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 (3,280 Responses)
  1. Frank

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

    Lets complete that sentence. And the freest and most heavily armed country in the world. No one is STUPID ENOUGH to try and invade us either are they? Except for OBAMA and the Bull dyyycke communist running Homeland Security allowing the Muslim Brotherhood free reign of our GOVERNMENT.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:50 am | Reply
  2. T. Lee

    Seems so many here who speak of the "founding fathers" as only thinking in terms of muskets and flintlocks when they wrote the words about "the right to bear arms" never read Thomas Jefferson's, "Legal Commonplace Book" where he quotes Cesare Beccaria from "Essay on Crimes and Punishments":

    "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes. Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed one."

    July 29, 2012 at 8:51 am | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      They forget the PARITY clause. quite easily.

      July 29, 2012 at 8:55 am | Reply
  3. tony

    Fareed – beacuse we have guns this is the reason why we are a free democracy ou beliefs along with or gun rights makes us free!! you are an immigrant that just cannot understand it! go back to work at 7-11 we do no want to change our gun laws! take it from me, an immigrant that gets it and that it is Grateful to live here! my last country of Ecuador took all guns and now crime went up 5000% thats five 000 thousand % – the socialist Govmt wants no guns on the hands of civilians! criminals have high power rifles grenades etc! banks get robbed everyday! civilians get kidnapped! there is about 20 deaths per day due to crime in a country with11 million people! for $50 you can have anyone assasinated by hitmen for hire!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:52 am | Reply
  4. ImNotSayinImJustSayin

    Fareed is a paid idiot presenting himself as a scientist which he is not. By the way, Fareed, it is "data show" not "data shows." Gun ownership is firstly not about hunting or self defense. The second amendment is about protecting oneself from the government. If the police have automatic weapons the people need and should have automatic weapons. If the government begins ignoring Posse Comitatus, which they have, then the people have the right to own and carry whatever the military has. The second amendment is not what caused the mass shooting in Colorado. What caused this shooting is the majority of the U.S. population that gets their news from sites like this. Sites that do not and will not cover what actually is going on, what actually happened. This was not a lone nut, this was another "lone nut" myth, soon to be legend, to spur on just the debate you see here. I wanred the morning after the 'attack' that stories would change, evidence would disappear and not be covered, and it has. Where is the video surveillance? Why do the police contradict the evidence as shown in early photographs? What about the winesses for more than one gunman, an accomplice? The absolutely goofy story about the letter that wasn't delivered that just happenes to show up when the FBI does? Man, this is like a broken record. How many times can they run the same scam on you people? But let's bring this gun control thing to the forefront, let's do it in a hurry and maybe the United Nations will make us all safe. Because we are so scrared we can't even go and see our movies, our Batman story, we need protection, we need security, we need someone to tell us how to live. Jeez people!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:53 am | Reply
  5. larry

    Reality is, if it wasn't for these guns and the 2nd ammendment Obama and the Progressive Democrats would have declared themselves sole power 3 years ago. It is the Democrat party that wants to rid us of our guns and the 2nd ammendment. Plan and simple they want complete power.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:57 am | Reply
  6. Original Dan

    Although I do not own any guns, I still believe that people kill guns don't. I do not like the fact that there are so many guns out there. However, I do not object to somebody owning a gun UNLESS they were able to obtain that weapon via a weakly controlled and poorly applied permit process. If someone is a psychiatric patient (like the CO Killer was) HOW can this person possibly get through a background check? My understanding is that that following the shooting 2400 people applied and received permission to get a firearm in Colorado within 3 days! Right, thats how! rubber stamping the permit approval process – what are the chances that some other nut is now in possession of another firearm...

    July 29, 2012 at 8:57 am | Reply
  7. Sub Jective

    Sorry Fareed, but your subjective data doesn't compute. The problem is social psychosis, not guns. If someone is intent on harm, whether it's a gun or a screwdriver, harm will be done. One other American distinctive – America has the most incarcerated and ex-offender population of any country. Read "The New Jim Crow" by Michelle Alexander to get an understanding of that situation.

    July 29, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  8. John

    Like it or not, our country was founded out of a violent revolution and guns have always, are now, and will continue to be part of our check and balance system both at the government level; 1) every totalitarian regime without exception confiscates all the guns as their first order of business, our government needs to be aware that if they ever turn on their citizenry and lose their moral authority, they may be removed by rebellion and 2)police and swat teams are better trained than ever(incredible women and men in those roles), but statistically, by the time they can physically get to a "situation" like Aurora, it's game over. If there had been one or two legal concealed weapon carrying citizens in that theater...very pragmatically, we probably would have had less body bags filled, no politics here, no matter your political stripes, everyone wants their loved ones to come home.

    And just so no one thinks I'm some conservative wacko, I'm voting for President Obama and here's a quote from Thomas Jefferson..."God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion." Our founding fathers knew the hearts of men and they foresaw what our government could become and they prescribed the remedy which is an "inconvenient truth" for many!

    July 29, 2012 at 8:59 am | Reply
  9. Nate

    Freedom is a dangerous thing. The easiest and laziest way to combat that danger is to curb those freedoms. That is even more dangerous. We may feel a little safer from crazies if we were able to remove guns from society, but would we truly be safer? I consider freedom of speech to be, perhaps, our most dangerous right, but these freedoms must be guarded and treasured.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:00 am | Reply
  10. WeDon'tMatter

    First, full automatic weapons are not easy to acquire legally and the ones that are illegally acquired are, like the name implies, are "illegal". So if the intention of Mr. Zakaria is to collect up all of the illegal guns, I am behind you all the way sir. The problem is that nobody even mentions how they plan to find those guns that are already in this country or how to stop the illegal importation of more of the illegal guns. Second if violent crime is down since the advent of conceal carry laws then what is the problem? You do know that automobile deaths have skyrocketed since the invention of the car right. More people have been killed while texting than before the invention of the cellphone. Murder goes back to the beginning of time, people are going to kill people and with relative ease no matter what the weapon of choice, Cain killed Able I can all but guarantee there was no gun involved in that murder. Stopping the legal sale of guns "might" curb gun violence and accidental shootings and it "might" increase the number of illegal guns but it won't stop people from murdering other people even in the cases of mass murders.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply
  11. wrm

    "... getting automatic weapons has become easier."

    How many crimes are perpetrated with automatic weapons? Do you have any idea what you're talking about?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:03 am | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      Of course he doesn't. He is a liberal British immigrant that needs to stick to stories like how Londoners have no way to defend themselves from the rioters a few months ago....and how they cannot even protect themselves today from the foreign invaders plaguing England. Let "em WEEP. We solved OUR issue in 1781. Burgoyne's descendants remember that well, I suppose.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
  12. Danny

    Ooooooh, I see. So if we had no guns we would almost never hear of murders, right? Just like Sierra Leone...

    July 29, 2012 at 9:07 am | Reply
  13. palusko996769

    Nation of gunslingers. We need our guns. The gun makes each of us an Alpha Male. It's like having three balls. Really big ones too. It makes us feel good when we put it under our pillow next to our Bible. It makes us feel safe against potential government genocide. Unlike all the 10,000 of gun violence victims a year, it could never happen to us because we are quick drawing heroes who don't panic and who do not miss, no matter how crowded and smoky the place is. And the talk about trying to keep the guns from the reach of nuts like Holmes threatens us all. Because... without people like Holmes, we would have no one to prove our point, which is that guns are great. No matter who owns them.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:09 am | Reply
    • Danny

      Hahaha. I mean, it would sound clever as satyr, bur you just sound so stupid saying it...

      July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am | Reply
      • palusko996769

        You talk about satyr, yet obviously, you don't understand it, when you see one.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:36 am |
    • WeDon'tMatter

      You are talking about a very small group of gun owners and actually knowing a lot of gun owners I don't know any that fit your description even the female gun owners, you live in a very strange place. Some people like bowling, flying model airplanes and basket weaving, I happen to like shooting, I'm good at it and i get as much enjoyment out of it as anybody with any of the other many hobbies that take skill. That doesn't make me feel like more of a man than anybody else. And by the way the ones with three balls are the bowlers.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:23 am | Reply
      • palusko996769

        Look, I just think that people with schizophrenia should not own a gun. People with major depression problems should not own a gun. And it should work retroactively too. When you get a gun as a healthy individual and later suffer a psychological break down, the guns should be taken away from you. There are psychological conditions that should prohibit people from owning the gun. Whether they suffer those conditions BEFORE they apply for a gun or AFTER they already purchased guns. And I also think, that you should not be allowed to own ANY gun. And that includes AK-47. And I think, that's what there is to all that gun control 'controversy'. Because honestly, what's so controversial about this?

        July 29, 2012 at 9:46 am |
      • palusko996769

        Meant to say 'just ANY gun you want'. Before I am accused of the "You didn't build it" type of controversy 😉

        July 29, 2012 at 9:50 am |
  14. RustySpringfield

    Fareed and all the other know-nothings need to come to the National Matches this coming week at Camp Perry to see how firearms can be used in a safe manner while instilling discipline in youth and adults. Talk to the vendors. See that the public can be trusted. The restrictions that the socialist left want to put in place are only meant to punish the honest citizen. The restrictions are really designed to control the masses.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:10 am | Reply
  15. Michael

    Dear Fareed, Love your usual commentary on economics etc. but here you've stepped out of your element, lost your objectivity and have grossly mis-stated the facts about the relationship (s) between firearms, crime and the laws. Even some basic fact checking from the CDC or the FBI database on crimes with firearms would have been illuminating not to mention you never mention how much crime is prevented by law abiding citizens on an annual basis. I suggest you get John Lott on your show for a balanced opinion on the history of firearms and the statistical analysis of gun crime data. Lott is also a macroeconomist and frames the issue in those terms as well so you would have a great conversation and learn something as well. Respectfully

    July 29, 2012 at 9:11 am | Reply
  16. FF

    Great idea lets make gun illegal, that worked with drugs right?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
  17. NavFromHell

    I completely agree. Now if we could just get the our politicians to enact sensible gun control....

    July 29, 2012 at 9:12 am | Reply
  18. Sickofitall

    The gun dealers are loving the panic guys like you, Fareed, cause by writing articles like this. You are contributing to the fear of control which only drives up prices and demand.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
  19. Marty in MA

    We need a some kind of national referendum on guns, where the people, not congress or the NRA, will make the decision.
    I'm not saying what the referendum should include, but maybe assault rifles.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
    • Fred Jennings

      For the Love of God, stay in Massachusetts–where being a Liberal DB is a state requirement.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  20. David

    People in DC go to virginia to get their guns... That's why there is so much gun violence in DC.. Duh

    July 29, 2012 at 9:13 am | Reply
  21. Edward C.

    Fight Fire with Fire. We don't send our troops into battle with swords and shield anymore, do we. The enemy they face is comparably armed. Why can't anyone see a difference here?

    July 29, 2012 at 9:14 am | Reply
  22. Looking Glass

    Boy, they sure want to disarm Americans real bad.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
  23. AFreze

    Listen... some of you posting read too quickly over what Fareed was saying. He didn't say that it was easy to get automatic guns... he said that it was EASIER than it was 20 years ago. I didn't realize that kits were sold to modify guns... but having an inexpensive kit to modify a semi-automatic to an automatic is just the same as someone buying an automatic.... illegal or not... a criminal will do it just the same.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
    • dr1776

      I dont understand. What makes you think its easy to make a semi-automatic firearm into a full-automatic machine gun. Buy a kit? Where do they sell these kits? Walmart.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
      • AFreze

        I didn't say that it was easy to convert it... but having easy access... makes it easier than not having access... and I am confident that if someone wants to figure it out... they most likely will.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm |
  24. Scott

    Guns are a weak defense of liberty.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
    • carbon dioxide

      So what is a strong defense of liberty. Rocks and bottles like in Europe? The ballot box when elections really don't seem to change anything. Corporations can buy elections. How else do you expect liberty to be maintained? The government being nice that it will maintain our liberties and not seek more power unto itself?

      July 29, 2012 at 9:27 am | Reply
  25. dionysius

    An "Assault" rifle is not an "Automatic" weapon. A full "Automatic" is a "Machine Gun" much like those "Tommy Guns" used by gangsters back in the day. To equate one with the other is either stone ignorance, or a deliberate propaganda ploy. It is virtually impossible to legal obtain, or own a fully automatic weapon. Mr Zakaria, are you stone ignorant, or are you an anti-gun nut, lying through his teeth?
    The conclusions drawn may, or may not be correct. Correlation does NOT mean Causation, a FACT that anyone who seeks to use numbers to bolster a weak argument should know. Or at least those who read badly written propaganda pieces should be aware of. Here's one: The number of guns per 100,000 people in the United States has increased over the last 20 years, the same period of time in which the incidence of violent crime has decreased by 30%. Perhaps the decrease in the amount of violent crime is a result of all the guns out there!
    The problem with statistics is that most people do not understand statistics, and the rules necessary to draw useful conclusions from them. This makes them an ideal tool for the use of charlatans, and those who would steal our freedoms, to convince the ignorant that the autocrats have the answers!
    Say no to the gun grabbers, say no to those who would curtail our rights to defend ourselves against the violent, and, if necessary, the government!

    July 29, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
  26. Blade

    Well if Fareed Zakaria doesn't like our country and our laws, he's certainly welcome to leave at anytime. I'll even help him pack. Call me. Just don't let the door hit you in the butt.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
  27. jim

    why is it they never talk about the guns owns that never brake the law?
    for every nutcase I can show you people in that same town that have owned guns for years even generations that have been safely using using their guns
    but you never hear about them do you

    July 29, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
    • WeDon'tMatter

      Well, actually they do without even realizing it, they say there are 350 million legal guns, probably near the same number of illegal guns. Then they say there are 10,000 deaths a year caused by a gun. The numbers say it all, while all death is tragic, guns are not the big winner, per capita, in the killing machine category.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:38 am | Reply
  28. Bob B

    Does anyone know where I can get my news from besides CNN, Fox, MSNBC etc, etc? They all stink.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
    • Duane st.pete Florida


      July 29, 2012 at 9:33 am | Reply
      • Bob B

        You must not have read my comment, because I said Foxnews stinks too.

        July 29, 2012 at 9:56 am |
  29. Carl Guyer

    People who are killed by nut cases with guns are regrettable causalities for our second amendment rights. What the second amendment does not prevent is the prosecution of gun owners for crimes committed with guns they own. Having a gun stolen or selling it does not relieve you of responsibility. The only responsible way dispose of a gun is to destroy it.

    July 29, 2012 at 9:27 am | Reply
  30. Duane st.pete Florida

    32 dead at VA Tech......all with a 22. and a 9mm hand gun. Columbine H.S. all killed with hand guns and shotguns. gun and ammo bands will not work and only hinder law abiding citizens. Norway has strict gun laws....and the only thing those laws helped was the gunman who knew no one else had a gun to defend themselves with. True freedom is painful sometimes.....is it worth it? for sure......

    July 29, 2012 at 9:32 am | Reply
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