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 (2,985 Responses)
  1. Ian K Redmond

    As a firearm owner I am always surprised by the 'knee-jerk' reaction to incidents such as the cinema shooting. I have insufficient knowledge to offer any kind of definitive opinion on the situation in the USA but I hope common sense overrides the customary baying of many of the so called 'pressure groups' that are salivating at this tragic moment.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:49 am | Reply
  2. JohnDPMP

    Yet another outright distortion of the facts of the case by a supposed "journalist" who, (just as his peers), has no qualms with misrepresenting facts, warping statistics, referencing surveys out of proper context, etc, etc,..... the whole gamut of tricks used by the gun control lobby in a vain attempt to demonize responsible gun ownership and use. The fact is that crime of all types, (especially gun related violent crime), has dropped significantly since US citizens have turned the tide and regained their rights to keep and bear arms. The places where crime has flourished are the zones where law abiding citizens are prevented from exercising their 2nd amendment rights such as New York and Washington D.C., (something the anti-gun lobby desperately does not want known). Every day, responsibly armed citizens stop and prevent crimes all over the nation, but the left leaning media somehow never seems to find the time or print space to report these facts accurately to John Q Public. This horrific tragedy in Colorado was perpratrated at a specific location where law abiding citizens were stripped of the right to self defense and the shooter was guaranteed a ready supply of defenseless victims. No doubt this factored significantly into this sicko's plans to attack this theater. If Mom or Grandpa had been allowed to carry a defensive firearm, this tragedy may not have occurred and, if it had, could have been far less devastating. Taking the rights of millions of people due to the misdeeds of one person, (or even several), is an asinine and ridiculous response. What should be done is to determine why our society and culture has degenerated to such a cesspit where human life has so little meaning that we are raising segments of our population to be so crass and evil. That is the real issue here regardless of the loads of BS and smokescreens being thrown up by the liberal gun grabbing media. One other interesting tidbit to consider, I find this rather starnge that this horrific atrocity occured just as the Owe-Bama and the Senate are planning to voted on a UN sponsored gun ban treaty that supercedes our own sovereignty, does away with our Bill of Rights, and is a widely known planned step towards total gun banishment from all countries and their citizens. Rather fishy timing I must say.....

    July 29, 2012 at 1:53 am | Reply
    • doug the slug

      The facts are only warped because they don't support your views. The rest of the world is in shock of the level of violence in your society (i'm canadian, by the way) We have stricter firearms laws, but plenty of guns. Nobody would ever consider confiscating them, as it would be political suicide. But, the fact is, that we all recognize that it's those tighter laws that keep us safer. There is no debate. Yes, it's a theory, like gravity.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:09 am | Reply
      • jlacke

        I posted gun homicide rates and levels of gun ownership above (it'll stand out if you scroll up – a long list of stats). I didn't post info about gun control laws, but we know which countries have the most strict, and you can also look them up. I also posted links to my sources (UN and FBI), so you can verify and look at additional countries.

        Worldwide, there appear to be a negative correlation between gun ownership and gun homicides – the more guns the people have the lower the homicide rate. Gun control laws don't appear to correlate with gun homicides; if they do, its a slight negative correlation.

        What does correlate with gun homicides is race. Worldwide and in the US. Look at the data; if you consider yourself a man of science and empiricism, you'll have no choice but to acknowledge the obvious fact staring you n the face.

        July 29, 2012 at 7:29 am |
  3. Infidel

    Hmmm....let's see...11,000 people killed in firearms related homicides in the U.S. yearly, or 34,000 killed by by reckless drivers – which do you think is the bigger public safety problem, Mr. Zakaria? What is your stance on banning automobiles? You have no problem leaving personal security up to the government, so why not leave personal transportation up to the government as well? Think of the lives we could save! What'ya say, Mr. Zakaria, you give me your keys, and I'll give you my guns?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:55 am | Reply
  4. Prometheus

    I noticed that Zak didn't mention Switzerland in his comparisons. They don't have a standing Army and all males between the ages of 20-30 (enlisted, 20-34 for officers) have a required period of active service followed by service in the reserves. Each male in service keeps his service weapon AT HOME (fully automatic Sig 550) and when his service is over he can keep his service weapon and it is converted to semi-auto at that time.

    Way to cherry-pick your "FACTS" Zak.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 am | Reply
  5. Brendan

    What you DON'T point out is that Switzerland for instance has at least one gun per household by law. America doesn't come close to that. And yet they have much less gun violence (as pointed out in the piece). Sounds like a social problem to me!
    Also, when D.C. had the most restrictive gun laws in the country up until a few years ago, it was THE murder capital of the U.S.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:11 am | Reply
  6. Cave Painter

    A sustained effort by the Nazi government to disarm all Jews in the period leading up to the holocaust, enabled the jewish people to be deported. From an article by Stephen Halbrook in the St. Thomas Law Review:

    "Over a period of several weeks in October and November 1938, the Nazi government disarmed the German Jewish population. The process was carried out both by following a combination of legal forms enacted by the Weimar Republic and by sheer lawless violence. The Nazi hierarchy could now more comfortably deal with the Jewish question without fear of armed resistance by the victims.

    It may be tempting to argue that the possession of firearms by the German Jews would have made no difference, either in the 1938 pogrom or later in the Holocaust, when the majority were deported and then eradicated in death camps. Yet this fatalistic view ignores that the Nazis themselves viewed armed Jews as sufficiently dangerous to their policies to place great emphasis on the need to disarm all Jews. In 1938, it was by no means certain that Jewish armed resistance movements could not develop, and even less certain that individual Jews would not use arms to resist arrest, deportation, or attacks by the Nazis."

    Stalin and Pol Pot, incidentally, also moved to disarm their citizens before their reigns of terror. For those who invoke the rallying cry of "Never Again," it's useful to consider the role of an armed citizenry in resisting oppression and ensuring freedom.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:18 am | Reply
  7. Leif

    The NRA would defend the right of this nutter to own a weapon. The NRA is morally bankrupt.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:22 am | Reply
  8. Stephen

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

    That is a made up statistic.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:23 am | Reply
  9. Frank Rizzo

    Its time the USG and States Banned all weapons except for the US Military, Police and Security Guards end of story.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:38 am | Reply
  10. Ed Jaeger

    California has the strictest gun control laws in the nation yet the states murder rate (4.9 per 100k), per the FBI's data is statistically tied with that of Texas (5.0 per 100k). Colorado, a state with less restrictive gun laws has a much lower rate of 2.4 per 100k.

    Additionally, Chicago virtually bans guns yet there are hundreds of people shot there every year. I believe there were 16 shot and killed in Chicago just last weekend. For some reason the news media doesn't place a very high priority on reporting this.

    Why aren't these facts reported? Personally, I feel it's because they contradict the idiocy proposed by the left. Laws restricting behavior will only work if criminals follow those laws. Since, by the very definition, criminals disobey laws, those laws will never be obeyed by these people.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:46 am | Reply
  11. Geoff

    I've got a big gun. It sits between my legs just beneath my abdomen. Care to see it ladies?

    July 29, 2012 at 4:35 am | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      Looks like a Vienna Sausage.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:06 am | Reply
  12. allenwoll

    The Second Amendment has been converted into one of the most effective and profitable marketing strategies ever devised by man ! !

    July 29, 2012 at 4:51 am | Reply
  13. Eviscerated

    Another example of someone who only likes to show and polute the data in their favor. Switzerland is number 3 on the list of gun ownership with 45.7 per 100, yet has extremely low gun related death rates. Then again, Countries like South Africa, Colombia and El Salvador, have death rates in excess of 10 to almost 20 times that of the US, yet have only 12.7, 5.9 and 5.8 guns per 100 people. Brazil is also pretty high up there in the gun death rate, yet only has 8 guns per 100, and has some of the stricts gun control laws in the world. No, I would say the reason these other countries have lower deaths rates is because the "nut jobs" are not distributed evenly. Try presenting all the facts next time, instead of just those you like.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:56 am | Reply
  14. allenwoll

    National insanity - Just READ this garbage ! ! !

    July 29, 2012 at 5:00 am | Reply
  15. Nick

    stupid people are stupid.

    July 29, 2012 at 5:39 am | Reply
  16. TJeff1776

    There is a lot to be said about the article's statistics. BUT the dye is cast- the guns are out there and coming our way. There's no way of retrieving them. One can hear the conser SQUEEL " they are disarming us before they kill us like they did the Jews". BUT one thing everybody shares- skin that bullets can penetrate. AND things will have to get fifty times worse before any attention is paid. Way the mop flops.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:26 am | Reply
  17. warsteiner

    I will not allow a Muslim Arab to tell me IT TIME TO DISARM. I also believe that he took all his facts out of context. I dont not believe we are the worst gun violence country in the world. Gaza,Congo,Syria,Egypt,Colombia,Juarez,etc etc cities and countries that I believe have gun issues worse. Our fore father had to fight against tyranny,and government Im not ever going to be marched into any government facility like cattle. My use of firearms has always been hunting and target shooting and if the government drives us into the ground like they are doing now I will hunt with My rifle or shot gun

    July 29, 2012 at 6:29 am | Reply
    • T-Roy

      You said were not going to allow a Muslim Arab to tell me it is time to disarm.
      I just watched this video he did not say he wanted to disarm anyone. I own guns and I am against the government disarming and taking away my guns, but don't say things that aren't true in forum like this if you want to be taken seriously.

      Also calling him a Muslim Arab is not correct.

      Fareed is Indian and was born in Bombay. The guy is also pretty smart. He went Yale and has a PHD in Philosophy from Harvard. Did you also know he is conservative? He was part of a think tank that met with Wolfowitz in November of 2001 and recommended to Bush to invade Iraq.

      When you post a message like you did and start it out with information that is not true to anyone and easily contradicted by anyone with an Internet connection, it makes you like stupid and it makes you sound and look like a racist. There are 1 billion Muslims in the world, and maybe 30% are Arabs. 90% of Arabs live on the Arabian Peninsula and the rest around the world. Also 7% of Arabs are Christians. Do you even care to learn about your subjects that you hate and have contempt for, or are you lazy?

      We don't need people like you supporting our opposition to gun control, you do more harm than good. Stop posting on these forums and leave it the people who are smart enough to articulate a strong position against gun control. Everytime you open your mouth you sound like a zombie who has been strapped to a chair and forced to watch FOX news for 72 straight hours ala' Clockwork Orange style....

      Sorry but those fighting against Gun control don't need you marginalizing our position.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:10 am | Reply
      • Ed Teller

        So,... I take it you have held a few "Arab" shafts in your day? Maybe smoked some of their richards?

        July 29, 2012 at 8:04 am |
      • T-Roy

        Hey Ed Teller- Maybe you should take your dad's shaft out of your mouth so you can see what your typing. Your incestuous, redneck, high school drop out. Go down the golden gallon and buy yourself a tallboy. Hannity is coming on in about 30 minutes, you don't want to miss out on your daily shot of "what to think and what to say". You might not be able to leave the trailer park tomorrow if you don't say and sound like your neighbors. Remember the last time you thought for yourself, ended up having to get a catheter to get the cheese out

        July 29, 2012 at 8:11 am |
  18. imillard

    YES. You can change the psychology of madmen, by denying them the attention they crave.
    CNN and other drama outlets must take some of the blame for these incidents. They give he perpetrators front page coverage world-wide for days, which is exactly what they want. It's unlikely most of these mass shootings would take place if the killers knew they wouldn't get any 'glory'.

    July 29, 2012 at 6:43 am | Reply
  19. Guilty until proven innocent?

    "... a lone gunman" A LONE GUNMAN! Then he spouts "What we can do is change our gun laws."

    Why is it that gun control freaks always want to take guns away from the people WHO DIDN'T DO IT??

    July 29, 2012 at 7:07 am | Reply
  20. bowsprit

    Syria is a great example of those who do not have the rights to fight for their own freedom. No government will try to imprison their countrymen if they have the right to gun ownership. Hitlers first move was to obtain all civilian guns. History proves over and over, please start paying attention to it!

    July 29, 2012 at 7:08 am | Reply
  21. Nick

    Anyone who says we need to give up our guns if flat ignorant. Do you think that many people would have dies in Colorado if everyone in that movie theater was packin heat? An armed society is a polite society. Do you think that if you ban guns that all the problems go away? If you ban the guns, law abiding citizens lose the ability to defend themselves. Criminals are not going to care if guns are legal, they are criminals. Idiots.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:12 am | Reply
    • cvwheeler

      I'm right there with ya Nick. Gun crime skyrocketed in England when they banned hand guns. Texas saw a 47% drop in gun related violence when they passed the Concealed Handgun law in 1995.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:32 am | Reply
  22. joe

    this guy is a loon...take away our guns then they can take away what little freedom we have left...libs suck

    July 29, 2012 at 7:13 am | Reply
  23. cvwheeler

    I don't know what the perfect solution is to gun violence but stiffer gun control is not the answer. I personnaly have weapons for personal protection including assault rifles. My assault rifles are certainly not for Quail hunting, I have assault rifles to match or exceed the firepower of any intruder into my home that threatens the safety of me and my family. I live in a typical suburban neighborhood but the average response time of the local Sherriff's office is about 25 minutes. Obviuosly, the Sherriff's office cannot provide the needed protection for me and my family so I have to provide that protection. Bad guys will always find ways to obtain guns with or without stricter gun control. Stricter gun control laws only leaves the law abiding citizens the inability to protect themselves and their families.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:23 am | Reply
  24. Texas

    Gun control+ politicians= King Obama of the U.S.S.A

    July 29, 2012 at 7:35 am | Reply
  25. Texas

    I wished this idiot was a Tamil in Sri Lanka. He would be wishing for guns!

    July 29, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
  26. lepke

    American citizens must believe that the more guns they have the safer they are.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:45 am | Reply
    • cvwheeler

      Yep, I have 31 rifles and shotguns and 8 handguns. Along with that I have about 10K rounds of ammo.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:03 am | Reply
  27. Ed Teller

    Mr. Faartweed should move back to Nigeria or wherever he came from, since he can't stand America.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • T-Roy

      My god Ed. You are a genius. Just reading your post impresses the hell out of thinking people the world over. Keep up the good work!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:14 am | Reply
  28. wjss05

    What do the people of Syria have to say about owning a weapon. I think right now they are involved in a bit of a struggle over there. That is if you believe what the media is putting out. Seems that if the populace had been armed then running out the dictator would have been a bit easier. There have been debates over whether the US should send arms and ammo. Well, we already have that should the situation degrade in this country.

    July 29, 2012 at 7:59 am | Reply
  29. TinMar

    Yes, please do talk about facts! Show us your map and statistics of the mentally ill all over the world side by side with your gun ownership. Yes, I DO believe there are more mentally ill people in the United States of America because of our too cushy lifestyle and the fact that we raise people to not be self-sufficient or have the ability to cope with their own responsibility and their own problems! No, you can not just blow off the fact that those who have committed mass murders or murders of any kind, have some form of psychological malady! But of course, once these people get to the court room, that will be the first line of defense, they had a psychological problem or were temporarily insane! You can't pick and choose. Give all of the facts up front and accept that it is and was the person's responsibility for obtaining a weapon and killing someone with it. We need more SELF control, not more GUN control!!!!!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:00 am | Reply
  30. Peter J

    If you grow up with a dad that shows you how to use it in the backyard and you later has one in your bedroom, you're more likely to use it the day you're depressed or impaired by drugs than if you've never seen a gun, don't know to use it, and don't know where to get one on that same day. I am not against people's rights to defend themselves but the price we pay for that right is a lot of innocent deaths. It's a tradeoff: Accept tighter control and have fewer gun related deaths or keep your gun and accept that someone you know will get killed one day.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:06 am | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      You are right! Now go dust off that M1911 and put one through your poor little sad scull!

      July 29, 2012 at 8:28 am | Reply
    • cvwheeler

      You are confused. You are relating gun control with proper firearm education and psychiatric help.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:08 am | Reply
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