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. JD

    Ah yes those lovely light green areas. . . low gun ownership, dictators, communist countries. Government controlled. The lands of sub Saharan Africa where they are constantly at war. Poverty, mass murder on huge scale and ethinic clensing. . . Thanks no, I will keep my save high number of guns thanks.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  2. NB

    Tim McVeigh killed more people than James Holmes, Seung-Hui Cho, Colin Ferguson, Charles Whitman, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold combined and no firearms were involved. So how exactly is strict gun control going to stop people filled with anger and hate who are determined to kill?

    July 28, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Reply
    • Brock Landers

      exactly, he could have fire bombed the theatre and killed much more, do we ban fire? come on, such a stupid argument..

      July 28, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  3. POD

    Ordinary Law Abiding Citizens obey laws......Criminals or Crazies do not.....That is what makes them criminals or crazies. Passing more gun control regulations would just put the unarmed Ordinary Law Abiding Citizen at the mercy of the heavily, illegally armed criminal or crazy.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  4. Toreason

    Mr.Zakaria you are an idiot . There is a difference between psychological and psychiatric problem learn the difference. Now fewer guns don't equal fewer deaths people will always find a way. Change the culture . Canada has more guns less deaths per capita. Something is inherently wrong.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  5. JD

    You do realize that compared to your ideal light green areas the USA is more advanced, better educated, safer, has a working government, no Ethnic Cleansing, healthcare, a democratic form of government run by the people. . . I think you are the one that needs to face facts. Your own data shows the more guns folks own the safer they are.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:01 pm | Reply
  6. Bob

    Perhaps there is a correlation between increased right to concealed carry laws and violent crime being reduced?

    July 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  7. Wildone

    Instead of criticizing his adopted homeland's (America's) "gun problem" and calling for greater gun restrictions, Mr. Zakaria should write about the 2008 terrorist attacks that took place at his birthplace of Mumbai, India. In spite of the fact that India has extremely restrictive gun laws, there were 11 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks across that city that year by terrorists trained in Pakistan. Please explain to your audience, Mr. Zakaria, how criminal terrorists were able to carry out these attacks in a country that has such stringent gun controls as your native India. You can't? I didn't think so. Is it possible that restrictive gun laws have no relationship to gun crime?? That's my guess.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
    • SI

      Actually if the Indian Navy, Customs or the coastal unit of the police had done their job and intercepted the terrorists the attacks would probably not have happened. Even if the police had better communication and co-ordination amongst themselves and with the fishermen who first noticed the terrorists, the attacks would have been far less vicious. And even after all the casualties and grief, I don't see the indians feeling the need to own weapons. Almost all Indians are of the opinion that the three tiers of security should be strengthened and the response by authorities to such events be improved.

      July 28, 2012 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  8. Bob

    Perhaps the usa doesn't have the problems of syria bosnia iraq iran and a host of other countries because of our second ammendment rights?

    July 28, 2012 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  9. Tex

    I think we need to put FAREED in charge of rounding up all the guns. Come get 'em son!

    July 28, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  10. tesa

    I'm a liberal, and I believe gun control is ... wrong.

    Not that I approve. But you can't ban something that is concealable and has been manufacturered for 300 straight years. And, come on fellow Dems, stop trying for the same utopia that is the war on drugs. Neither will work. However, how about a trade off? If nuts with guns are so serious about keeping them, let drug users use. I don't use drugs either, but that war is no more winable than the gun laws to which they are so opposed. Live and let live. Or, die and let die. If that's what you want to do with your life, have at it.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  11. michele

    In addition, why not only rubber bullets or bullet that are not lethal are allowed for civilians.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  12. Victor

    What is desperately needed is a willingness to be Introspective and to learn from the experience of those nations even when they are are less "privilaged" than the US materialistically. Not as simple as that, in practice, but worth trying.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  13. Jim

    I agree with JD, this remains a free land because of gun ownership.
    Are drugs not outlawed here in the U.S.? There doesn't seem to be a shortage of them. Why do we really want to have stronger gun laws?? Those who are responsible and law abiding will continue to do right and those who aren't will have the illegal guns? I don't think so!!

    July 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  14. Fernando Gomez

    We are the only country that produces the Googles, Apples, Microsofts and Facebooks of the world. That's also correlated with gun ownership. The same could be said of high impact patents, high impact scientific publications, etc. Mr Zakaria, CORRELATION DOES NOT IMPLY CAUSATION. The American spirit, thanks God!, is vey different from the European spirit. This is just plain BS. The facts are clear, the conclusions you are deriving from them are ideological, plain and simple.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  15. jcluma

    America is now a slaughterhouse open for public display. The fact is, anyone can kill anyone else in any number, anytime he wants. There are no restraints except in the minds and hearts of well-balanced people.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  16. Bill Baker

    Switzerland requires military training for all, and having gun as well.. Re your comments, there are less gun deaths there than in the USA by a factor of 4.
    It seems to me that the USA is splitting from unity into two different groups, capitalist and socialist. Being anti-gun essentially equates to being with the socialist group.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  17. No-One

    It is rather disingenious to compare gun crimes between nations where guns are not allowed. Instead of spouting useless drivel, why not compare apples to apples. In the UK, where guns have been outlawed, of course there won't be as many gun crimes, but there still are some, aren't there? In the UK, since guns have been outlawed, knife crime has become rampant. They are going so far as to ban any knives at all pon people below a certain age, but also banning the ownership of knives over a certain length. In other countries where firearms have been restricted, bombs are the prefered method of mayhem. At least report the whole story, rather than just statistics you hope will convince people that you actually have a clue,.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  18. Dano

    Guns kill people!!! If he had a peach in his hand the worst he could've done is hit somebody in the eye with it.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
    • older seer

      My guns have never killed anyone. The guns of all the people I know who own guns have never killed anyone. His guns were used to kill people only because they were in his hands. Punish the person, not the tool. Give me a peach and I'll eat today. Give me a gun and I'll eat until my ammunition runs out. Silly, huh?

      July 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
  19. DJR

    The gun control government are those who support blackwater and the FTA who have trained and distributed guns for their own self agenda, which includes chaos. Since their is no interview with the shooter and he was under psychiatric care he can never be used as a poster child of gun control, only why you need to protect yourself.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  20. FFlintstone

    There are no mass shootings in prison. Put every American in a cell and this will stop.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  21. Frankjg

    This item by CNN is exactly why it is at the bottom of the news services. To have a reporter spew false statements as though they came from God is as bad as it gets.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  22. nytw

    What part of the Second Amendment do liberals not understand?

    July 28, 2012 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  23. Brock Landers

    US has the most guns, yes i agree, but let me tell you one fact, you will never take the right for me to go get one, sorry, it's MY RIGHT!! there is a valid reason for this, prevent the government from taking 100% control, kinda like what Obama is doing. so people get over it, you not taking this right away, we can add controls to take the guns away from the unstable and pure criminall, BUT THAT IS IT, this is not even a debate..

    July 28, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • nina

      This is not Syria or Iraq or Egypt, the citizens of the USA are not worried about their government taking 100% control of anything because, every 4 years, the members of the government are elected, or not. Americans have very good long term memories.

      July 28, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  24. Robert

    I'll take my chances with my gun. I think most gun owners will agree, if the need arises to defend my family, I'd be much more terrified of being helpless than of dying.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  25. Chris

    Zacharia is correct about opinions and facts. But a good liar knows how to manipulate words and facts, such as in this case and the "interesting graph" he used for support. The graph does not look at murders committed with guns; that is the reason for gun control isn't it? That graph would have you believe California and NY have lowest gun crime! Look up gun crime rates per state and you see they have the highest rate of gun homicides. Many central states it lists as the highest gun deaths have the lowest gun homicides. It's called hunting accidents. The U.S. does have the highest rate of gun ownership in the world, perhaps that is why we have not had an invasion, or a government that over-reaches its authority.

    July 28, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  26. Conor

    no is time to face to how we interact with each others every single day of our lives

    July 28, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Reply
  27. Kyle

    Well, FZ speaks his mind and the facts as he sees them. The effects of Gun ownership on america are fairly well known. And whats seems to be the most consistent fact is...The left believes their 'facts', and the right believes their 'facts'.

    I will choose to believe the 'facts' from the right and disregard FZ.

    So, in response to his question, "What would I change?". I would make easy conceal carry legal under the 2nd amendment. I would overturn the last 40 years of gun laws. I would push to see the 2nd amendment recognized in the various states that play lip service to acknowledging it but do everything the can to make ownership as complicated and byzantine as possible (New York, California come immediately to mind).

    Thats what I'd change.

    July 28, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  28. bruce allen

    all this talk of control is getting old. i still have not seen anything on all the pipe bombs in his apt. rigged ti kill whomever walked in. no one is shouting angry words about the explosives, where did he learn to make them? the internet? wheres all the anger about this forgotten weapon?

    July 28, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  29. pclark6127

    Fareem,

    I think you are mislead. You mentioned that the reason there is so much in the US is because there are so many guns. You also stated that there are as crazy people in other parts of the world as there is in the US. Both of these may true but if you get rid of the gun's those crazy people will just use something else.

    Timothy McVeigh's weapon of choice was diesel fuel and fertilizer as Mitt Romney suggested. Should we also get rid of all the fertilizer and diesel fuel? The problem is not the weapons. Gun's just happen to be the choice for the coo coo's that want to kill people. If gun's weren't available they would use something else.

    Why take away the only option good, clear thinking people have to defend themselves against those that don't value life the same as the rest of us?

    I carry a gun on a regular basis but I don't EVER think about using it on an innocent person or even someone that makes me mad. I would however us it on someone that tried to do me harm or hurt my family.

    July 28, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  30. pclark6127

    America has the most guns and no foreign military will ever touch our soil for that very reason. Who want's to go up against the largest civilian military in the world? What would all the countries that don't allow fire arms do if there military was defeated and someone tried to invade their country? Pretty much just hand it over.

    July 28, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
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