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. AdolphH

    "Scott" look at the prison populations what races are highest incarcerated ? We are not the safest because we have become a dumpining ground for certain races who cause our problems. Call it racist but argue my facts.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  2. Ricardo J. DeForest

    This isn't brain surgery boys and girls. The bad guys want us unarmed with our pants down so that they can do with us what they please. Here is my simple answer. I have never been arrested. I am not a criminal. You want my guns? Come and take them. I dare you. See? Simple.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  3. Ricardo J. DeForest

    I am Spartacus! Who will join me?

    July 29, 2012 at 11:21 pm | Reply
  4. AJ

    It is not the "number" of guns but, the "type" of guns (and ammunition ) that cause the violence. There is no statistics on how many murders were avoided by civilians having guns for their protection

    July 29, 2012 at 11:40 pm | Reply
    • AJ

      Gun ban means the bad guys will always have the guns and the good guys will have 911 (to call ambulance)

      July 29, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  5. Ed

    I believe I saw more than 1 comment about how easy it is to convert semi-automatic weapons to automatic, is there really a need when you can buy a canister "clip" that will hold 100 rounds. You can also buy shotguns that have rotating loading mechanisms similar to the original Colt 45. AK-47s are not even manufactured n the US. Personally, when hunting,1 or 2 shots should be enough!! By the time you shoot 2 or 3 boxes of ammunition, no more hunting. Deer killed by some of these weapons, no more eating! Most normally equipped police are out gunned now. Fareed: Perhaps another useful statistic might be to know how many guns some of these fanatics own. The recent example in the DC area had a guy targeting Pitney Bowes. He had 19. The number of guns per 100 should be modified by the number who do not own any!! I have 2 friends who are dentists with carry permits - why? Do I feel safer - DEFINITELY NOT!!

    July 29, 2012 at 11:59 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      ED, sorry but Fareed and most "ban the guns" people completely miss the real problem, the ridiculous lenient justice system. Until there are properly harsh, no exception punishments for voilent crime, the problem will never go away. Mandatory death for those who are convicted of murder, regardless of the weapon used. Sentence to be done no more than 6 months from sentencing. That would sort out alot of the horrible behavoir. Afraid the tree hugging left would not let that happen though.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:13 am | Reply
  6. Anna

    Why are pro gun writing LOL on their responses? Do you realize people are dead? Obviously your child was not at the movie theather, Otherwise your opinion woul be different, and definitely you would not be LOL. How stupid can you be?

    July 30, 2012 at 12:02 am | Reply
    • Ken

      Anna, if you don't like my 2nd amendment then go move to China or some other country where firearms arent a right and the government treats its people like slaves as a result.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:05 am | Reply
      • The Devil's Duo

        Amendment II
        Right to bear arms

        A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

        How is the 2nd amendment related to what Anna said?

        July 30, 2012 at 8:09 am |
  7. Tony

    Sounds great, Fareed! Let's melt down all legally owned guns in NYC (police included). Michael Bloomberg will be so wonderfully pleased and we can all sit back and watch the fun! Clearly with the laws on the books, I'm fairly positive all well meaning MS13, Bloods, and Crips will kindly comply.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:27 am | Reply
  8. Ken

    CNN, stop your anti 2nd amendment BS, and zakaria if you don't like my second amendment, then get out of my country.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:41 am | Reply
  9. sfoch

    Mr. Zakaria actually did NOT say it was easy to get automatic weapons. He said it was getting "easier". He did NOT say it was getting easier to get them legally. He meant that they were easier to attain them in general. Whether they are easier to get legally I cannot say. They are showing up more and more in raids and are being used more and more often by criminal elements. That is a fact. I am not commenting on gun control however and that debate is still out there. Just wanted to clarify what the article said before folks go on tangents that aren't relevant.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:45 am | Reply
  10. Ray Cope

    3 deaths per 100,000 – so that makes 9,000 deaths per year. Smoking kills 433,000 according to the CDC. Why don't we have background checks to buy tobacco?

    Freedom is more important than life in this country, and we would be crazy to change change that because of to one crazy person's crazy actions.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:46 am | Reply
  11. Ken

    Zakaria, get out of my country, and take Pierce Morgan with you.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:57 am | Reply
  12. Joe D

    Yes, this was a tragedy, but living in fear as a result is just silly. If you look at the number of people who go to movies each year and the number of fatalities as a result of being at the those movies, I would be willing to bet your chances are about the same as being struck by lightning while finding out you own the winning lottery ticket. It is not that it can't happen, but it is surely not something to bet on.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:37 am | Reply
  13. Tom

    1) You cant take away guns for protecting yourself at home ie 2) you cant allow people to just buy 1 weapon ie for protecting their home 3) 2? 3? 5? ...2 guns and 1 shotgun...1 rifle & 3 guns etc etc 4) we'll never agree on this, to subjective 5) Take away "all guns" ?..too drastic 6) Where does this leave us? 7) a) All we can do is improve the reporting (stricter checks prior to buying gun, more intense background checks & even face-to-face with law-enforcement approval of certain gun purchases) and not just leave it up to the gun shop & a form mailed in etc b) work on the clips-rounds-weapon types etc so that certain fire power is not available

    July 30, 2012 at 2:40 am | Reply
  14. Wondering

    Why does Zakaria always look so constipated? Is that supposed to be a "serious journalism" face?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:45 am | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      You are an idiot!

      July 30, 2012 at 8:15 am | Reply
      • Ken

        No Devil's, you're an idiot. You can get out of our country with your anti personal liberty, socialist puppet zakaria okay? How do you like that idea?

        July 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm |
      • The Devil's Duo

        How old are you kids?

        July 30, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  15. TE

    It is so eash to convert ARs to fullauto, then why did this smart guy not dot it? How many ARs are used in gun crimes this is one of the first i have seen. How much damage was done with the AR vs his other weapons? I would say concealable high capacity weapons such as semi-auto pistols seem to be the weapon of choice for crazy loners who want to commit mass murder… In addition to homemade bombs in U-Hauls.

    July 30, 2012 at 3:01 am | Reply
  16. KEVIN

    Guns ensure peace

    July 30, 2012 at 4:44 am | Reply
  17. Mister Angry

    I agree the US has a higher percentage of shootings and gun-related crimes than the rest of the world and that makes sense due to our high percentage of gun ownership. That said the framers believed the 2nd amendment was necessary to ensure people could be protected from government and I believe that is still the case. You can argue for stronger gun control or just even just have existing laws enforced but in either case you assume the existence of a trustworthy, responsive and working in the best interests of the people national government. You might assume that Mr. Zakaria but I do not–the 2nd amendment is a backstop to an overall abusive government and where sadly I think most of our nutcases are gathered.

    July 30, 2012 at 4:50 am | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      "people could be protected from government "
      ahahahahahahahahahahaha...

      July 30, 2012 at 8:17 am | Reply
  18. Haime52

    "The right to own a weapon, is the right to be free."
    Tell the Syrians that they need gun control!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:04 am | Reply
  19. justsaying

    A Zionist telling us we need to disarm. Yes, we'll get right on that Master.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:58 am | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      Who is a Zionist?

      July 30, 2012 at 8:19 am | Reply
  20. Dr. Susan Spieler

    I can see the place for more restriction of gun access. But, I am shocked that Fareed has taken aim at Psychology! Do we really believe that mentally ill people who have violent fantasies will be rendered harmless by making it hard for them to have access to guns? Do we really believe that the cost of preventive mental health care and early intervention is greater than the devastating costs when mentally ill individuals are able to act on their deranged fantasies? What about investing in prevention and early intervention? Was the perpetrator of the Aurora massacre normal until the moment before he committed this devastating act? Evidence shows us time and again that such events are planned, often for a long time and that people recognized that the perpetrators were not normal. What systems are in place for providing services that would prevent them from taking action? Do we believe that the cost of prevention is greater than the cost of picking up the pieces later? How much will it cost to keep the perpetrator behind bars? How much does the trauma to those impacted cost?

    July 30, 2012 at 6:34 am | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      Psychological testing is a field characterized by the use of samples of behavior in order to assess psychological construct(s), such as cognitive and emotional functioning, about a given individual. The technical term for the science behind psychological testing is psychometrics. By samples of behavior, one means observations of an individual performing tasks that have usually been prescribed beforehand, which often means scores on a test. These responses are often compiled into statistical tables that allow the evaluator to compare the behavior of the individual being tested to the responses of a norm group. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Psychological_testing

      July 30, 2012 at 8:22 am | Reply
  21. joe

    Doesn't mention the U.S. is now the biggest arms dealer, biggest warmonger.

    Drones kill people everyday–no evidence, no trial, no pretended trial.

    How many civilians are killed, but that was a mistake.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:02 am | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      Drones kill jihadists every day – hamdullillah!
      If Jihadists did not hide behind civilians, there would not be any collateral damage. But then, there would not be any martyrs to complain about!

      July 30, 2012 at 8:25 am | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      @joe
      A drone is just a platform.. little different than an F-15 in the context you are referring. Suggesting a country that has gone to war more times to defend other nations than its own, a nation that gives out more foreign aid per year than all other nations combined.. removes any shred of credibility from your argument. (that is not to say the U.S. is problem free of course)

      Actually.. drone strikes (funny you only mention the drones) DO require evidence. The strikes are based on local intel (as in from the people leaving in the area) the country’s government (who gave permission for the strikes) and intel gathered from both drone and satellite surveillance. Then a decision is made by top brass, not grunts. Trials (or pretended ones lol) are not required (and never have been) to take military action.

      Civilians have always been killed in military strikes. Perhaps you should leave a comment for the jihadists who keep their company for putting them in danger.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
  22. Woody

    The fact is this killer was obsessed with and was emulating a fictional MASS MEDIA character from a violent movie series. Why isn't there a call to restrict and control the 1st Amendment too? Why did the media report on what this guy had for breakfast his first morning in prison? Why do the media glorify and give the attention and infamous immortality that the next whack job craves too to these killers? The other abuse of the media, which is a sidestory to the Aurora tragedy, was the irresponsible actions of ABC News "reporter" Brian Ross incorrectly calling out another citizen witht he same name to fit Ross's own politics into the story. Even Obama "used" the media irresponsibly to affect his own personal gains by "not letting a good crisis go to waste". If the Media refused to allow grandstanding like that, he wouldn't even have shown up...

    July 30, 2012 at 7:12 am | Reply
  23. MATTY13

    100 round clips, automatic "assault" weapons, thousands of rounds of ammo. These are not the killers behind the statictics. 99% of firearms deaths in the U.S. are pistols. There are people who do not like weapons, they will find all the graphs and charts they can, manipulate them to verify their thoughts and since they don't like weapons they don't want you to own one either. I'm gonna buy more guns, I'm gonna enlist as many friends as I can to join the NRA.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
  24. Raymund

    Most guns used in criminal activity are stolen.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:23 am | Reply
  25. John Spurlock

    For a man who complains about other ignoring the facts, Fareed Zakaria manages to tap dance nicely around quite a few himself.
    Once again (I guess for those who DON'T speak aEnglich as their primary language) lets review the difference between Automatic and SEMI-Automatic gun.
    Automatic weapons fire a stream of bullets with just one pull of the trigger, and in most U.S. states are illegal to own.
    Semi-Automatic weapons fire a single bullet each time the trigger is pulled (just like a revolver does) and ARE legal to own in most places in the USA. In most cases Semi-automatics are actually safert to own than revolvers because of the superior safeties on them.
    I am so sick of people (and I use the term people loosely) like Fareed Zakaria using a tragedy like what happened in Colorado as gas to fuel their political fires.
    Here's a fact, Mr. Zakaria...
    If just one person in that theater had been legally allowed to carry a handgun, he or she could have defended themselves and everyone in the theaters, saving many of the lives that were lost.
    Look at the example from Florida a few weeks ago were a 71 year old man with a legally carried pistol (semi-automatic, by the way), stopped two armed robbers attempting to hold up an internet cafe.
    Mr. Zakaria, there is someone worse than the person who ignores the facts.
    It's the person like you, who lies about them.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:27 am | Reply
    • Barry Rindner

      Your logic is rather twisted. If there were less guns to begin with, the shooter wouldn't have been armed to the teeth. Your logic puts us back in the wild west; everybody have a six shooter strapped to their legs. Maybe we can go back to gun duels at high noon. Next time someone cuts you off in traffic, don't flip them the bird, blow their head off with a shotgun. Nonsense. In a civilized society there should not be a need for such a proliferation of guns, period. It is pagan or parnoid thinking to say that we must have the legal right to stockpile a small arms cache. The interpretation of the second ammendment is so twisted by the gun crazies that logic and common sense just doesn't have any basis to survive. I have read your second post on this subject. Even if those quotes have any relevancy in today's society (which they don't) keeping youself knee deep in guns and bullets would be useless against any government the size of the USA with enough tanks and bombs to kill you 100 times over. Lets work to be like the rest of the civilized world and disarm. The fact that a nut like Holmes could stockpile a LEGAL stache of weaponry and then wipe out a crowd of innocent people, is a roaring condemnation of how stupid and insane our existing guns laws are. How many other crazies are out there ready to strike?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  26. John Spurlock

    Two quotes for the people who want gun control...

    “This year will go down in history. For the first time, a civilized nation has full gun registration. Our streets will be safer, our police more efficient, and the world will follow our lead into the future!” – Adolph Hitler, 1935, on The Weapons Act of Nazi Germany

    “Those now possessing weapons and ammunition are at once to turn them over to the local police authority. Firearms and ammunition found in a Jew’s possession will be forfeited to the government without compensation. Whoever willfully or negligently violates the provisions will be punished with imprisonment and a fine.” – Nazi Law (Regulations Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons), 1938

    You see, there are legal precedents for your point of view, and other people in history that support your way of thinking Mr. Zakaria.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:37 am | Reply
  27. Dave

    Fareed- please research for us. How many crimes have been stopped or prevented by concealed weapons license holders in the U.S. or elsewhere (excluding professional law enforcement)?
    Hmmmnnn.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:46 am | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      Do your own research lazy bones.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
  28. Chandelier

    I think that nobody should be allowed to use guns. Since the gun related deaths are the largest among homicide deaths, gun control should be enforced. Although I think police officers must still be allowed to use guns since they definitely need it when fighting crime.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Way to contradict yourself their genius. I can only hope that was sarcasm.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:02 am | Reply
    • Awe

      Cars kill more people per year so by your logic we should ban cars as well. Idiot.

      July 30, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
    • MATTY13

      I think the only people who should be allowed to have guns are criminals. They need them the most so they can commit their crimes, whereas if you want a turkey sandwich just go to the store instead of shooting the turkey.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  29. Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

    This is why I’m an independent. The right is undoubtedly the bigger nut but the left can be just as bad when they want to push their side based on emotion and not facts. Independent or you’re a sheep.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:00 am | Reply
  30. Pgh

    If civilians aren't allowed to have automatic weapons, then city cops (funded by TSA/ Dept Homeland Security) shouldn't be allowed to have drones, LRADs (hearing damaging weapons used on law abiding protestors), and tear gas. If Obama thinks automatic weapons are appropriate only for the battlefield, then so are the latter.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:01 am | Reply
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