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. kirk

    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 to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." -Thomas Jefferson, quoting Cesare Beccaria.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
  2. xnutzd33px

    Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country yet had 250+ gun related homicides through the first 6 months of the year ...more than the total of combatant deaths in Afghanistan year to date! Explain that Mr. Z.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
    • Tom

      Maybe the chart colors will change... maybe Chicago needs more gun laws...

      July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  3. David

    England has worse crime rate than the US, says Civitas study


    July 29, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  4. AbleWitness

    This latest copycat killer got his marching orders from observing how the mass media ALWAYS gives multi-millions of dollars worth of publicity to violent acts. And here's a bizarre item concerning this theater shooting: the nut left his incendiary devices and improvised hand grenades at home! Had he used those, the death count would have been much higher.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  5. southside mike

    And what percentage of those LEGALLY owned guns are used in a crime?

    July 29, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  6. Tom

    His views are as out of date as his charts...


    July 29, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  7. Gregg Tchirkow

    Fareed, go home to the place of your birth. Oh wait, its one long living nightmare. Shut your terrorist mouth.

    July 29, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
  8. gary

    Shame Americans feel the need to arm against other Americans. Sick anyone feels the need to have assault weapon.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
    • Manuel

      Hear ye! Hear ye! Don't you read the paper or watch the news? This is not a condition that I or anyone else invented. The world has always been dangerous. Why do police carry pistols and shotguns? You must have accidently closed your eyes and clicked your heels.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
    • Gary

      Wake up, Crime is running rampisd and local police department are under staff. If you want to be a statistic go ahead. I live in the greatest country in the world and carry a fire arm where ever I go. My family will not be victims

      July 29, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  9. Jeff K.

    1. A deranged person who wants a gun will get one, even if tighter gun control is in place. If he cant use a gun, he will use something else, like explosives. The problem is not what weapon he chooses; it is his mental state and proclivity towards violence against innocent people that we should be addressing.

    2. Americans being able to own guns has made us virtually impenetrable against invasion by a foreign power. Giving up our guns makes our wealthy nation a ripe target for whatever aggressor sees fit to take a prize.

    3. This debate is pointless. The federal government isnt likely to mandate any effective gun control in the near future. Even if they banned all sales from now on, there are 270 million + guns in private American hands. Good luck rooting all those out.


    July 29, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  10. Dan64

    Fareed, I gave you kudos about an hour ago, but I want to "dilute" them. You made an assumption that depression and mental illness are evenly distributed among humanity regardless of nation. That's not so. There are contributing societal causes of mental illness and cultural differences in how mental illness is defined and thus diagnosed. Your overall point still holds, because the international differences in mental illness are unlikely to be large enough to account for the differences in gun ownership rates and your other comparisons.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
  11. Prince

    without guns life would have been so much better in USA !! scared to walk outside at night ! guns should not be a necessity ! People say its fr self defense ! but y ! killing for self defense is not ryt by any means !

    July 29, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Reply
    • Bill

      I'd love to know where you live that you are afraid to walk outside at night. Must be a pretty trashy neighborhood.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  12. Jim R

    Presentation of select information does not change reality Mr. Zakaria. Perhaps next time you will provide a more inclusive use of global statistical data in your reporting and thus retain some level of credibility. Violent crime statistics must be looked at in entirety including explosives, knives, blunt weapons, poisons, drownings, strangulation, etc., in relation to a country and its laws. And, those statistics must include violent political oppression of individuals. What I'm saying is, murder is murder. Removal or restrictions of firearms in the U.S.A. at best will force a transition from one criminal tool to another. At it's worst, it will create an environment where only criminals are armed. The right of self defense is God given – you and the liberal media's efforts to reduce this country to sheep will be resisted by the majority.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  13. ChicagoAl

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

    Really? And which 'fact' are you using to conclude that 'getting automatic weapons has become easier'?
    As far as I know, the process for purchasing an automatic weapon has not changed in many rears. It includes:
    1) Finger prints
    2) Photograph
    3) $200.00 tax payment
    I guess that you are just another mouthpiece taking advantage of the carnage caused by a lunatic. Good job.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
    • Justsayin

      Well said, to add:

      Don't forget that tranferrable class three weapons are prohibitively expensive, as well.
      An actual, honest to goodness M-16 "assault weapon" capable of burst or "automatic" full auto fire will run you anywhere from $20,000 to $30,000, and take you six months or more to aquire, IF your local Law Enforcement signs off on you.

      Don't let facts get in the way of a good rant, though.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
    • fryuujin

      why get a class III when all you need is the slide fire butt stock for way less than $300.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  14. chuck

    why cant you see that gun laws only effect the people who follow them. just like drugs. people are resourceful and will find a way to get what they want regardless of these meaningless laws. go ahead and take the guns. make it so a criminal that manages to get a gun doesnt hesitate to attack their target for fear of a civilian carrying. only allow military and police to carry. im sure they have the money and manpower to create a constant post around your house, your stores, and your parks to wait for someone to get stupid. the issue here isnt gun control its retard control. better background checks and required training is the answer. you want a gun, you learn to act responsibly to handle one. stop making excuses for stupid people.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Reply
  15. Gary

    If law enforcments cant protect our families we should have the right to carry a firearms. Hey Farreed if you dont like the laws in this country, LEAVE, I wont miss you.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  16. Upset Voter

    Fully automatic weapons are extremely difficult to get legally and the class 3 licence is very expensive. What is commonly refereed to automatic is a semi-automatic that re-chambers when you fire but only fires again if you pull the trigger again. The US military has been moving away from fully automatic weapons due to decreased reliability, accuracy, and the intense wear that fully automatic fire inflicts on the weapon.

    The reason Switzerland is not listed as the top gun ownership country is that they do not own the guns they keep at home. Every member of Switzerland's standing army and militia keeps their military weapon, which is owned by the government, at home. Citizens and permanent residents between the ages of 18 and 65 are in the militia. There is a massive investigation if those military weapons are discharged without specific orders to do so.

    I know ex military American pilots who are pilots for the Swiss militia and permanent residents of Switzerland. It is almost impossible to become a Swiss citizen but many people become residents which id different than either guest workers or tourists.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  17. don

    i have a question for everyone. how many people die or are injured each and every day in this country from car accidents? ok and of those who do die or are injured how many are from alcohol or drug related impairment? so of course maybe we should as a country outlaw cars over a certain weight and slow speeds down to a survivable speed, oh and outlaw drinking and drugs including helpful drugs not just illegal but anything which might cause impairment. so a national speed law of 10 mph in cars not weighing more than 150 lbs will solve all our traffic injuries and death. same argument with gun control; as this i will repeat its not the gun stupid its the crazy people who will use anything to make their point if guns arent available then bombs or even ping pong balls but the nuts will kill. don

    July 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
    • JC in Western U.S.

      The car analogy is over-used and not a particularly good one. First, the intended purpose of cars is transportation, while the intended purpose of guns is killing. Secondly, we have many many laws restricting, registering, and regulating the ownership and use of cars. Most people, including many gun owners such as my husband, would have no objection to having equally stringent regulation of guns. If every gun was registered, annually inspected, property taxed, identified with a VIN as well as by numbers visible to others, used by owners who had graduated licenses, and "fueled" with one of two choices of ammunition, and that fuel was also regulated and taxed and available only at places with video cameras recording each buyer, then you could use your car analogy.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
      • Greg Tringas

        Sorry JC but you are just plain wrong. The car analogy is perfect boecause the writer is simply trying to make the point that if criminals decided to steal cars and kill people that your next logical step would be to ban cars, because no amount of photos, licenses, registrations, driver training would stop this form of killing...therefore, according to the next logical step, the only alternative is a full ban. This is why it is a perfect comparison and you know it. No matter how much gun registration, photographing, licensing, training of gun owners stops this cultural trend of criminals finding a way to get guns in the black market. Those are the FACTS. I lived in this country when you could mail order guns like cameras prior to the late 1960's and we NEVER experienced the gun violence you see today. This is a cultural.sociological issue that will only go away when the culture itself is changed. Fareed tries to equate us to other countries..then why didn't he bring up the war in Iraq. There were over 130,000 troops in and around Baghdad yet there was an intense armed insurgency for many years. If they want guns bad enough, they will get them...Those are the facts of this discussion.

        July 29, 2012 at 5:15 pm |
      • stan

        The car analogy is perfectly valid. If the discussion is about probability of harm, which you gun grabbers like to state, then it is exceptionally valid. You want to believe that more guns = more gun crime but yet deny that more cars = more car deaths. That is both illogical and a bit insane. Criminals use guns in violent crime BUT anybody can ACCIDENTALLY kill another person(s) with a car. Think about that one for a second if you can. Cars are about convenience of movement while arms are about protecting your right to be Free Men. You gun grabbers really don't have a valid argument from one end to the other. The entire Right to Bear Arms was to ensure your right to self determination, it is the very foundation of American 'Freedom'.

        Here's a link that CNN and ALL the other main stream media centers refuse to run:
        http://www(dot)abc(dot)4 com/content/news/top_stories/story/conceal-and-carry-stabbing-salt-lake-city-smiths/NDNrL1gxeE2rsRhrWCM9dQ.cspx

        August 1, 2012 at 7:33 am |
  18. Darrell

    Those that wish to live in a nation state where personal ownership of firearms do in fact have options around the globe. Those of us that wish to retain personal firearms to the degree in the USA have no such other options. As a son of the American Revolution I view firearms as a covenant of individual volition free of exploitative "subject-hood", and I view in this manner because it's consistent with the intent. Those that simply react aghast at the domestic news tonight with no context of the history of the genocidal atrocity that is heaped upon defenseless victims at the whim of narcissistic leadership are victimizing the rest of us by coercing passivity on the rest of us. But unfortunately, those that are blind to this find quarter in rampant emotionality wrapped around the evil-doings of the lunatic du jour, and America has become an overweight emotional creature. Zareed's clucking here in this editorial is exhibit A.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Reply
  19. Alex

    This article is automatically discredited. Fareed says "automatic" weapons are easier to get. Uh no they are not. Automatic weapons are nearly impossible to get. After all the paper work and background checks needed a civilian has to fork over thousands and thousands more dollars than their semi-automatic counterpart if they can even locate the firearm to begin with. Makes me want to question the rest of his "statistics" since half of them have no reference.

    What EVERY pundit (including Fareed) is missing, is, the purpose for gun ownership. The second amendment exists to protect civilians from a tyrannical government. The U.S.A. is unique because it is the only country on Earth that the civilians can retake control of their government with an overwhelming show of force if they stand united and feel the need to. This is why the government wants gun control. Don't be fooled.

    Do you think our leadership actually really cares about James Holmes or the shooting? Heck no. They are licking their chops over how this incident could further their own causes. As the saying goes, "Don't let any tragedy go to waste."

    July 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  20. Patrick Horan

    Same old story.....When guns are outlawed....only outlaws will have guns .

    July 29, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Reply
  21. Bill

    Fareed is about as relevant as a baseball bat at a soccer game.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  22. Carlton

    criminals will always have guns. Mexico, with more restrictive gun control laws than anywhere in the U.S. is now run by cartels which are better armed than the Mexican government. Chicago, Los Angeles, DC, Philadelphia, Detroit; places with th3e most restrictive gun control laws in the U.S., also have the most homicides by gun than any other city in the U.S. If Bloomberg had his way, it would be relly comforting to the criminal element that they were the only armed person in a given situation. Just had 14 people killed in a pick up vehicle collision in TX. More that Aurora. So, why not just ban pick up trucks – – – because it's the nut behind the wheel, not the pick up truck that caused the wreck! Same goes for guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  23. Dave F

    Your use of "statistics" is pretty amusing, Mr. Zakaria.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
  24. tilsunexplod

    I don't care one bit about comparisons between the US and the rest of the world. I've been outside the US and I didn't like it... and I certainly didn't feel SAFER outside the US... Not long ago, Obamacare proponents were saying how we should be more like Europe and nationalize our health care, but that was before half of Europe started going bankrupt... like I said, I don't care for comparisons... America is unique in a lot of ways, FREEDOM is one of them...

    July 29, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply
  25. Kevin

    The details of the current laws don't matter. The trends of gun control vs. gun violence when comparing the US to other countries like the UK are clear. If we want less gun violence, we should have stricter gun laws. The NRA is basically using its lobbying power to make our country more dangerous.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Reply
  26. Patriot

    Did you count people killed by police?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  27. volsocal

    We also have more freedom. Think there might be a connection, Fareed?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
    • Goinz

      freedom in terms of... what exactly? Tell me the big difference between the US and Europe, and why the freedom of carrying firearms is a benefit for society. I don´t get it.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  28. Herbsthewerd

    Once again anti-gun advocates are cherry picking statistics. Fareed singles out India's gun crime rate as being low, but Asia as a whole has just 4% less murders than the U.S. while having 75% more guns on the street. I could go on and on comparing these types of stats and have a much more convincing argument than CNN's token minority employee. Chicago has had 228 homicides this year, we lost 144 soldiers in Afghanistan in the same amount of time.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  29. NorCalMojo

    We're soliciting from a country with more cell phones than toilets?

    Things must be worse than I thought.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
  30. stat101


    July 29, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Reply
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