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. Scott

    This is America. You'd have more chance getting a law passed that required the gov't to GIVE every US citizen a battle rifle than getting a law to ban or severely restrict gun ownership. Gun ownership is a founding principle of our country. Sure, it has costs... But so does not having an armed population. The author needs to understand, most of these countries he points to have never had a revolution. And, well, most are populated by peoples who's culture is weak. America is a nation of lions; its what makes us Great... Lions kill, greatness has a cost.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  2. Soda Bob

    "it's a hell of a lot harder to shoot up a crowded theater with a bunch of knives...."

    When you have a crowd of disarmed people, you can very easily "shoot up" a crowded theater with a bunch of knives. Google "chinese mass stabbings"

    July 29, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  3. Lynne GEORGIA

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

    THAT statement is so very significant....but a gun owner will say- " SO WHAT " !

    July 29, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  4. Aaron

    "as guns laws have gotten looser and getting automatic weapons has become easier."

    Epic fail.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  5. Lynn

    Just watched your report. Why did you not report facts on legal CCW holders. How many of these people shot another person or were involved in any shooting? My understanding is that States that have CCW laws also have lower murder rates? New laws will only keep guns away from legal owners. How then do we get the criminals to give up their guns? AND, how do I protect myself from a possible attack from one of these people? Can Law Enforcement guarantee me that protection, keeping in mind that in Colo. they were there in 90 sec. and could not stop it.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  6. Grumpster

    Sorry you idiot author, getting an automatic weapon is NOT easier. Getting a SEMI-automatic weapon, maybe....but those are not generally something the average Joe converts to automatic, nor is it a really safe option since most weren't meant to be shot that quickly without serious risk to the one firing it. Get your fact straight before trying to sway someone's opinion to what you would prefer it to be. And CNN....do you guys even bother fact-checking these articles from the junior reporters?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply
  7. Darth Vader

    Aw...Comparing us to Switzerland where almost every adult male is part of state militia and has an assault rifle in his home. Nice job Fareed! As always, you're a very good weathervane of popular wisdom.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • Charlton Heston

      You should read a little more of the article. He says "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." So switzerland isn't far behind US in gun violence compared to other democratic countries.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
      • DrSuess

        Well I guess that makes sense considering Switzerland and the US are the same size and have the same population

        Oh wait..apples and oranges..never mind. As you were.

        July 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm |
  8. Thezel

    While I all form protecting our 2nd Amendment rights, I think we need to spend more time and effort in looking into people's backgrounds to determine if they should own a gun. It's a right to be sure, but also be a privilege that can easily be lost for good reasons.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
  9. Jim

    And that helps prevent a war on U.S. soil. It makes it much more difficult for an invasion when the mass populous is armed.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
  10. Katie

    Guns don't keep people safe. People keep people safe. I don't own one, don't want one, don't want to be around anyone carrying one. I know too many people who have been harmed in gun fire, and most of them were accidental shootings. Any crazy macho jerk can legally carry around a concealed loaded weapon almost anywhere, but none of them will take responsibility for using it.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • Lynn

      Katie, in order to get a CCW a person must go through a FBI search. I asure you that those who carry have been cleared by the FBI. The people I know who have ( including me) are neither mocho nor jerks. It took me yrs. of thought before I bought my first gun, then a few more yrs before I got a CCW. I did this because I did not want to be a static. I hope and pray that I never have to use it!! As does the people I know.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • NH

      Yeah, so you dont associate with gun owners, yet know several people hurt by firearm accidents? Kind of like I believe in abstinence, but have the bunny ranch on speed dial.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • Kongo

      Katie...I don't know when I've ever read anything in my life with so many fabricated stories. You should get a job writing fiction, or maybe you should go see a psychiatrist, because you obviously live in a made up world.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Reply
    • AverageJoe

      Katie, sounds like your friends could use some firearms safety training. Most accidents happen when people are playing with firearms, so remind them a firearm is not a toy for all our safety.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Reply
  11. Ed Guerrero

    The premise of the artical is incorrect. The correlation between gun violence and gun control is opposite of what is presented. Fact is that states and localities withe the most restrictive gun laws have the highest crime rates within the country. Stats show that Chicago and new York which have some of the most restrictive gun laws have the highest rates of gun related violence and crime rates in the country. This is opposed to Arizona, Texas and Virginia that have more liberal gun laws / conceal carry laws have resulting in lower gun related crimes. Read John Lotts "more guns less Crime" and "the bias against gun laws". In a nutshell he started out to prove guns increases crime rates. He found that this was false and that gun ownership and the ability to carry a concealed weapon correlated to lower crime. Gun control advocates refuse to debate him anymore because he has numbers to backup his position whereas control advocates have only emotion. Look it up.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • leenepa

      I agree. Crime is less where a criminal may expect to face a gun-this may not hold true where drugs are involved. Lets face it, if a person wants to obtain a gun illegally, it is easy.

      July 29, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  12. jcl

    Fareed Zakaria is nothing more than a leftist hack and Democrat mouthpiece

    July 29, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
    • penny

      What's in a name?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
  13. Dug

    Ok, Mr. Zakaria now do your analysis on global knife violence and then come up with some opinion about how laws could eliminate that. The most effective theater mass murders have used matches. History has proven that you who fan our fears in order to motivate us to give up rights and freedoms are the true danger to us. BTW, in the case at hand, was it not government grant money that provided the killing tools? What should be done about that?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
  14. JCR

    This is a good example of why CNN is having problems staying number one. You have someone on staff who cannot get their facts straight! Fareed needs to research his facts before putting his foot in his mouth about semi vs. automatic weapons. Makes me questions his other stories now as well.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
  15. jorge washinsen

    Stands to reason what Fareed says.That means, if there are many bannanas. there will be more monkeys.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
  16. leenepa

    Gun control is not really the issue. The issue is why are there so many illegal guns. The answer is the failed drug war. In this country much of the crime is committed as a result of drugs, or drug related. Other comments stated why not separate out the crimes committed in a legal fashion, such as home invasion. Another comment asked about crime related to illegal guns-why not show the two side by side, IE legal vs illegal. Another interesting thing is to look where drugs are legal and see the crime rate/gun statistics there. Also our prison system is rather luxurious compared to other countries. Of course crime is not committed due to expectations of prison, but sitting in a hellhole in a third world country likely is a good deterrent.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • penny

      Legalizing drugs, (& I do think pot should be legal, but nothing else), will not slow any gun deaths of innocent people in the US. The reason being, they will still have to rob & kill to fuel their drug habit. making guns illegal will not help, because drug lords and gang members, and most criminals, (other than the occasional lunatic, or spoiled, white boy, mass killer), do not buy their guns legally; they buy them on the streets. Many are smuggled in from foreign countries and sold cheap, on the streets, some are stolen. If guns are made illegal, the only ones that will comply with the law are legal gun owners, (& some of them won't). If you try to go door to door & take them, you will have another civil war on your hands with numerous Americans being killed; what vote is that going to get some far lefter?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
    • Kongo

      And leenepa, just what is an illegal gun? Could please explain?

      July 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  17. Karm99

    There is no justification or argument for a person to be able to purchase an Assault weapon, 100 round magazine and 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

    Gun Nuts claim it is their "Right", but that is nothing more than a claim.

    Logic, reason and argument fail when put to the test.

    More than anything, this is an NRA issue. They promote, perpetuate, lobby, lie, threaten, bribe, and seduce to make people believe Guns are the answer to everything.

    Change will come when people start believing that the "Right" to live in a society free of these weapons is as valid as any claim to own them.

    Only then can the NRA be defeated.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • Scott

      "Assault Weapon" is a cosmetic term... in action, vitrually all modern weapons fire when the trigger is pulled... The term "Assault Weapon" is appled to guns that "look mean". Magazines don't kill people. And 6000 rounds isn't that much ammuntion if your planning a day of target shooting with some friends.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • therevolutionistproject

      We cant keep the immigrants or drugs out of our country now. you think adding one more thing to the list will be any different. Its hysterical people actually believe it would work. The day drugs are totally abolished from our culture I will say then you may have a chance to outlaw guns. even then guns are easy to make in a small shop. It is a waste of time to try to impose something like that. Please focus your energy on something actually important that will make a difference such as world hunger and the aids epidemic. As for my guns unless you plan to learn how to use one and take it away from me I will have one in my truck and home until the day i die!

      July 29, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
  18. DanWa

    I have to ask where you got the demograhics for 1 in 3 people know someone who's been shot? Is that from Washignton, DC, Chicago, Houston, New Orleans or Detroit suburbs? I'm a mear 65 and I haven't met anyone who's been shot or knows someone who's been short except in war. So where did you find your absurb numbers. Opinons are opinions and facts are facts and you have your facts pretty much screwed up. You have to remember that the greatest increase in gun sales have occured under the Obama administration; it don't take a rocket sciencetist to figure out why. People but guns for protection, protection from government!

    July 29, 2012 at 10:56 am | Reply
  19. rplat

    This article is liberal nonsense and and obfuscation.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:56 am | Reply
  20. joe

    Why would a madman who is intent on doing harm to other people listen to a gun law? Gun laws only affect law abiding citizens. If you don't like America's 2nd amendment and think we should change it...what is stopping someone from changing the 1st amendment next?

    July 29, 2012 at 10:56 am | Reply
  21. Larry74403

    Mexico has the kind of gun control Zakaria is talking about. Hows that working for them? Same thing in the middle east, sure keeps the suicide bombers in control doesnt it.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
    • Howard Rourke

      Larry: Look at what your'e saying: You are ccomparing the United States to Mexico, to other Third World countries that cannot support nor govern themselves. You need to compare the US to other G-8 countries, bro.

      Compared to other G-8 countries, the United States lives in the Dark Ages.

      Yesterday I went to my first gun show, just out of curiosity. In Southern california. I am still in shock with what I saw. Guns.......MILITARY weapons; .50 cal sniper rifles (Barret 50 cal copies). It was clearly a fair of gun fetish and "protection" and not about "sportsmen/hunting". The crowd was very pleasant, very WHITE (for So Cal, that's not the norm). There were guys handing out KKK material inside the show. I just was in disbelief of exactly WHAT one can buy and own, and how much of it.

      I was truly stunned by the level of barbarianism that my fellow countrymen entertain. It's unbelievable that we are so brute and backwwards that instead of controlling immigration, legalizing soft drugs and helping-ou our fellow citizens in need, we choose to create the largest prison system of any other "developed" country by a double digit margin and sustaining a public health disaster of proportionately having 27-times more gun-involved deaths than the UK.

      Other countries are more succesful than we are in keeping there citizens safe, and they do it by ELIMINATING GUNS from all but law enforcement. Criminals cannot obtain guns easily, and they don't need to.

      Face it: The posibility of a private citizen using a gun to defend his/her self from a criminal is marginal: US laws are such that you will become liable both criminaly yourself and become a perpetrator YOURSELF just as George Zimmerman did. When you pull out a gun instead of calling the Po-Po, you open yourself up to a world of hurt.

      The macho notion of killing someone in order tokeep them from stealing from you is pure rubbish. You draw a gun, your life changes right then and there. It's a BAD IDEA, and most intelligent and developed socities have long BANNED their posession by their citizenry.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
  22. rh

    Wasn't our country founded on the belief that citizens should be able to defend themselves from tyrannical, fascist governments. Wasn't the idea that we DIDN'T want to be like all the other countries. I see military on the streets of America more and more these days. You give up your gun – I'll hold on to mine thank you! This idiot wants the government to protect him from everything, tell him how to raise his family, how to educate his kids, how to eat right, what hobbies or habits he should or shouldn't have, etc. etc. etc. Thankfully I'm an American and support you having the right to your opinion and to choose how and where you live. So feel free to go live in one of THOSE countries.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  23. Dr. Xavier Amador

    Guns & brain disorders-not mutually exclusive fronts. Your facts are wrong. We can change "tortured psychology". If Holmes has a brain disorder like schizophrenia, early identification and treatment prevents such tragedies. There is plenty of room in the public debate for guns and underfunded mental health services. There the facts are indisputable, cut funding and violent acts by persons with these illnesses (who are not more violent than the general population) goes up. Please don't confuse your opinions about brain disorders with the facts. Also, one question: would you refer to an Aunt with Parkinson's or father with Alzheimer's as a "nut job"? These brain disorders cause aberrant behavior as much as schizophrenia or other brain disorders affecting judgement and perception. Please don't add to the stigma which adds to the ease with which cuts in mental health services can be made.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  24. Lagos

    Ah, FZ lecturing people on opinions vs facts. How deliciously hypocritical.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  25. Thomas Henley

    Hyphen Control...doesn't matter what word you put in front of control it all boils down to the desire to control, to in fact control everything.

    The fact that the government does want to control everything through 600,000 existing codes and laws, with an average of 245 more added each week, displays that 'freedom' is a highly regulated thing, and the people being regulated need a last line of defence or check and balance if you would from those who would seek to control everything in our 'free' society.

    People should be free to pursue their own lives how ever they want as long as it doesn't hurt others.

    Guns don't target people for death any more than cars or chain saws do. People target each other for death.

    Outlawing and controlling inanimate objects and things doesn't cure the human condition...only the individual human can do that.

    That by the way boys and girls is what freedom is all about and the one thing you'll never be able to regulate.

    Nature tends to itself. Our power to add or detract is neglible at best...foolish and dangerous at worse.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
  26. WeDon'tMatter

    This country is not and has never been susceptible to a conventional attack by another nation since the Revolutionary war, and we know how that worked out for England. Why, because first, we have a powerful military and second, we have so many armed citizens. Stop crying foul because there are a few rare instances where innocent people are victims of gun violence, any time there is deadly machinery around there is chance that an innocent person will be killed or injured whether it is a gun, car, bulldozer or whatever. Just count your blessings that girls can still go to school in this country and gun ownership by the populace is part of the reason.

    July 29, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • Howard Rourke

      It's simply fascinating that there are so many people that think like YOU: Un freekin believable.

      You are crazy.

      No invasion nor "take-over" was ever stopped by a civilian. No "freedome" was ever defended by a civilian in this country. EVER. Nor will they. EVER.

      The degree of stupidity and ignorance in your comment is freightening because so many other wingnuts out there would agree with you.

      I am not a liberal. I'm what you might call a member of the "silent majority" with a a strong libertarian inclination. I'm not inclined to regulate nor prohibit ANYTHING. BUT.......but....this gun ownership issue is a PUBLIC HEALTH ISSUE, and that IS the responsibility of government, and we need it. To "assure the comon good" as it were.

      None of the reasons you state in advocay of gun ownership stand by any facts or historic precedent. It's all the myth and the fantasy of "empowerment" by uneducated men, nothing more. You make up your own fantastic paranoid justifications for nothing more than supporting a fetish. A fetish of empowerment. You have a gun, you are your own King, you have the Last Word......you have say over life and death. You. A nobody without even the color of authority to exercise that decision.

      You are a Barbarian, my friend, and history (if you ever crack open a book instead of your ammo dry storage) will prove you and your fellow mousekateers dead wrong.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:43 am | Reply
  27. r2y2

    Do we care more about our rights to own guns or our love of gun manufacturers who do not care if the owners are true gun lovers or physopat maniacs who buys them a few weeks before they go an kill bunch of people. Most people who are against the laws for gun control do not think carefully. Having just a background check or not allow you thousands of rounds in a short time on internet will not hurt any true gun lover's freedoom of owning guns, it will only stop the bad guys doing that in by a reflect and in short time. All these mass murders happen by people who got guns within only a few weeks of their acts. You true honest gun owners think about that before blindly definding gun manufacturers who would not care less is a maniac gets a gun and goes an shoots your kinds because they happened to be in a movie. Just think about that !

    July 29, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • WeDon'tMatter

      Would love to give your comment some thought, but I'm not sure what you said, your spelling is atrocious.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply
  28. Ron Turley

    I was disappointed with Fareed's comments on guns and gun violence. This article http://www.nationalpost.com/Nations/7004422/story.html does not have the graphic that went with the story in the hard copy of the newspaper, but, an eyeball only examination, would seem to show at best an only weak relationship between gun ownership and gun homicides.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  29. AndyG

    Even if you could somehow clear the entire country of guns, people intent on killing will find a way. Although the shooting in Colorado was brutal it can be argued that it was not the most efficient way to kill people. Because guns were easier, he chose to use them. What if they weren't available? Maybe he might have set the theater on fire instead, starting at all the exits and resulting in the deaths of everyone inside. The man was intelligent. He was a neuroscience major. He had the capability of hatching a much deadlier plan if guns werent easy and available.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:02 am | Reply
  30. Dan64

    Fareed, you hit the nail on the head! Thanks.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • WeDon'tMatter

      Unfortunately it appears he had the nail pointed at his head when he did it.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:10 am | Reply
    • pb

      Not really. He very clearly stated that crime is down and gun ownership is up. Gun homicides include justifiable and non-justifiable, so we don't really know if that is a problem either based on his article. If homicides are up in part because people are legally defending their lives, then isn't that a good thing?

      July 29, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
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