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. Challenger

    Really Gerat? Citing wilipedia? Are you aware anyone can change the information on wikipedia? Jay Leno proved that quite easily when he changed information on elephants to be endangered to elephants being overpopulated. Quite nice but, I suggest citing something less alterable wouldn't you agree? My bad, you know elephants are overpopulated because the internet told you and the internet never has anything untrue on it!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:05 am | Reply
  2. ricardo1968

    Gun violence is not the only type of deadly violence. Another aspect of this problem is the lack of social support in America when compared to less violent countries. You have to investigate that too as a confounding factor if you want to solve this debate. How much does each factor into the level violence? Maybe there are other laws we could be making that would be more effective?

    July 30, 2012 at 9:06 am | Reply
  3. Awe

    It would be great if they placed a map of Freedom and Liberty around the world next to the gun owners map. I bet you will see that the USA has more freedom and liberty than those countries that ban personal weapons.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:10 am | Reply
  4. Colorado

    Good article & excellent reference. Would be interesting to compare violence in Canada vs US (both high on gun ownership list).

    July 30, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
  5. Mark

    Obviously a country with more guns will have more gun murders. The real question (a question that I don't pretend to now the answer to) is if a country with more guns has more murders of all kinds. Do people without guns murder less or do they just murder in other ways? You have to answer that question before you can really say if we are safer or more at risk by having guns.

    The 2nd question to answer is if we can actually implement effective gun control in a free society. Obviously we can't control narcotics, speed limits, gambling... It only makes sense to implement gun control if we can do it successfully. Otherwise you just give advantage to the lawless.

    I also do not agree that mental problems are spread around evenly. No evidence is provided either way.

    I'm not trying to takes sides in this issue. I just want better analysis. This article demonstrates a lack of critical analysis from a reporter who usually does much better.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
  6. Bill

    No doubt the gun culture in America has led to greater homicides due to firearms. The problem, however, is not as eashy a solution as gun control laws. The fact that the author does not mention is that most of those homicides are committed by people who are not allowed to have guns legally. No one seems concerned as to how so many guns end up in the market illegally. Stopping illegal trade is more the solution then anything else.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
  7. sid

    Great article. For all those people who say that killers will find a way to kill if not guns...if we can stop 99 out of 100 such killings by making it difficult for the killers, then it that not enough. Guns make it 99% easier to kill.
    Also, take a country like India where gun/mass killings are never heard of. The reason is that that owning a gun is illegal – and also there are less nuts in India as opposed to America!

    July 30, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
  8. Anthony

    More people are murdered by bare hands then guns in the US. Should be ban our bare hands? Guns don't murder people, people murder people. If he had used a knife or bow and arrow, should we also ban knifes and bow and arrows?

    July 30, 2012 at 9:40 am | Reply
  9. Old Soldier

    Of course Fareed Zakaria wants us to disarm. He's muslim.

    July 30, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • jesse1980

      that's a helpful arguement, jimbob. thanks for that. you may as well be on the gun control side, because you're helping them when you say that and doing a disservice to all gun rights activists by having your bigotry associated with us. now they get to say "see? that's what all those pro gun people are about!" be quiet when the grownups are talking.

      July 30, 2012 at 10:07 am | Reply
  10. jesse1980

    between 2-6 months(depending on his intelligence level) machinist training and a 14 year old could make a submachine gun that shoots 20 shots per second from scratch using old car parts, plumbing pieces, etc. a little applied chemistry and he could make the ammo too. one quick google search and he could make a war gas that could kill 100000 people with the right wind conditions or the oklahoma city bomb for that matter. you can't un-invent these things or stop a determined and resourceful person from acquiring them. people in caves in pakistan make anti aircraft guns without electricity. gun control is not about stopping maniacs. it's about transferring absolute power over life and death to the state with the exception of small bands of people who are willing to risk the legal penalties of noncompliance and are therefore criminals by definition. i don't trust my neighbour any more than the brady campaign does. the difference is i trust the government even less and would like to live in a society that has some sort of protection against the tyranny that will always result from concentrating power into the hands of a few and dis-empowering the rest. freedom is bloody. wanna be safe from gun violence? carry one. alternately, i hear china is nice this time of year...

    July 30, 2012 at 9:43 am | Reply
  11. FortLeanardWood90

    Here we go again. Another liberal anti-gun extremist twisted the facts and spreading communist propagada to confiscate guns and violate our 2nd Amendment right. The fact is people in communist and socialist countries do not want to be living in fear! They want to come to America and enjoy freedom to include the ability to protect and defend yourself and your family. This shooting event was a direct result of gun control law currently in place and put a huge burden on American people to carry firearms to protect ourselves. This shooting event could have been deterred and prevented if people were allowed to arm themselves for protection. Tge shooter

    July 30, 2012 at 9:56 am | Reply
  12. Dan

    I agree with jesse1980. You look at most of those light green countires and the majority are some of the most politically oppressed countries. Do any of you want to live in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Myanmar. What do Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Khmer Rouge have in common besides killing a lot of people? They all made it illegal to own guns and confiscated them all. Europe is an exception but they didn't put up much of a fight when Hitler came rolling through. It took us and Russian winter to stop him. And all of those light green countries have a history of dictatorship. Do we have alot of murders due to guns? Yes but how many of those murders are with guns bought on the black market that gun laws would have no power to stop. The number per capita that Zakaria quotes would drop dramatically when compared to those who have concealed weapons permits. Lets solve the real problems like drug wars than make foolish decisions with good intentions.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:44 am | Reply
  13. MIKE

    WE DON'T ENFORCE THE LAWS WE HAVE SO WE DON'T NEED MORE LAWS THAT WE DON'T ENFORCE-WE HAVE NOT HAD A CIVIL UPRISING IN OVER 200 YEARS-WE HAVE NOT HAD A GOVERNMENT OVER THROW IN OVER 200 YEARS. 3 GOOD REASONS TO HAVE A GUN TO PROTECT YOURSELF.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:45 am | Reply
  14. hogasaurus

    sakaria needs to crawl back under the rock that he came from, what kind of name is fareed sakaris? what planet are you from

    July 30, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
  15. USMCVET

    All they want to do is take our rights away.Can noone see this!!They continue to make more and more laws to restrict our freedoms and nothing is done about it as they do it alittle at a time,or vote on it while were sleeping and let us know about it in the morning when we wake.If you idiots think that more gun control is the answer to the problems in our society then you also need proffessional help!!Anything can be bought on the black market and theres guns being shipped to this country among many other things,but nothing is mentioned about that.So if you think that taking our guns away is the answer then your mistaken.Only the crooks,rapists,murderers,other criminals will be the ones with the guns.Im not having it!!!I will protect my family at all costs....The organizations like the NRA are the only ones standing up to the government for us and our rights.I will never give up my guns nor will everyone else who has them.Maybe the shrinks who have patients that are really off their rocker should inform the atf and that person put on a not able to purchase list just like criminals.We have to wait for them to approve us so the have a list on us why cant they have a list on the nuts,if they dont already have one.Theres no real way to take our guns away,maybe we just need to find a better way to not let disturbed people from getting them.You never know who might be beside you with a concealed weapon permit like me We may very well be the person to prevent that from happening and saving your wretched and ungrateful life.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  16. palintwit

    I sold Mitt Romney one of my "Gaffe-O-Matic" machines just before he went to England and Israel last week. In 2008 Sarah Palin bought one of my "Make-A-Fool-Out-Of-Yourself-O-Matic" machines. Michele Bachmann and Christine O'Donnell each bought one of the exact same units.

    July 30, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  17. Retired UH-60 Pilot

    Food for thought. Does anyone think 9/11 would have turned out differently if each plane had at least one CCW holder on board? I do...

    July 30, 2012 at 11:01 am | Reply
  18. K_Daraa

    Between 1985 and 1996, 28 states eased restrictions on concealed weapon carrying. As of 2000, 22 states allowed concealed guns to be carried almost anywhere, including places of worship. Violent crime statistics in those states reflect a dramatic reduction in violent crime during the same period. Unfortunately, liberal Colorado citizens have prevailed and actually tightened the former laws on concealed weapons and has seen an increase in violent crime as a direct result. If this incident had occurred in Oregon or Texas where many people are "packing" concealed weapons, the shooter Hames Holmes would probably have been blown away within seconds, saving many deaths and injuries. Liberals like Zakariya always try to throw those "false logic" arguments out, with little to no real two-sided statistics to back up their hypotheses.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • independentlyowned

      Yes, because your Average Joe gun owner has the skill to locate a shooter clouded in smoke and the darkness of the theater, single him out, aim and shoot him without getting distracted by any of the hundreds of people running around in a panic and without shooting any of them by mistake either.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  19. USMCVET

    This guy here with CNN has an agenda just like every other media outlet and they use their position to push their own opinions and wants down our throats.I really wonder what his real motives are???the ratings for CNN are very low right now so of course anything that can be done to boost it will be done.Theres not too many politicians or Organizations standing up for us ordinary Americans so we need all the help that we can get.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply
  20. gfreeman

    One of our problems in the US is the lack of incentive NOT to commit crimes. This guy will probably write a book and become rich while society pays to keep him in prison for the next 30 years where he will sit on his butt and watch TV.
    Guns are not the problem. People are the problem. They have no compassion or respect for life and other humans. We are becoming a race of "ME ONLY".

    July 30, 2012 at 11:10 am | Reply
  21. Ykcyc

    Are people that stupid? Don't worry about the semi-automatic gun laws. Worry about the weapons of mass destruction, currently possessed by the Syrian government that we are helping to overthrow. According to these simple people, all we have to do is to pass the law, making them illegal, so that the terrorists that get these weapons of mass destruction when the Syrian government falls, won't use them on American soil, because it is simply against the ln law. How insane is that? Guess what? Murder is already illegal. Do you think anyone who wants to kill people will check or care what the law says? I have a better chance of protecting myself and my family. Let the government worry about the weapons of mass destruction.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • Master

      While we are at it, let's make IEDs illegal in Iraq, nukes in Iran, and heroin in Afganistan. This will solve everything. We need more laws! That's the ticket!

      July 30, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  22. Brett

    Yes this makes perfect sense, because criminals obey the laws and americans dont need to protect themselves. Hell while we are at it lets just switch to socialism that could solve alot of problems. i fought for this country and these are ideas the governmet are actually considering. land of the free my ass!

    July 30, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  23. USMCVET

    UH-60 pilot very good thought just have to make sure no shots go wild and exit the plane.palinwit sounds like an Idiot,but its us military that served and died that gave you the right to open your pie-hole and express your opinions.so enjoy it,That goes for everyone who loves to knock the military also.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  24. Anonymous

    CNN is only a propaganda puppet for Obama.

    It has been known for a long time that Obama was staging a gun grab, and now we see it.

    The guy in theatre was an example that they just loved to grab ahold of and talk non-stop since they failed to convince the public with the Zimmerman case.

    They will be talking about it for weeks on end because they want to get the population to side with them to eliminate guns.

    But many people are wise to what is going on, and when authorities show up in neighborhoods to take people's guns, just like the Nazi's did, this time I imagine a lot of the people in those neighborhoods will open fire on them.

    Personally, I'm just going to tell them "Sorry, I can't help you". And send them down the road.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
  25. jutay24

    Pretty sure that automatic firearms have been banned since 1962.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:20 am | Reply
  26. USMCVET

    We do need to have stricter punishments for thieves rapists and murderers.Look at overseas,if you get caught stealing then your hand is cut off.Here you go to jail for alittle while and a slap on the wrist.If they made some examples of the criminals then maybe just maybe they would think twice.Some would not be wanting to walk around with one hand and knowing that everyone knows they are a thief.I would love to say that everything is going to be alright and get better,but it wont!!!As the world continues to go through changes like the economy,more population,and no jobs.There are people who if they need something and dont have the money,they will just go out and rob someone.This is what gets me,I was once working at a day labor company and one temp employee was saying that if he or his kids needed something then he would just go rob someone.I was shocked by this idiot and what he said.But these are the types of people were dealing with in this world.People would just rather go steal something or rob someone instead of working hard to get that said something.I work hard everyday of my life for me!! and my family!!Criminals have too many rights.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  27. Jack

    Lets say we took the guns away from the people. Now the only people that have them are the criminals. They don't use registered guns so now they have guns and we don't. We can't depend on the police force to get there always because sometimes they can't or we don't have a chance to call them. If someone wants to kill you they will regardless. there was plenty of murders before guns were made.They were all done by people, not guns.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  28. Chris from Chicago

    Fareed Zakaria-

    The argument you've made about facts is a great point, but I think it works both ways. For example, does the chart include non-registered or illegal gun ownership? How are these statistics collected in other countries as opposed to the USA? What defines Civilian gun ownership in other countries as opposed to the USA? Can we really say that gun ownership statistics are going to be as accurate in all of Africa, South America, and parts of Europe than in the USA? What about Syria? are we safer from guns in Syria because this graph says the USA has more guns?

    People like to talk about limiting gun ownership, and I agree that high powered weapons should be restricted, but how is this really going to affect illegal gun ownership? I'd love to see a detailed and fair investigation into what affect additional laws might have on the ability to acquire guns illegally.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:35 am | Reply
  29. sweetchinmusic21

    Even with the best policing and emergency response system in the world, america will still, never be the safest place to live, with all the guns flowing in the society. For the gun loving rednecks, this is not a social issue but a political one. They come up with stupid arguments like you can make a bomb with bleachers so stop using bleachers.. I mean come on.. you can even strangle with a rope, so stop using a rope ??!!. Guns are JUST MADE TO KILL and should be controlled. Not sure whether the gun-loving nuts would be saying the same thing if one of their loved ones was shot by a looney...

    July 30, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
    • Chris from Chicago

      Sweetchinmusic21-

      how do you propose we control illegal gun ownership. By the way, racism makes you look ignorant and hateful.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:52 am | Reply
      • sweetchinmusic21

        I am not a gun expert and hence any proposition I make wouldn't be just. But it is done in others countries (such as UK and Germany– resulting in far less gun violence and mass murder) and it can be done here too. These countries show there are better ways to make a place safe than arming every civilian with a weapon. If using the word 'redneck' makes me a racist then I don't know what to say. To make it clear, I referred to all gun-loving nuts. But by doing that you have conveniently strayed away from the topic. That what people have been doing in this forum. Picking out a trivial point that Zakaria missing the broader and the far important point.

        July 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  30. Rocket

    56% + of firearms dealths in the US are sucides. Yet the gun is the problem? Alchohol kills twice as many people in the US each year.

    July 30, 2012 at 11:42 am | Reply
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