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. Braveheart

    Also the free-est country in the world

    July 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  2. fubarack Obamadinejad

    The reason the left always cooks facts about gun control is because the facts as they are, do not support their claims. At any rate, I'm so glad they are bringing this into the campaign. Maybe we will get adults back in the Senate, and the WH now. Landslide election coming.
    Another positive note, HillBill and Obama Bin Biden got swatted down on their wish for the UN gun treaty, which was their backdoor way to get gun control.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  3. Elmer

    Typical Liberal mentality- the Lib is the smartest guy in the room, the rest of us are just too dumb to understand( or own a gun). See how that works out for you in November. Have a good day, I'm going to Church with my family now and later to volunteer my time for service to my community. I would go to Chick fila for lunch but they're closed on the Holy Day.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  4. Lulu9248

    I am struck by the fact that so many of the light green areas of the world are not democracies and are places where large parts of the population are disenfranchised and oppressed.I am more liberal than not, but frankly I am not at all convinced that gun control is the solution. I am trying to listen with an open mind both to gun control and NRA side. I do not think Mr. Zakaria's analysis deals with some very important points on the other side of the argument.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  5. Elmer

    And yes- thank you for making this tragedy a political issue- it will further insure us a NEW president in November! Take care all!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  6. thoughts

    Laws are made for honest law abiding citizens. The people who murder, whether mass or single, are not honest law abiding citizens. Now the real question is how to spot someone who is not honest and law abiding prior to an illegal act. Once this is done, how do you stop people from turning in the neighbor as they did during Hitler's time. There again, how to spot an honest person.......
    This discussion should not be about gun control, but a persons honesty. As we all know that cheating in school is an everyday occurrence today. Don't depend on the government to legislate morality. But parents must take more responsibility in raising their children. Maybe instead of punishing the child we should punish the parents....after x number of violations, the children be removed and put up for adoption, never to return to their birth parents......I don't have an answer, just questions.....how do we get parents permanently involved in their children's lives.....so they can grow up to be honest, contributing members of society, without turning society into spying on your neighbor type society........

    July 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  7. Mr.

    So we are not supposed to punish a mass murderer?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:04 pm |
  8. FlaEMT

    This article clearly states that overall violent crime in the U.S. is on a decline with no change at all to violent gun crimes. Gun control advocates are quick to bemoan that U.S. gun control laws are being weakened or rescinded, and gun sales are escalating. Where , therefore, is the obvious correlation gun ownership and crime? Declining or stagnating crime rates while guns ownership increases shows there is no correlation, and proves the author as being the one guilty of creating his "own facts" when claiming there is one.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  9. jgray125

    Fareed, why don't you do an article on how well gun control worked for the Jews, Gypsies, Cambodians, Russians, etc.... Millions of dead can't be wrong! Gun control is great for those who want to act without fear of being opposed.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
  10. Wildone

    Since CNN insists on running this one sided op-ed for the past 3 days in order to continue with their anti-gun pot stirring, I'm going to once again post my earlier response to Mr. Zakaria's "cherry picking" of statistics from the UNODC (his reference source):

    If Mr. Zakaria were really interested in "facing the facts", he would go to the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC) from where he "cherry picked" the map accompanying his anti-gun op-ed and read what they wrote on their official site on 6 July 2007 when they reported on the upcoming destruction of 14000 illegal firearms in Columbia (which has one of the highest number of firearms related killings in the world) on July 9th's International Gun Destruction Day.

    For the benefit of those who don't have the time to look this information up, or simply want to skew the data to fit their anti-gun agenda (like Mr. Zakaria), here is a direct quote from the UNODC report:

    "Colombia has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2005, 70% of over 17,000 homicides registered were committed with firearms. Cities registering the highest numbers of legal firearms were also those showing the lowest homicide rates. Conversely, cities with the highest murder rates were those with the lowest number of legal arms. Most homicides in Colombia are connected with the illegal ownership, manufacture and trade of firearms."

    As I stated previously, it is not the presence of LEGALLY OWNED guns in a FREE COUNTRY like America that is the problem. It is illegal firearms and guns in the wrong hands.

    Mr. Zakaria, like so many anti-gun fanatics, chooses to ignore these important FACTS that prove once again that having guns by law abiding citizens does not represent an increase in violent crimes and illegal use of firearms, but rather the exact opposite.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
  11. Oompa

    The US is so gun obsessed, it's to the point people are buying guns to protect themselves from the NRA types. 99% of them are paranoid, irrational, wanna be bullies who don't understand they are the danger to the community. When these fools claim that if someone in the movie theater had a a gun that it would have stopped this shooter, how can anyone argue with that type of stupidity? We allow idiot NRA types and people with mental problems access to powerful weapons. This amount of gun violence we have in this country is the price we pay.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:06 pm |
    • ski2xs

      So. . . . what you're trying to say is the with 280,000,000 registered guns. . . REGISTERED ones. . . are the ones that cause most of the gun violence committed in the US. . . . which BTW, are typically committed with ILLEGAL ones.

      Dude. . . .you're a freakin' Einstein, aren't you!

      July 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
      • Oompa

        Really that's what you got from my comment? Clearly you are not the Einstein. We have so much gun violence because our country is gun obsessed, I don't care about registered vs not registered.

        July 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
      • ski2xs

        And you prove the point again. You couldn't follow a tune, could you. ROFL

        July 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
      • Oompa

        You certainly proved my "idiot NRA type" by blathering on and not making any sense. Make your own comment.

        July 29, 2012 at 1:26 pm |
    • Wildone

      I wouldn't begin to call gun owners "obsessed" any more than people who enjoy their cars or Craftsman tools. You're problem is that you lump all gun owners in a category that is not only far from reality, but it is unfair as well. I, like most gun owners, enjoy hunting, target shooting, "plinking" and never once considered myself "obsessed" with my guns. If I have to be in an area where there is a lot of criminal activity I carry a weapon to be able to put up some form of resistance. I don't carry my gun to church, or the movies, or Walmart, or anyplace else where there isn't any threat to me. People like you who just assume that all gun owners are "gun nuts" and dangerous are way, way wrong.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm |
      • foreigner

        I'd buy a gun too if it could help. But I bet you never used it. How do you know when you'll be attacked? In your house, it will be locked in a safe place, so you cannot use it fast if anybody breaks into your house. And what if your kid find it? Buying a gun just out of fear is not justified. Why should we fall into the traps of gun profiteers?

        July 29, 2012 at 5:51 pm |
    • ZX6RR

      Exactly what are NRA types of people? I know a doctor who's an NRA member... and a lawyer, and a cook. Or did you mean the farmer, the janitor, or maybe the mother of three.

      July 29, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  12. ECF

    Guns Don't kill people, People kill people with guns! If your going to change laws how about changing the ones that deal specifically with the criminal/nutcase/gang member. How about America's Law makers come up with a punishment system that will have everyone think twice before using a gun! I would like to see law's that will hold criminals ACCOUNTABLE!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:08 pm |
  13. Factual Realist

    Wow! never seen such a blog (cause this is definitely journalism) have so many inconsistencies and inaccuracies. Here is the "twited" part that Fareed hopes most will not see in the "interesting graph" he is referring to – "Note that these figures include accidental shootings, suicides, even acts of self-defense" So basically, if you defend your family, you're a murderer too! Of course this is also how our govt. tries to keep everyone under this mode of thinking in that they categorize it the same way, so people Americans don't realize that Guns are used eight (8) times MORE, for self-defense than for criminal activity. I suppose Fareed is just trying to pass himself off as a journalist or trying to be the next Brian Williams (It's the Tea Party!). How can a so-called journalist actually sit there and write that places like Detroit, MI, New York City and Chicago, IL have lower violent crime rates than states that have much less restrictive gun policies. The FACTS are exactly opposite. America's gun laws have become much less-restrictive in the last 20 years and violent crime rates are at historical lows; while England, who banned guns outright over 10 years ago, has seen their violent crime via gun rate go up by 80%! I have never read a poorer piece of journalism with more twisted data in my life...The media; Right & Left continuing to prove that FACTS only get in the way of the ideological opinions the wish to push. Shame, Shame, shame on you Sir!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:09 pm |
  14. Patrick

    What makes you think that more gun laws will stop any of these attacks? Criminals do not follow the laws. If they want to kill someone they already have no problem breaking the law, so why would a "gun law" deter them. People have a right to protect themselves, if you take that right from law abiding citizens who follow the gun laws then what are they supposed to do when they are put in danger by someone breaking those laws. Drug laws don't stop drug dealers what makes you think gun laws will stop gun crimes?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  15. Unafiliated

    "Guns" is too broad a term, and is a major cause of the inability to compromise. I own "guns", but none of them would be effective in a standoff against the government, or in a rogue attack. "Guns" must be categorized before we can even have further conversation. First there are illegal firearms; those that are owned illegally, modified illegally, or attached to an illegal magazine. There can be no effect of new laws against these weapons, because, well, they are already illegal. Everything in the "legal" category can be further broken down. A semi-auto handgun is different from a revolver, is different from a pump-action shotgun, is different from a bolt-action rifle, is different from a single-shot-muzzleloader. I can assure you that the latter is barely adequate for hunting, and would be of no use in an assault. As a "gun owner", I own no weapon that could be categorized as a "assault" anything. So, don't ask my opinion about regulations governing my pre-64 Model 70 Featherweight .243 rifle. But, I AM OK with restrictions on AK-47s and the like. The dialogue needs to center around military style semi-automatic weapons... and facts and figures should only include that type of weapon. This article refers to 88 guns per every 100 people in America. That figure includes my .22 rifle, my three muzzleloading rifles, and my Remington 870 12-guage, that can't hit anything. I'd be much more interested in how many assault rifles there are, and what the rules are around them.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:10 pm |
  16. Chuck

    Mr. Zakaria,
    I understand the only reason for this article is to get people to flock to it and show more hits on the website, which is why people that read between the lines, realize this article was for personal gain and serves no purpose, That is why I refuse to engage in a debate over this senseless article. However, I was very excited and proud when I reviewed your map of the worlds gun ownership percentage. IT SERVES NOTICE TO OTHER COUNTRIES, NOT TO INVADE US. I liked it so much, I printed it out and hung it on my wall.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
    • ski2xs

      ^ 🙂 I think I'll follow that lead!

      July 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
    • Freako

      Well said, Chuck. I believe the big problem is that I come back every week to see what Fareed is going to write. There's always a statement with some skewed figures that don't justify the opinion. Suddenly people write in and challenge him, others vehementally fireback, soon other flamers jump aboard to add to the rancor. Overall, the replies keep coming and we have a sensational blog full of activity. I wish I could just ignore what ludicrous and slanted material is spewed out, but I always come back to read it. Perhaps I am part of the problem.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  17. dondijon


    July 29, 2012 at 1:12 pm |
  18. Jay

    By FAR the most ignorant and anti-American hack on TV. Fareed Zakaria clearly has no idia what "personal accountability" is... Sorry kiddo's guns aren't the problem, never seen a gun wake up and decide to rob & kill someone. We have a "People Problem". The sooner you accept that the sooner we can cut down the violence. You anti 2nd Amendment people should be ashamed of yourselves.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  19. Jordan


    US isn't even in the top 10 for murder rate per capita. You have to look at MURDER per CAPITA. Not a total number. How stupid do you think American's are? A basic sociology class will teach you that you never base an opinion like this on total numbers, but per capita numbers.

    We take away guns, people will just kill each other more violently. Then what? We ban knives, forks... start arresting people for sharpening a stick or cutting wood to heat their home? Anti-gun activists are delusional and place blame on a single factor. Do guns attribute to crime? Of course. However if we take them away and restrict them even more, society will just come up with other means of committing these crimes.

    So which will it be Fareed? Will you continue to belittle and squander your potential of being a meaningful member of American society that we have allowed you to be a part of? Or will you change your Democratic agenda and finally start reporting news NON-PARTISAN as any REAL (non-fascist) journalist would? I'm sure in your younger days of learning journalism and reporting that you were an honest man, out to report the news as it is... not as your wallet makes it.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm |
  20. Jay

    Key word here, "CONTROL".. Nuff said.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm |
  21. JohnCJC

    interesting. but, you can skew facts anyway you like them. Gun laws... Chicago, Philadelphia, DC.. have the most strict gun laws in the country. And they have the highest gun crime in the country. Why? Criminals. Talking gun deaths, why dont you give the data on who did the killing. The majority being gang and other criminal activity. These "gun owners' are already possessing guns, illegally. So how does more gun laws make any difference in these cases. You can write whatever other laws you want, and such people are going to continue to ignore them just as they do now. Again, you are only limiting the law abiding citizen. You want to lower those numbers? Then do more again gang and other criminal activities. makes the punishments even harsher. MORE laws are not going to change things.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  22. Shane

    A free America, is an armed America. Always has, always will be....... Until the liberal Democrats try to take your freedoms away.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:17 pm |
  23. FlaEMT

    Sorry, my last post should have read "Where , therefore, is the obvious correlation BETWEEN gun ownership. . ." My brain was working faster than my fingers.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  24. Don

    Nice map...coincidentally, the most of the green shaded FREE countries are free countries because we are not green..in more than one sense of the word. We know that a people who have the right to bear arms keeps us as citizens...not subjects. Freedom is not free..it comes with some high prices. But for the most part, the USA is the greatest country in the world and having the right to bear arms (of any kind) is what keeps us that way. You may disagree, but I would hate to test the theory and lose what we have...getting it back would be a long, bloody fight! People kill people and those who do not care about the law will find a way to get what they want to accomplish whatever evil they have in mind. An armed citizenry is the strongest dis-incentivizer to criminal activity...just go to a gun range and see how many people get out of line! Fareed has the freedom to write his story because of the way of the USA...he could lose it just as well should we opt to ever give up our rights under the 2nd ammendment. Think about it!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm |
  25. hueygunner69

    There's another global map similar to this one but it rates the deaths per 1,000. Places like South America and South Africa are at or near the top of the list when it comes to killing people. The U.S. falls in the middle of this list.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
  26. Zach Abass

    The article mentions US gun homicides as being higher than Switzerland's, when the majority of men in Switzerland are REQUIRED to have a fully automatic weapon until age 30 at home (if, after 30, they still desire to keep it, it is converted to semi-automatic).
    Also, be aware gun ownership stats in many countries – both legal and illegal – will be reported very inaccurately. One need only look as far as Mexico for an example, where the country's Presidenr is calling for US gun control because gun violence there is high a d there are parts of the country where the government doesn't have full control. Military members desert, talking their automatic weapons with them, drug lords source fully automatic weapons from various countries (other than the US, see below) and so on. Also, the number of actual gun deaths versus those reported, much less reported internationally, will be somewhat higher.
    And contrary to the article's assertion that US ownership of automatic weapons has gotten easier, it hasn't. The last legislation on it was in 1986, which further restricted it and limited the pool of legally ownable autos to ones in existence prior to its passage. Which has served, among other things, to steadily drive the price of this fixed, no replenishing pool ever higher and higher. "Assault weapons" are NOT automatics, assault rifles are, and those come with a high purchase price, a $200 tax stamp, and BATFE approval (which includes a FBI investigation).

    July 29, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  27. JustTheFacts

    Yes BUT, if you look up the statistics for intentional homicides per capital by country you will see that not only is the U.S. below the world average, it is far it is far safer than all those countries and regions which you cite as a models of peace and safety. This tells me that most of the homicides in the world are commited by means other than firearms. According to the Bible the first recorded homicide is when Cain slew Able, probably with a rock, the only thing that has changed is distance and accuracy that we can throw that rock.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:20 pm |
  28. SUAMW

    "We cannot change the tortured psychology of madmen like James Holmes. What we can do is change our gun laws."

    Therein lies the problem.

    People like Zakaria won't support laws which would force Holmes to take antipsychotic meds (right now, the law says a schizophrenic doesn't have to take these meds, if they don't want to) out of respect for their rights to self-determination, so they will go after the right to self-defense of sane, law-abiding people.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:21 pm |
  29. Paul Bergen

    Factually this is wrong, and it completely overlooks the OBVIOUS reason why we have so much more violence in the US. First, in Switzerland, for example, the men in EVERY family are issued military assault weapons and given firearm training. The statement, then, that the US leads the world in guns per person is wrong. Switzerland does. Yet Switzerland doesn't ever have this kind of violence. The reason is obvious.

    Go to YouTube and look up Katy Perry's new music video "Part of Me". In it, she has a military assault rifle and she's mowing down a group of people (cardboard props, of course). Glue some 3d glasses and a tub of popcorn to the props and you have the scene in Aurora. Precisely. And it's set to rousing music, patriotic flag waving, etc. Yet, American society sees this is a wonderful thing. She's a patriotic all-American girl. Americans would counter, of course, that those cardboard people she slaughtered weren't part of our group (ie Americans), they were an outside group (like Iranians). Americans would argue that mowing down people within our own group (fellow Americans like in Aurora) is an unspeakable, horrific, insane act of violence. But mowing down people outside our group is the most wonderful thing a patriotic, God-fearing American can do. Google "Christians Boo as Ron Paul Proposes Golden Rule" and you'll see the Republican debate where the candidates are asked what to do with Iran (an outside group), and when Ron Paul says "practice the golden rule", he's boo'd off the stage, and when Gingrich says "kill them", he gets a standing ovation.

    Even the author of this article, Fareed, falls into that bloodthirsty category. Remember 10 years ago when Bush/Cheney got the itch to blow stuff up and kill people. The easy target was Iraq. Our earlier attack and crippling sanctions left them defenseless. They had no functional military. They had no WMD's (this was SO OBVIOUS to any pragmatic person even back in 2003—and the UN inspectors confirmed it). Their infrastructure was lying in ruin. So they were an easy target that we knew wouldn't be able to fight back. Fareed was one of the cheerleaders encouraging us to go in and kill them. When “Borat” addressed a rodeo and said 'May George Bush drink the blood of every single man, woman and child of Iraq! May you destroy their country so that for the next thousand years not even a single lizard will survive in their desert,” the crowd of patriotic Americans jumped to their feet and applauded. This would never have happened in anywhere but the US. If you addressed a stadium in Paris and said 'Let's kill every Brit!', the crowd would gasp in horror.

    This idea that the proper way to deal with anybody who's not in our group, who's not one of us, is to kill them, is a uniquely American phenomenon. Now, take an outcast, like Holmes, who feels like he's not part of “the group”. He feels about Americans like Americans feel about Iraqis. Should we REALLY be surprised that he does exactly what American society tells him he should do to outsiders?

    Why don't you ever address the obvious, core, fundamental issues like this, Fareed, instead of being off in the weeds debating little side points?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:22 pm |
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