely no talk about shotguns, but a shotgun with the right loads will cut people in half.

    People that are all for taking guns away have never been in a situation to realize the importance of it. Here are some situations for them. Ever lived where your neighbors are 100's of yards or a mile away and someone is trying to break into you house? Ever been a woman walking threw a parking lot late at night after work to get to your car? Ever had a rabid animal on your property attacking your pets?

    This next one happened to a person I know. Guy had a carry permit. He was a night manager at a store. Wanted to carry gun with him at work for when he got off at night. Was legal for him to do so, but company said no so he didn't carry it. One night after work walking to his car 3 thugs approach him with 1 of them waving a knife at him. They forced him to drive them in his car to an ATM, withdraw all his money, made him get out of the car and lay flat face down, stabbed him to death. All this and his gun was in his car under the drivers seat. Plenty of time to use it when the guy was approaching him with a knife. This was all caught on video surveillance. They caught the 3 thugs, but he is dead.

    People need to realize that criminals are like everyone else. They want the easiest and least dangerous solution. If you take guns away from law abiding citizens it will be a free for all for criminals. I'll even give you this, lets say we could take the guns out of all criminals hands (can't and will never happen) but they would still know that if they break into your house you will have no chance of being better armed then them. No to mention they would have the element of surprise on their hands and would have the upper hand right off the bat. If you were a serial rapist would you break into the house of a lady known to carry a weapon or the the one known not to? Gun crimes are lower in area where most of the people are hunters and have guns ready to go in the house.

    One last thing..Pointing out gun violence in other countries not as armed shows an obvious fact. More guns equal more gun violence. I want to know how many violent crimes they have in spite of it. In other countries they just detonate a device or mass kill other ways.

    Wonder how many citizens in those OTHER countries wish they were armed and could at least attempt to do something about the tyrannical governments that control them. I'm not talking Canada and Britain before someone chimes in and says they are peaceful. Take the guns from the people and the person with the gun controls the people.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  11. yakbreath

    You jokers are all missing the point. Nevermind full auto vs semi auto, they're both plenty deadly. If Fareed has his facts corect, which I believe are easily verifiable, the point is the ridiculous proliferation of guns in the hands of the average boob is the problem.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:13 pm | Reply
    • ben

      gun ownership is on the rise, largely via women. murder rate is declining and has been steadily. not sure what point you are trying to make here. the two are unrelated if you look at recent data.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
      • yakbreath

        An interesting chart compares homicide rates by weapon.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ushomicidesbyweapon.svg

        Another chart here:
        http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/10/gun-crime-us-state
        indicates you are correct in that gun violence in on the decrease, but the rate is appalingly slow. Not anywhere near enough to be of any comfort. Don't get me wrong, I own guns, and am a responsible user. It's the boobs who commit homicide I'd like to bea able to stop from obtaining them. I don't have a plan for that, but I feel the article we're responding to has the facts largely correct. There are just too damn many of them available and too many of the wrong people are getting them.

        July 29, 2012 at 10:35 pm |
  12. Ed

    This is the first time I recall Fereed Zakaria being so unlogical and emotional about an issue.

    Briefly, when he was pointing out the "redness" of the USA on the map (above) he was ignoring the "greenness" of Mexico, immediately below. Mexico has strong gun regulations. So, Mr Zakaria, would you prefer a vacation in Juarez or Acapulco? Your choice.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:20 pm | Reply
    • Lisa

      You think he's bad, you should have seen Amanpour's interview the other night. She was so biased and emotional, she could barely speak...especially when her guest made good points she couldn't articulately argue. Completely unprofessional and sloppy.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:53 am | Reply
      • The Devil's Duo

        Lisa, you are a comedian, yes?
        That will be the day the likes of you can analyze Amanpour's intellect.

        July 30, 2012 at 8:04 am |
  13. Red

    Fareed is generally a smart guy. But this spin on statistics is a poorly done hack piece, fueled by whatever hand it is that feeds him.

    Anyone can spin stats whichever way they want them to come out; what is needed is simple clarity of thought (common sense) in "interpreting" the "facts."

    As has been pointed out, "doctors" kill more people in the US every year than guns, by an order of magnitude. And quite frankly, it simply gets a little more than offensive when the rather obvious "fact" that if several people in the vicinity were properly armed, trained, licensed, etc, then the simple math would dictate a much lower death rate of innocent lives.

    This is inescapable, and because it is so madly danced around, the statements and purposes of those who ignore it become suspect. At the end of every human behavior flowchart is only one of two outcomes; stupid or evil. Things that are not problems do not beget themselves to flowcharts, because they do not need a solution. So, Fareed: which is it for you on this one?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:21 pm | Reply
  14. Bill

    I find it amusing that Progressives (Fareed, you are no Centrist) try to use periodic gun violence atrocities as rallying cry to enhance the gun control effort and yet, their effort only serves to reinforce the "average American's" view that the Lib's want to "take their guns".

    Fareed, you could have argued about psychological reporting of individuals exhibiting illnesses that put public at risk to the authorities. We can have a rational, open and thoughtful discussion on that topic but, to go straight to gun control shows your true intent, get the guns and then, in your mind, the problem goes away. Unfortunately you don't understand that once the government gets the guns, that's when the real assault on people begins.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  15. Captain America

    This all goes back to the revolutionary war when we realized why each citizen should have the right to bear arms. To protect themselves, their neighbors and their country. Is it easier for the Indian government to coerce its people and terrorize them than in the United States? Of course, it's because they can't defend themselves like we can against our government. We guns are insurance against tyranny. Man I feel bad for anyone that invades the united states, not only do you have the greatest military to deal with but the most armed population in the world. No to mention the freedom, who are you to tell me I can't buy things to defend myself reasonably? What government refuses its citizens the right to defend themselves? Anyone but the United States, thats the answer. Unfortunately that comes with more gun violence, thats a given. I'll take the 3 gun homicides per 100000 citizens over losing personal liberties and the right to defend my family any day.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:24 pm | Reply
  16. yakbreath

    An interesting chart compares homicide rates by weapon.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Ushomicidesbyweapon.svg

    Another chart here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2011/jan/10/gun-crime-us-state indicates you are correct in that gun violence in on the decrease, but the rate is appalingly slow. Not anywhere near enough to be of any comfort. Don't get me wrong, I own guns, and am a responsible user. It's the boobs who commit homicide I'd like to bea able to stop from obtaining them. I don't have a plan for that, but I feel the article we're responding to has the facts largely correct. There are just too damn many of them available and too many of the wrong people are getting them.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:31 pm | Reply
  17. Passingthru

    From sone that doesn't own a gun, no law should be ratified limiting the use of guns in America. Instead, more people should be able to carry if they so choose. Not all events should allow them, but more than we have today. Also, laws should be passed to publically humiliate those responsible to crimes such as the one that happened at the movie theatre recently. Not many would agree, but something has to be done so that people start to think more and act less. Family value may or may not be strong, but humiliating a person so their family can be the focus of ridculed is a start

    July 29, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  18. Sutemi

    Which truth?

    http://pjmedia.com/blog/ezra-kleins-facts-about-guns-tell-slanted-story/

    July 29, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  19. Slugger

    This was one wacko. It doesn't matter if there are 10 guns per 100 people or if it is a million guns per 100. It takes one wacko with one gun to do what was done in CO. I have a neighbor that has 100 guns himself, so does that make him more likely to do an act similar to what happened in CO? No! It's the sick piece of crap that does stupid acts with guns. Don't blame the guns or gun manufacturers, blame the government because we don't have tough laws to put criminals away for good.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  20. Curtis

    Why do people think that "Criminals" will follow the law?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  21. centrist111

    How did the topic go from the US having 88 guns per 100 people (which is a lot!) to an argument about whether it is easy to make a semi-automatic weapon an automatic weapon.

    You are all evidently easily distracted by shiny objects...

    July 29, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  22. rg

    where do bad guys get there guns,they buy them when there good guys

    July 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Reply
  23. Maxx

    Maybe, Mr. Zakaria, there are other considerations;

    First, consider that the U.S. consumes 80% of the world's supply of Vicodin. We also lead the world in drug abuse and substance abuses. It is difficult to assess exactly how gun bans will see these stats drop.

    Second. Let's be reasonable. Other countries punish crime with – punishment. They do not have ACLU's that run around and give convicted criminals Hilton Hotels compared to prisons in other countries. In other countries, you go to prison and when you are freed, you do not ever want to go back. In the U.S., the penal system is basically, "Criminal Daycare."

    Thirdly. You can quote all you want about America being, "safer." I've got a city up the road I'd like to invite you to test your stats by walking around there after mid-night. Please settle your estate before you do.

    Our problems do not stem from the ownership of guns. They stem from the fact that the America we once new has lost it's sense of itself. We once served as an example of character, spirit and progress to the rest of the world. We led the world in mathematics, science, the Arts,etc... This is no longer true.

    Why, after over 200 years, does this issue suddenly become a hotbed of debate? The 2nd Amendment settled the issue for a very long time. Have the guns changed since the Founders hammered out this Republic? It does not appear so. The only other alternative is – we have changed.

    It's overkill. 1 mentally unstable maniac does not trump the gun ownership of a million owners who will never make the news because they are honest citizens choosing to exercise the right to own and possess guns, and this right was not inherited for free. Blood was spilled to secure it and we ought to care enough to preserve it.

    Good evening.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:44 pm | Reply
    • Lisa

      You know 30-40 years ago when it was even easier to get a gun than now, you didn't have all these mass shootings...guns haven't changed, we have. Maybe it's all the violence that the children are exposed to...the media, movies, video games. Is it a coincidence? You can thank the media and the ACLU for their "freedom of speech" that exposes children to this constant violence and eventually numbs them to it. But they will never take any responsibility...it's easier to blame inanimate objects.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:50 am | Reply
      • The Devil's Duo

        Violence is human nature. Otherwise we would not be the dominant species.Evolution has taught some of us not to rely on violence but communication. However, for example, the muslim world does not understand evolution.

        July 30, 2012 at 7:45 am |
  24. Ricardo J. DeForest

    The one gun stat that Fareed missed is just how fricking high gun deaths will go if they try to take away our second amendment rights. If your concern Fareed, is to keep gun deaths to a minimum then it would not be logical to try and take them. Simple.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Reply
  25. keith

    i believe there are about 30,000 gun deaths each year in the u.s. and about 40,.000 vehicle accidents. (theck it). does that mean cars kill people?
    cars are only as safe as we drive them them, an guns are only as safe as we use them.
    SO... should we decrease the amount of overall cars? should we decrease the number of certain cars?
    NEITHER : Responsible people will use cars and guns responsibly. other will not.
    any other contention to me just seems ignorant.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:49 pm | Reply
  26. MichaelS

    The way I look at gun control is this. If every single household, business, and public venue were required by law to own and maintain at least one(if not more) guns (Followed by mental screenings to attempt to keep them away from possible nutcases), and also federal laws that allowed citizens to open carry anywhere in the country, in any building; resturaunt, recreational venues, etc. And also a Federal Self Defense Law. Then anyone who was thinking about going on a rampage will think twice "Woah, its legal for everyone to have a gun on them right now" potentially stopping the crime before it leaves the thought stage. If everyone was required to own a gun by federal(other than violent offenders), violent criminals will think more than twice about the ramifacations of their actions. That's just my opinion but I think it is a valid point.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:52 pm | Reply
    • ES

      The life then would turn into a Wild West movie. Whoever shoots the fastest wins and with no witnesses will say"It was for self protection. I was in fear for my life".

      July 30, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
  27. Scott

    Ok, here's a question for all the gun advocates. If we are the country with the most guns, and supposedly, more people with more guns makes us safer, why aren't we the safest country in the world? You say relax the gun laws. Why? To whom is the advantage? People who want to carry responsibly should be willing to jump through hoops to get the gun and get trained in a responsible manner. Not just go buy one and slap it on their hip. It's the irresponsible ones who would gain the advantage. They would be buying them and using them without proper training. Lets say just anyone could buy a gun and carry it. I can say I would not feel safer with a bunch of untrained civilians walking around with loaded guns. That's a recipe for disaster.
    So what is it about gun laws that is bad? Who is hurt by it? What is the harm? Noone is saying you can't own a gun. Just that you need to follow some simple rules to make sure you are going to be responsible. If you don't like that? Then perhaps you are not responsible enough to own a gun.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:56 pm | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      Simple Scott. My weapon has actually made me safer. Were I the model for every gun owning American this would indeed be the safest country in the world. The problem is the other guy. Believe me I have lamented this fact many, many, times. Nothing can be made "fool proof" because the "fools" are just too damn ingenious! But that is not the real issue. We both know that there are bigger issues at stake here and from people like Fareed's perspective, this is just one more angle to make us defensless and take our freedom. Simple.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:08 pm | Reply
  28. AdolphH

    "joshd1" can you feed your with your cell phone camera? I prefer to kill my own meat not let someone else do it and put it in a plastic container. Do I need my huge collection of weapons for self defense probably not, I live in a gated community with roving private security. Would I use my weapon to dispatch anybody who broke into my home, you bet I would without a doubt. I feel more compassion for the animals I eat than any human stupid enough to enter my home uninvited. My sons are 13 &11 and can send a round down range at 500 yards because they understand the math involved. If they try to stop sales then we will go black market. Any liberal who thinks they can ignore the 2nd Amendment must be smoking something.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:58 pm | Reply
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