July 27th, 2012
04:33 PM ET

Time to face facts on gun control

By Fareed Zakaria

It has now been just over a week since a lone gunman opened fire on moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. The airwaves have been dominated by soul searching.

Most of the pundits have concluded that the main cause of this calamity is the dark, strange behavior of the gunman. Talking about anything else, they say, is silly. The New York Times’ usually extremely wise columnist, David Brooks, explains that this is a problem of psychology, not sociology.

At one level, this makes sense, of course, as the proximate cause. But really, it’s questionable analysis. Think about this: are there more lonely people in America compared with other countries? Are there, say, fewer depressed people in Asia and Europe? So why do they all have so much less gun violence than we do?

The United States stands out from the rest of the world not because it has more nutcases – I think we can assume that those people are sprinkled throughout every society equally –but because it has more guns.

Look at the map below. It shows the average number of firearms per 100 people. Most of the world is shaded light green – those are the countries where there are between zero and 10 guns per 100 citizens. In dark brown, you have the countries with more than 70 guns per 100 people. The U.S. is the only country in that category. In fact, the last global Small Arms Survey showed there are 88 guns for every 100 Americans. Yemen is second at 54. Serbia and Iraq are among the other countries in the top 10.

We have 5 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the guns.

But the sheer number of guns isn’t an isolated statistic. The data shows we compare badly on fatalities, too.  The U.S has three gun homicides per 100,000 people. That’s four times as many as Switzerland, ten times as many as India, 20 times as many as Australia and England.

Whatever you think of gun rights and gun control, the numbers don’t flatter America.

I saw an interesting graph in The Atlantic magazine recently. A spectrum shows the number of gun-related deaths by state. Now if you add one more piece of data – gun control restrictions – you see that the states with at least one firearm law (such as an assault weapons ban or trigger locks) tend to be the states with fewer gun-related deaths.

Conclusion? Well, there are lots of factors involved, but there is at least a correlation between tighter laws and fewer gun-related deaths.

I've shown you data comparing countries, and comparing states. Now consider the U.S. over time. Americans tend to think the U.S. is getting more violent. In a recent Gallup survey, 68 percent said there’s more crime in the U.S. than there was a year ago. Well, here’s what I found surprising: the U.S. is actually getting safer. In the decade since the year 2000, violent crime rates fell by 20 percent; aggravated assault by 22 percent; motor vehicle theft by 42 percent; murder – by all weapons – by 13 percent.

But guns are the exception. Gun homicide rates haven’t improved at all. They were at roughly the same levels in 2009 as they were in 2000. Meanwhile, serious but non-fatal gun injuries caused during assault have actually increased in the last decade by 20 percent, as guns laws have gotten looser and getting automatic weapons has become easier.

We are the world’s most heavily-armed civilian population. One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot.

Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, but not to his or her own facts. Saying that this is all a matter of psychology is a recipe for doing nothing. We cannot change the tortured psychology of madmen like James Holmes. What we can do is change our gun laws.

Should U.S. gun laws be tougher? What would you change?


soundoff (2,982 Responses)
  1. Kevin

    Perhaps a question worth asking is which came first... do Americans suffer more violent crime BECAUSE they have more guns, or do Americans have more guns because there are other factors which make them more prone to commit a violent crime or be a victim of violent crime, so they therefore arm themselves in defense

    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  2. PedroT99

    For the record, while I look go to a gun range on occasion, I'm not a gunowner and far from a gun "nut".

    That said, I have a question for all the uninformed anti-gun folks.

    Can someone please tell me what an "assualt rile" is and functionally how it differs from a non-assualt rifle. I realize it is black and scary looking. Diane Feinstein, Schuck Schumer, Frank Lautenberg have all been asked and they best they can come up with is that they have a pistol grip. That is an absurd answer.

    Anyone?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • MMeans

      An assault rifle is classified as anything that is capable of firing (in semi automatic or automatic mode) more than five rounds. The rifle is specifically weighted, loaded, and designed for tactical assaults. You wouldn't burst into a room with a bolt action rifle. Shotguns can be classified in the same manner (a shotgun is NOT a "rifle"). You wouldn't burst into a room with a skeet shooting shotgun.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
      • PedroT99

        Not a very good answer. I don't believe that 5 round piece is an actual criteria. You are also comparing that to a Bolt-action rifle. There a plenty of rifles that are semi-auto that are not assualt rifles.

        I Ruger 10-22 in .22 caliber (the same one the boy scouts used to learn to shoot on) fires has a 10 round rotary mag and is semi-auto. By your criteria it would be an assualt rifle which is a ridiculous notion.

        The original ruger mini-14 was not designed as an assult rifle. It was designed for ranch work. It is the rifle wielded by those 2 madman that held of an entire SWAT team for hours in LA.

        The definition of an assault rifle is completely arbitrary. They are scary looking and simply offend the sensibilites of liberals.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
      • PedroT99

        Not a very good answer. I don't believe that 5 round piece is an actual criteria. You are also comparing that to a Bolt-action rifle. There a plenty of rifles that are semi-auto that are not assualt rifles.

        I Ruger 10-22 in .22 caliber (the same one the boy scouts used to learn to shoot on) fires has a 10 round rotary mag and is semi-auto. By your criteria it would be an assualt rifle which is a ridiculous notion.

        The original ruger mini-14 was not designed as an assult rifle. It was designed for ranch work. It is also the rifle wielded by those 2 madman that held of an entire SWAT team for hours in LA.

        The definition of an assault rifle is completely arbitrary. Face it...They are scary looking and simply offend the sensibilites of liberals.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
      • PedroT99

        Not a very good answer. I don't believe that 5 round piece is an actual criteria. You are also comparing that to a Bolt-action rifle. There a plenty of rifles that are semi-auto that are not assualt rifles.

        I Ruger 10-22 in .22 caliber (the same one the boy scouts used to learn to shoot on) fires has a 10 round rotary mag and is semi-auto. By your criteria it would be an assualt rifle which is a ridiculous notion.

        The original ruger mini-14 was not designed as an assult rifle. It was designed for ranch work. It is also the rifle wielded by those 2 madman that held of an entire SWAT team for hours in LA.

        The definition of an assault rifle is completely arbitrary. Face it...They are scary looking and simply offend the sensibilites of liberals. And "assualt rilfe" as I am describing it is SEMI-auto. As everyone here noted, the average Joe cannot feasibly get an automatic weapon...anything is possible but it is extremely difficult.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
      • PedroT99

        My apologies...didn't mean to triple-post.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
      • MMeans

        I see you didn't provide your own definition? Did you completely ignore the part about "specifically designed for tactical assaults"? I'm a liberal, and I love my AR15 and my Benelli. So it doesn't offend me. What does offend me is ignorance. "Common sense" is probably the best definition of "what is an assault rifle?". But you wanted to try to nit pick. A .22? In the right hands, right weapon, that round can be extremely lethal, especially if delivered to the skull.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  3. hisarrow

    I have an AR-15 and I feel very safe. You should have one too. Defending your home against intruders is your responsibility. As long as we have the Second Amendment, nobody can legally take our guns away. As a matter of fact, articles like this only serve to cause spikes in gun sales. I and 4 million others like me are ordinary citizens who belong to the NRA. When you attack the NRA, you are attacking your neighbor.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Reply
    • Martin

      Have you ever had reason to defend your home against an intruder using this automatic weapon?

      You'd better hope that the intruder isn't bigger and better trained than you are (most intruders will be).

      Statistics show that in reality, people who own guns have them used against them more often in crimes when criminals overpower them.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  4. Ntrain2k

    The facts on gun control laws are pretty simple. They do not work.

    Criminals do not follow laws.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Reply
  5. Bob, your uncle

    "One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot."

    Everyone I know that has been shot was because of some politician sending over Americans to fight for that politicians political agenda. Perhaps America needs better Politician Control laws instead.

    (This is not directed at any one party. I hate all politicians equally.)

    July 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  6. markolson2000

    So if the problem is that too many Americans own guns, what laws do you pass to reduce that number? It's already illegal for felons to own guns. Do we expand that to anyone with a misdemeanor? Or with a speeding ticket?

    A legal citizen can acquire a lot of guns in Europe as easily as they can here (ask Norway). Guns are just a bigger part of our culture. You can't change that culture through laws without becoming stricter on guns than all of Europe, and that's not happening anytime soon.

    People bring up the assault weapon ban, but we've had that in the past, and it doesn't drastically reduce the number of gun owners in this country. It just improves sales of semi-automatic weapons modified to get around the ban.

    In a free society, people are free to do bad things. It's a fact of life. You can't regulate that away, unless you're North Korea.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Reply
  7. crabman

    tired of the words assault weapon -- anything you use against someone to do harm is an assault weapon -- just sayn

    July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  8. sarah

    amazing how defensive amercians get about gun control, LOL.
    I am being accused of not being Canadian... Jealous?? BOB , NINA you guys are idiots. The last 2 mass shootings we had in Canada were gang related and very rare, fortunately!
    The world laughs at war hungry hicks who sleep with guns beside their beds.
    PEACE!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      This kind of event is quite rare.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      Reactionary knee jerks. This happens once every few years and the bright idea is that 100-200 million people in the country must give up their arms to hopefully preventing this from happening once in the next 2-4 years. Positively brilliant. Meanwhile an average of 2000 Americans every day die from completely preventable smoking and overeating related illnesses. But I don't hear any of these same people saying government should enforce caloric restrictions on people.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      Why do you have to use pejoratives.
      Most likely you live around TO and you have never been to another province. I assure you that guns are most important to alot of Canadians. Canadians in BC, Alberta, NorthWest Territories are just as keen on their guns as Americans. Do a little research on the NFA and you might not sound so ignorant.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  9. B

    Oh look, another misinformed CNN reporter using "select" facts to support his cause, not all of the facts. Also, one of your facts, "getting automatic weapons has become easier" is completely false.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      'Best friends' has 11 letters, so does 'Back stabber.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  10. Jose Pineda

    WOW: I found the perfect idiotic argument, but I have a proposal absed on it:
    qgold wrote "The details don't really matter, Zakaria is right, it's the sheer number of guns of all types that make the US more and more dangerous for all of us. It's a sick hobby that needs to go away."
    OK, OK! I give up. Let's make the US safer for "all of us". First, start with heart disease cars. We need to regulate even more. After all, heart disease kills 192 per 100,00. more than 60 times greater than guns. The move to cars.After all, cars account for 15 deaths for every 100,000. 5 times more than guns. After you've made us all safer tackiling those two big killers, let's talk about guns....!!! You know, I'm not normally one to call people names, but I'm making an excpetion for THESE IDIOTS.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  11. Economystic Extraordinaire

    consider what the outcomes would be if businesses were not allowed to deny those citizens who qualify for CCW permits their right to carry. We have only 800,000 law enforcement officers in our entire country who work tirelessly 24/7. Why deny them the assistance of 7,000,000 qualified assistants in a country with about 200,000,000 adults over 21 (another 18,000,000 between 18 and 21). Sounds like you could use a little help there.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  12. Barry

    The Facts:
    2,437,163 people died in 2009 in the US. Of those deaths, 16,799 were homicides (0.68% and 15th leading cause of death). Of those homicides, 11,493 were firearm homicides (68% of homicides involved guns).

    Heart disease and Cancer – each – killed about 50 times as many people as gun violence.

    36,909 people took their own lives (no stats on how many used guns). That's 3 times as many as were killed in firearm homicides.

    I make no opinions, suggest no courses of action, and draw no conclusions from these facts.

    Sources:
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/homicide.htm
    http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/deaths.htm

    July 30, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  13. Guester

    Guns are a religion to many. As such logic has no place in the discussion. Pro-gun folks have arguments based on paranoia and fantasy. Logic, common sense, and facts are no match for that.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
    • Another Dave

      And the same could be said about the antis...The paranoia over the existence of these weapons; The fantasy that responsible ownership doesn't exist and that new laws will somehow make bad people stop doing bad things.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  14. GT

    lets be honest, and compare ALL murder rates in major countries, not GUN murders. Who cares if less people in Asia got murdered by GUNS,.. how many in TOTAL. I am going to bet that accurate stats will show people die from something ELSE when a gun is not available. Gun control does not equal murder control.
    At least have a proper debate about something Fareed, instead of ambulance chasing this terrible event like so many other tired Lib-Tards. Very disappointed on this sadly lacking article.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  15. Economystic Extraordinaire

    no guns or guns because the amendment says guns are good, not just ok, but good for democracy. the framers could not have envisioned the today’s world examples of China and Arabia. China does not allow weapons for citizens. China is communist and authoritarian ruled. While Arab countries were authoritarian ruled until democracy pervaded the countries by way of, yes, guns. And there was no limit on what kind of weapons those democratic rebel fighters used and that is why democracy prevailed there. It happens to be why democracy prevailed in America in 1776 also.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Reply
  16. Geff

    When Anglo Spring arrives I'm sure that law enforcement would like a disarmed populace.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
  17. Hemi

    Mr. Zakaria; while you are so "elequoently" posting "facts"; why not break it down further and SHOW the true facts of such highly gun restricted areas in the USA, such as Chicago & New York, but particularily Chicago (Rohm Emanuals' territory), and show how assaults are UP, not down, murders are UP, not down; and all because the weaponless citizens are at the mercy of armed criminals, who could care less (actually they care more) that weapons are so highly restricted. This gives the criminals an edge, as it did in Australia. When the citizens are disarmed, the criminals have nothing to fear, and become bolder, as proven by the increase in assaults. Quit drinking the koolaid, its getting to you Fareed.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  18. Tom F

    Great Chart!
    I wonder if you can find one that shows countries with comparative levels of civil liberty?
    I wonder if there would be a correlation between those two items?
    Just wondering.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Reply
    • MMeans

      Soooo what countries don't have the same "civil liberties"? England? Germany? Spain? Portugal? Italy? France? Ireland? Please explain what these people are missing out on.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  19. Fred54

    This is really simple. If you support gun control because of an event like Aurora you believe it is preferable that
    12 innocent people die and 58 are scarred for life rather than a single armed citizen explaining to the police
    when they arrive after the damage is done how one James Holcomb got shot?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Reply
    • Guester

      Yeah. That happens all the time. I remember reading time and time again about how a mass shooting was stopped by an armed private citizen. Oh wait... that didn't ever happen did it. Just what you need a gun fight in a dark room full of people by a bunch of yahoos that have watched way too many movies. .

      July 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm | Reply
    • enfilm

      You know, people always say things like this, and I always was right along with them, but after the umpteenth incident in which nobody with a gun quickly and safely eliminated the threat despite lax gun laws—in which the only person in the room with a legally obtained gun was the person who wantonly murdered several others—I am beginning to change my mind. Yes, there is an illegal gun trade. Yes, if someone is truly determined, they will be able to get a gun illegally. But how many mass murders like this have actually involved someone doing that? I only seem to remember ones where the perps bought their guns at stores. I also can't feel much worry about a system in which someone who wants to carry out a crime with a gun has already broken a law by obtaining the weapon...it makes it likelier that they'll be caught BEFORE they pull the trigger.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  20. Kentucky Windage

    ..
    There are 279 OTHER SHOOTINGS for EACH 'INTRUDER' SHOT !!
    >>

    July 30, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Reply
    • The Devil's Duo

      Source?
      My mom told me is not good enough.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Reply
  21. Mike

    Yeah, we are also one of the only countries that does not have to fear their own government becoming too powerful. You could also show the statistic of the amount of prisons the US has compared to the number of schools it has, but that doesn't serve your purpose does it? Let's stop with regulation and incarceration, isn't it obvious that none of that is a long term solution? but guess what is....education.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
    • enfilm

      "Yeah, we are also one of the only countries that does not have to fear their own government becoming too powerful."

      Keep dreaming dude. You really think the U.S. government is frightened of the weaponry of its citizens? That an armed revolution could last more than five minutes and have more than one possible outcome?

      July 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
      • Biff

        enfilm, you only need to look as far as Afghanistan and Iraq to see that an "outarmed" populace can't be taken out in a few minutes. And that's only the insurgents. Now think if every citizen were armed. Citizens would win hands down.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
      • enfilm

        If literally every civilian citizen of the entire United States wanted to revolt against the U.S. government, they wouldn't need guns anyway. I suspect this is less an argument and more a fantasy of yours, and unfortunately a fantasy it will remain. The U.S. government has nukes, missiles, drones, tanks, and even a surveillance infrastructure they don't enjoy elsewhere. The U.S. DoD is the largest employer in the entire world, never mind the country. A well-armed populace would not be able to overthrow their own government through violence. Our only choices are to (a) remove all restrictions to leve the playing field against the government, so that everyone who feels like it can have their own atomic weapon, or (b) accept that we've already crossed that bridge and stop considering it a valid reason to keep doing nothing about our gun laws.

        July 30, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
      • Biff

        enfilm, you're the one living in a fantasy. The government would not nuke the citizens because with nobody to rule over, the government itself would crumble. That's a really stupid thing to even consider. Kill the populace through WMDs. Yeah that makes a lot of sense. This would only happen if a corrupt government hellbent on its own destruction would do.

        July 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  22. Economystic Extraordinaire

    Prohibiting CCW permit holder from carrying their weapons removes a significant deterrent. Like patrol cars, cameras, steering wheel locks, car alarms, are deterrents. By prohibiting these licensed permit holders you are advertising to criminals that they are safe to rob or commit any crime here without being drawn upon. If the state approves of a person to carry their weapon and they prove qualified, why let any pubic business deny those people their right to carry? As in the case with Aurora, now the theater is responsible for the deaths and damages to 70 families. That could have been avoided or at least mitigated by allowing citizens their rights.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  23. Joe

    If we are going to face he facts we should at least examine some. New York and Chicago have some of he most restrictive gun laws in the nation and yet the incidence of gun violence does not seem to be any lower than other US cities. Also, I would love to know where people get their facts about the NRA. The NRA is a gun advocacy group, but they also provide education on gun safety, operation, and applicable laws. The emphasis in these courses is on gun safety. They drill i into you and no NRA affiliated facility will tolerate someone handing a gun in a reckless or careless manner. Most NRA members spend 99.9 percent of their time shooting at paper targets in a properly constructed facility. Those are the facts.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:20 pm | Reply
  24. Dude

    When I first moved to Atlanta, teens made the news because they baked a puppy to death in a public housing complex recreation room. Until you fix that sort of behavior, the rest of the people will always feel they need guns.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  25. More facts

    This article attempts to use facts for a purpose without exposing the entire. A misuse of facts. see http://www.justfacts.com/guncontrol.asp

    July 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
  26. Earl

    Causation fails. In the 1950's there were no gun control laws and no mass murders. What has changed is not the availability of guns but the total debauchment of American culture – television standards, movie content and video games. Then add in drugs. Clean up the culture and see what happens.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:22 pm | Reply
    • enfilm

      "In the 1950's there were no gun control laws and no mass murders."

      No such mass murders in the 1950s (or earlier)? That's not true at all.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
      • Earl

        Care to name a couple of mass murders equivalent to the deviant types we saw in Colorado?

        July 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  27. Ned

    Wow, you have it all figured out! Why didn't we outlaw guns in Iraq and Afganistan or in Somalia. Sounds to me like your solution would have been much easier than what the U.S. went through in these countries.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  28. Mike

    My Grandfather fought in the South Pacific in WW II. Rifles,Bayonets, Hand Grenades and Flame Throwers. After the War He never owned a Gun. He said they only brought violence closer to you... food for thought.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
    • Guester

      A wise man

      July 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    • Biff

      Perhaps for him, but not for others.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  29. S

    Owning a gun is not a hobby, it is a right. Apparently free press is only a "hobby" for Mr F as he apparently does no research. I do not wish to restrict his right to print this garbage. ...but it is garbage.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  30. heraldofwhoa

    I wonder how many people who survived that shooting are seriously considering getting a concealed carry permit. This knee-jerk reaction to ban so called "assault" weapons, extended magazines/clips is rubbish. The guy at VA Tech did more damage with a single pistol and a couple of mags. You want the 2nd amendment repealed, put it up to a vote/ratification process. Otherwise try your mind trick elsewhere Fareed.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
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