September 17th, 2013
11:18 AM ET

Another gun tragedy

By Fareed Zakaria

I wrote this just after the Newtown killings last year; seems to apply just as much today:

People point to three sets of causes when talking about events such as the Newtown, Conn., shootings. First, the psychology of the killer; second, the environment of violence in our popular culture; and, third, easy access to guns. Any one of these might explain a single shooting. What we should be trying to understand is not one single event but why we have so many of them. The number of deaths by firearms in the United States was 32,000 last year. Around 11,000 were gun homicides.

To understand how staggeringly high this number is, compare it to the rate in other rich countries. England and Wales have about 50 gun homicides a year — 3 percent of our rate per 100,000 people. Many people believe that America is simply a more violent, individualistic society. But again, the data clarify. For most crimes — theft, burglary, robbery, assault — the United States is within the range of other advanced countries. The category in which the U.S. rate is magnitudes higher is gun homicides.

The U.S. gun homicide rate is 30 times that of France or Australia, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, and 12 times higher than the average for other developed countries.

So what explains this difference? If psychology is the main cause, we should have 12 times as many psychologically disturbed people. But we don’t. The United States could do better, but we take mental disorders seriously and invest more in this area than do many peer countries.

Is America’s popular culture the cause? This is highly unlikely, as largely the same culture exists in other rich countries. Youth in England and Wales, for example, are exposed to virtually identical cultural influences as in the United States. Yet the rate of gun homicide there is a tiny fraction of ours. The Japanese are at the cutting edge of the world of video games. Yet their gun homicide rate is close to zero! Why? Britain has tough gun laws. Japan has perhaps the tightest regulation of guns in the industrialized world.

The data in social science are rarely this clear. They strongly suggest that we have so much more gun violence than other countries because we have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns. With 5 percent of the world’s population, the United States has 50 percent of the guns.

Read more at the Washington Post

Post by:
Topics: Gun Control • United States

soundoff (26 Responses)
  1. Sven

    You cannot compare static numbers across continents and cultures. That is like saying the UK drinks more tea because they are closer to India. Let's look at trends. US homicides (regardless of method because dead is dead) have dropped 51% since 1991 (http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2010/crime-in-the-u.s.-2010/tables/10tbl01.xls) while in Australia they don't even come close (http://www.aic.gov.au/statistics/homicide.html) even since their all-out gun ban. And of course it's worth noting that this killing was done with weapons likely obtained illegally (if he had firearm offenses and mental health issues).

    September 17, 2013 at 12:09 pm | Reply
    • Bryan B.

      The statistics do not lie. Rejecting them is simply hiding ones head in the sand. As long as gun laws in this country remain weak, the market will continue to be flooded with them, and criminals will have no problems obtaining them.

      September 17, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Reply
      • Sven

        You are correct. The stats do not lie. And our homicide and violent crime rates are dropping faster than any of those nations with strict bans.

        September 17, 2013 at 12:27 pm |
      • Adam D.

        I'm so sick of the complaints. Another gun tragedy huh. Why isn't anyone looking at the up side to guns? The freedoms we have today were obtained and are being protected by guns and bullet. You say take guns then I say go ahead, also, take every single benefit that ever came from having them. The freedoms, the criminals arrested at gun point, let them out, wars won, hand in your little iPhone sweetheart because as a woman you no longer have any rights. Nevermind that, lets just get right on the bow and arrow ban since guns were never invented... and take us right to complete extinction.

        September 30, 2013 at 8:36 pm |
    • Speedy79

      There was no all out gun ban, it was gun restrictions.

      September 27, 2013 at 2:59 am | Reply
    • GBM

      Hey that's an easy one. Mexico has severe gun control and they don't have murders or violence. Right?

      September 29, 2013 at 1:43 am | Reply
  2. Matt

    Well of course it's dropping faster than countries already with strict bans. Those countries have low rates because of the strict bans in place.

    September 17, 2013 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Sven

      Australia's homicides were low before the 1996 ban. This is what I'm trying to say. You can't compare countries via a snapshot in time. They are too different for more reasons than we could count or probably fathom. You can only look at trends if you want meaningful data. The slow decline in Australia homicides did not change with the 1996 ban. I wish I could tell you about England but they started their bans in 1903.
      If you want to compare areas as is, let's compare "no legal guns" Chicago to "no permit required to carry" Vermont.

      September 17, 2013 at 1:18 pm | Reply
      • Matt

        A huge part of it is people in other countries are not fanatical about guns like citizens in the US are. But the bottom line is something is wrong when I need a license to catch a fish but our gun laws are so lax I can buy a gun without a background check nor do I need a license.

        September 17, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
      • Speedy79

        Australia's gun homicides 1996 before the ban was 0.57 per 100,000 and in 2010 it was 0.13 per 100,000 source: http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/australia

        September 27, 2013 at 3:04 am |
  3. Jaime

    And yet our gun homicide rate is still 30 times that of France and 12 times that of other developed countries. The stats do not lie and that is what is scary, particularly when our elected officials refuse to do anything about it. We are left to just sit here and take it.

    September 17, 2013 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  4. JAL

    Guns are stupid.

    September 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Reply
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    September 17, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  6. Ferhat Balkan

    You can impose all the gun control laws on the general public as you may, but that will not prevent criminals from acquiring guns. Sorry, but gun control is not really the answer (it's a partial answer to a bigger problem). The bigger problem is mental illness. The key is in detecting mental illness on time and preventing those at high risk with violent behavior from acquiring the means to cause harm.

    September 17, 2013 at 6:45 pm | Reply
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    September 17, 2013 at 9:22 pm | Reply
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    September 17, 2013 at 10:08 pm | Reply

    September 17, 2013 at 10:10 pm | Reply
  13. Tasneem Noor Elliott

    Reblogged this on T. Noor Elliott.

    September 17, 2013 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  14. Mark G.

    Well if guns are the problem then why are there not more gun murders? 300,000,000 million guns and 11,000 gun deaths, many which are suicides I believe. If guns were the problem, you would think it would be more like 11,000,000 million gun deaths per year. The logic of those who favour gun control then means that we could give a good law abiding non violent person a gun and they would suddenly become a killer. Is that what they are saying, that guns cause murder?

    September 18, 2013 at 1:52 am | Reply
    • Adam W

      50 gun deaths in the UK last year (strict gun controls) – 11,0000 gun deaths in America (minimal gun control), spot the difference?

      And yes, most events have multiple causes – in the case of shootings, its guns and the people who have access to them which are the cause. Take away the gun and you take away what is a very simple way for people to commit mass killings. If you disagree can you pelase explain the raft of mass shooting expereinced in the US this year?

      That said, you're right to bear arms, is clearly more important than an innocents right to life.

      September 18, 2013 at 9:14 am | Reply
  15. Ferdinand

    We are saying the government to should take away the guns. What we are saying is that, It should be more difficult for individuals to buy guns, At least background check should be done. Basically, there should be more strengthen gun laws. If you pass the background check you can have your gun, that is all we are asking. Why is it so hard to understand.

    September 19, 2013 at 2:29 am | Reply
    • Sven

      Everywhere I have ever bought a gun (Maine, NH, Mass) I have had to pass a background check. If the Fed is not keeping good records and are mistakenly approving people, that is another story. As for private sales, the person selling must know that you pass a background check. If they sell it without that knowledge, they are risking a (I believe) felony. What we need to do is prosecute people who do not control their own guns properly. In Newtown, his mother is already dead and can't stand for her crimes. In this most recent case, whoever sold him the shotgun should get life. Unless the background check was performed and the Fed failed to disqualify him for mental illness and previous firearm offenses, then they need to stand trial.

      September 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm | Reply

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