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 (4,938 Responses)
  1. fryuujin

    facts won't stop the fear that the NRA has brought to the gun issue. only a total moron thinks that guns protect. there are much safer, cheaper, and better ways to protect yourself. guns is just a smoke and mirror issue that the GOP (NRA) has been using for years to get the real criminals elected to office.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
    • Herbsthewerd

      "there are much safer, cheaper, and better ways to protect yourself" I'm sure criminals will also find a safer, cheaper, and better way to rob, beat, and abduct there victims.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  2. WillyNilly

    I grew up in a hunting family but I really hate guns in the hands of the fools who hold them now. Instead of being a tool to feed and protect ourselves, guns are now an extension of our most aggressive personalities, a tool to take revenge by those who feel dissed, a way to get our own way when we've been denied, a way to act out our most violent emotions. Until we can separate them, there will continue to be mass shootings and more dead. And as long as the NRA holds our politicians hostage and plays on the most weakminded among us, we will be holding memorials and going to funerals.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  3. miked789

    How many modern countries need armed guards and metal detectors in their schools besides the USA?

    None. Just the USA. USA # 1

    July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
    • JOSE-USMC-0311


      July 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  4. ELRod

    Fareed Zakaria it sounds like your afraid of Americans. The only per capita ratio worth looking at is Murder per population. When you do the numbers please calculate the the honor killings and such. Then come back and redo this story. I would commnet more but I have to go clean my weapons, its Sunday.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  5. wrm

    A list of facts, a carefully selected subset of all the facts relevant to a topic, does not make any conclusion you throw at the end of the discussion valid. Is this the new liberal ploy? Obviously, it's better than making information up to reach a conclusion, but just because I say the sky is blue (a fact) doesn't mean that trains are a fun way to travel just because you can see the sky out the window.

    Speaking of facts, seeing as how you are the master of them, the shootings had nothing to do with automatic weapons, they were semi-automatics. You can't get the most basic of facts straight yet I'm somehow supposed to agree with your conclusions? Do your homework you lazy t00l.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  6. tilsunexplod

    If Fareed cares so much about America AND cares so much about other countries at the same time, then why doesn't he focus on the biggest threat to this country right now: Mexico? That's right, Mexico. WE have created a 3rd world hell-hole in Mexico with our steadily inflating economy for the last 50 years by increasing wages AND the price of illegal drugs to the point that we've made drug cartels unstoppable and people in Mexico are DYING to get OUT of Mexico. Yet, liberals continually decry efforts to put a stop to the human trafficking/suffering at the border. If Fareed and other liberals care so much about the immigrants, then ADDRESS THE REAL PROBLEM. Putting up fences at the border or increasing border patrols isn't enough, there's just TOO MUCH pressure due to the economic conditions brought on by our countries policies (the drug cartels are building submarines!). We HAVE to stop the stupid inflation that just keeps getting us into trouble anyway before we get overrun by the drug cartels south of the border, it's the only way to take away their power...

    July 29, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  7. Kris Hughes

    I would like to see a complete ban on all hand guns, all automatic and semi-automatic firearms, at the very least. Simple, straightforward guns for those who hunt or need them for animal control, etc. in rural areas – I'm fine with that, but they need to show some reasonable proof that this is their true reason, pass training and safety tests, background checks, etc. Anyone even considering the possibility of shooting another human, no matter what the rationale, should not have a firearm.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • ski2xs

      I'd like to see a complete ban on cars, they kill more men, women and children every few months than guns do in a year. Show me your NEED for a car. Humans survived for thousands and thousands of years without them. . . so please, explain your NEED!

      July 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
      • JC in Western U.S.

        Ski – The car analogy is over-used and not a good one. 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 limited 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 1:52 pm |
      • wrm

        JC – and yet with all of that cars still kill more people. The analogy still holds.

        July 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  8. HamiltonHab

    I find it rather funny how so many of you equate gun control with freedom. Two things that really have zero to do with one another. There are many countries, including my own, where we enjoy every single freedom that any American does yet we are not all running around like crazed lunatics shooting at one another.
    What it really comes down to is what exactly is your problem?? I don't think it's guns that is your problem it is just your culture. You are a country of bloated, spoiled, ignorant people that care more for killing one another than helping one another. No wonder you start wars, you just like to kill so much. Good luck losers, you deserve everything bad that happens to you, from movie house massacres to 9/11, you deserve it all.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • ski2xs

      And I'm sure you're a subservient little ward, collectively working towards the utopia of anonymous existence while working for the 'greater good' of the state.

      Good luck with that economy there! ROFL

      July 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
      • HamiltonHab

        Actually buddy I have a blue collar middle class job.
        As for the economy where I am it's very good and we have a pretty low unemployment rate.....how is yours doing? Heard the market is wonderful and stable, nobody is out of work and the rich are paying a fair share. The US must be going through an economic boom. Again, good luck loser.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
      • ski2xs

        Mines pretty low as a matter of fact. Yeah, I used to be a blue collar (welder), but was intelligent enough to use my earnings to pay for school. Now I simply direct people.

        BTW, was smart enough to make some wise gun purchases too. 🙂

        Now, run back under that little rock you crawled out of and weep for the future.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm |
  9. JimVR

    Fareed, similar to Bill O'Reilly, is an out-of-touch and arrogant city slicker who displayed his ignorance about firearms for all to see in this article. And like Bill O'Reilly he embarrassed himself!!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  10. Zac

    Funny how the United states has a much lower violent crime rate than some of the nations with the fewest guns. Of course it has a higher violent crime rate with guns, simply because we have more guns. Look at all crime, not just crimes committed with guns for a fair example.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
    • JOSE-USMC-0311


      July 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
  11. guns don't kill

    Fire arm ownership is to ensure our liberty and freedom. Remember that duns don't kill it is the government that kills.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  12. guns don't kill

    Fire arm ownership is to ensure our liberty and freedom. Remember that guns don't kill it is the government that kills.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:24 pm |
  13. Joe D

    The story always starts out the same: "We don't want to take away your rights, we just want to put some sensible restrictions on (whatever the topic)." Of course the ones making the restrictions are never the ones being effected by them, and one restriction leads to another, and another until the original purpose is lost in the shuffle. Take a look at the income tax if you want to see how "a few sensible statutes" turn out. Any time citizens relinquish control to their government something is lost. The amount of loss has to be acceptable to the citizens. In the case of more gun laws, the cost is just too great.

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

    FACT: Out of the top 10 'rampage killings' ever...5 were arson...3 were the intentional crashing of an airplane...2 were bombings.
    0 involved firearms.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  15. chad

    alcohol kills and affects more lives than guns do. I don't see you bleeding hearts writing about it or trying to take it off the shelves. I call bs on these gun numbers. There is no other country that tracks and keeps up with guns, fatalities, injuries, murders, etc than the U.S. . These other major countries like China, Russia, India, etc don't share any other info but its convenient for the liberals to say they have the facts. If you don't want to be shot then carry a gun so you'll have some protection. Only idiots or free loaders want to leave it up to someone else to protect them. FYI, the police are the same as you but most have a uniform. That's it!!!!! They can't even enforce the laws they have on the books so making more will do absolutely no good.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  16. voodkokk

    I can tell you right now that guns will go away at the end of the world and not before. It is a waste of both time and energy to discuss this issue.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  17. Emax

    It amazes me that people who cannot even spell correctly expect to be taken seriously on a public forum.
    Do you not realize that others tune you out when you exhibit your ignorance?

    July 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • ChicagoAl

      And yet we all read Zakaria's opinion piece. Go figure.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
      • Emax

        Point taken.

        July 29, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
  18. Mike

    We have a problem with drug abuse in this country. Prescription drug abuse to be more precise. Lawyers have been lying to us about doctors for years, this guy is drugged to the hilt. Our medical system is a fraud, taking drugs to solve problems, how ridiculous...

    July 29, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  19. JOSE-USMC-0311


    July 29, 2012 at 12:29 pm |
  20. bibleverse1

    We need to change the punishment for insanity. Too often people who commit horrible crimes with guns plead insanity go to a hospital and are freed. I say we should spare them the death penalty but declare them incapable of cure and keep in facilities for life. How can we think that someone is insane commits horrible acts against the citizenry but is curable. They are treatable but should never be allowed to do harm to the populace again.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ed

      Naw...just tell us "He's feeling much better now!", give him a bottle of pills to take and turn him loose. That should work. Or, maybe psychiatrists who decide to turn psychotic killers loose should be held liable for the actions of the person they turn loose. Do you think nut cases like Hinkley (shot President Reagan) would be out walking around if the psychs were liable for future crimes he might commit?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:52 pm |
  21. tardsarestupid

    "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 "
    Not true. America is made up of 47% ignorant fuctardicans. The most ignorant of the human species. Thus America has the highest population of sociopathic morons of any country on the planet. Then mix in their desire for guns and there you go. Eliminate the fuctardicans and their narcissistic philosophy and you will have a peaceful society.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:30 pm |
    • JOSE-USMC-0311


      July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • ski2xs

      And this is what? An excellent essay on the issue by their leader?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  22. Glen Bumgardner

    I think we all should be armed with revolvers and allowed to carry them all through the US. They would not be a scary as semi-autos, or shotguns, but it would at least give us a slight chance and make nutcases or big thugs or multiple punks think there is a chance a little old lady could even put a stop to them if they try ambushing decent folks. I think Fareed and Bloomberg should go to either Venezuela or Mexico and show them how to run their country. We could also mandate maximum of 15 mph driving and save about 35, 000 souls a year on our highways.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  23. ChicagoAl

    If you didn't purchase a gun this month, you are part of the problem.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  24. drcrkeller

    So.. if you can not fix the real problem...attack gun ownership... if you don't believe in gun owenership... don't
    own a gun...if you can not handle living in a free society where guns can be owned....go live somewhere there
    are no guns owned by private citizens...china and russia come to mind.....

    July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  25. vet4life63

    On October 16, 1991, in Killeen, Texas, Doctor Suzanne Brasha was at a coffee shop with her parents. She often carried a gun for self defense but today she left it in the car in the parking lot. It is illegal to keep a concealed firearm in her purse, and she was afraid of loosing her medical license if she was caught with it. All of a sudden, a man in a truck drove into the store, jumped out of the car, and started shooting customers. Suzanne falls on the ground, reaches for her purse until she remembers that her only means of self-defense is 100 feet away in her car. The police can’t come for endless minutes. She watches as her father and mother are gunned down as she scrambles out a window towards her car. Fifty-three people die.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  26. diraphe

    If the politicians were sincerely concerned with the amount of gun violence in this country; they would focus on the real cause and not the guns.
    End the "War on Drugs"; end the black-market flow of cash that sustains this violence!

    July 29, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  27. vet4life63

    One early morning, on August 23rd, 2000, the children of John and Tiffany Carpenter are at home sleeping. All five kids know how to shoot, but California Law (CA Penal Code 12035), requires that guns be locked away from children. Jessica, 14, enters the kitchen with her family and sisters in bed, where a half-naked stranger awaits her with a pitch fork. He barricades the doors and windows. He has cut the phone line.

    Stalking down the hallway he begins stabbing 13 year old Anna in her bed. Ashley, 9, leaps and screams in the hallway, drawing the madman away, as Ashley screams and dies. The girls all think of the gun, but can’t use it to save their sisters or brother. The three oldest girls escape, rushing to a neighbor and plead for his rifle. The neighbor fears the government would take his gun away and says no. By the time the police arrive, Ashley is dead with 138 pitchfork wounds to her face, neck, and chest. Seven year old John William has 46 wounds and is dead.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  28. malon abe

    Hey Fareed .. go back to whatever sh1t country you came from.
    The reason you are here in America is because it is better, because you like your freedom of speech?
    Guess what ... GUNS BUILT THAT.

    what a hippocrate.

    July 29, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  29. Bill Canada

    The founding fathers so wisely wanted you to have arms to protect yourself from its own government. Since the government has nuclear weapons why don't we have the right to have nuclear weapons. We need nukes to protect ourselves. What a world

    July 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
    • Retired cop

      Stupid comment. What are you going to do when the cops arent there?

      July 29, 2012 at 12:39 pm |
      • Bill Canada

        Where do I even begin??? Stupid is such a great word. God Bless

        July 29, 2012 at 12:44 pm |
    • chad

      one of the dumbest things i've read today. Thanks

      July 29, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
  30. kooolguy

    i dont know about you but that colored map up there made me proud. USA USA USA

    July 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
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