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. Jawal

    FIRST: The Second Amendment is not a hunting clause: It is a right to defend ourselves against tyranny of the state and out of control people who have no moral center. I am willing to discuss gun control when liberals in America are willing to discuss abortion control; an out of control nihilistic entertainment industry that caters to the lowest common denominator because they know depravity sells; a criminal justice system that liberals have destroyed by stopping the executions of career and violent criminals at a hideous cost to society because the death penalty offends their sensibilities. When liberals are willing to discuss the welfare state THEY CREATED THAT has destroyed the black family and the ghettos that their policies have created–I will be willing to discuss limiting my guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  2. SciGuy73

    Could we include the statistics on people blowing other people up in other countries?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  3. spiked3

    two thoughts; The US population, at the moment is willing to accept the correlated gun violence that goes with broad gun ownership. That's ok, it's their (our) choice to make. And on that alone it should be the end of that discussion.
    The second point though, is one we should be disusing; the ambiguous second amendment. currently the conservative SCUS partisanly interprets the amendment for their side. But one seat change, and it will go the other way. All those, who now claim 'it my second amendment right' will lose that right overnight. Instead of depending on ambiguity, there should be a push to pass clear intent laws/amendment defining the right to self defense, that can not be re-interpreted by a partisan court.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
  4. R.L.

    I think penalties for gun-related crimes should be tighter, and carry heavier sentences. There are enough weapons in the USA that there are lots of people who can trade or acquire them without even going to a store so trying to make it harder to buy a gun really just pushes people towards trading with each other rather than legal purchase. Making responsible purchases and registrations, or even offering a tax break for people who register would make our country a little safer?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
    • GBM

      Some sort of tax break for responsible ownership might be a good idea. Most laws in place right now put a financial burden on the firearms owner, creating discrimination against lower income groups (black Americans for one) and trend towards ownership by the elite and politically connected.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  5. Gary

    Gun Control, no gun control, I don’t have the answer. What I do know is I was raised in a country that has a 2nd amendment right to have and own guns. With that, I will defend and protect my family and God forbid I have too, I will do it with the guns I own. I like the article, like the facts. I especially like the fact that stated “We are the world’s most heavily-armed civilian population”.
    Stopping the crazies and the criminals is going to be hard enough, I for one am not going to depend on anyone else to defend me or my family. I thank the Lord every day; I have not had to take action and pray I never do. But if it happens, at least I am ready.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  6. Bob Syorunkl

    Could someone tell me what gun law would have prevented this shooting?

    July 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  7. Meki60

    dont see much of Obama these days, oh, I forgot its Ramadan

    July 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Wildone

      Don't even start with your Muslim crap. He's probably more of a Christian than you are.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  8. James

    Wow this is front page on CNN again....I'm shocked. Talk about the most left leaning "news" organization.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • Wildone

      Interesting, isn't it. Kinda like how they ran the same story about the Travon Martin shooting over and over and over just to stir the pot.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  9. waynegorsek

    Mr. Fareed Zakari,

    I would suggest you study the founding fathers of American and their intent with the 2nd Amendment. They wanted Americans to own guns to protect themselves from both criminals and their own Government. If you want to live in America you would be wise to learn about these wise men. The problems we have today is because we have not followed their advice. We allow tens of millions of illegals into the country and we have created a welfare state of crime and poverty because the government provides not only allows it but promotes this behavior and as a result is bankrupting our country both morally and financially as a result. Great examples of law abiding citizens owning and carrying guns would be to compare the CO theater shooting versus the FL internet cafe robbery. In CO no one had guns to defend themselves and others and as a result many were killed, in FL an elderly man shot two armed robbers and no innocent persons were killed! One of the big problems in America is the police failing to solve and apprehend 95 – 99% of serious crimes/criminals and instead focusing on traffic citations that generate revenues! Another problem is the fact when the police do apprehend the 1 – 5% of criminals the awful judges/lawyers allow them out on bail or they get a slap on the hand with probation. In fact the two armed robbers in FL were out on bail in just a few days! In fact I had a business in FL where a warehouse employee tried to kill another employee with a box cutter, we held him until police arrived, they arrested him and within a few days he was out on bail and later got probation! Also reviewing your home countries track record on crime is quite dismal with rates of violent up several hundred percent. Why are you not covering and solving their problems first? In fact the massive terrorist killings that occurred in India could have been stopped or at least reduced with armed citizens!


    Wayne Gorsek
    Founder, Chairman & CEO

    July 29, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  10. 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 we have 75% more guns on our streets. I could go on and on comparing these types of stats. Chicago has had 228 homicides this year, we lost 144 soldiers in Afghanistan in the same amount of time.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  11. TG

    One in every three people knows someone who has been shot? 100 people couold know the one person that has been shot. Also, subtract all military personnel that were shot abroad. What is your number then? Or, maybe the stats of people who have actually been shot per 1000 is not as attractive as your article might like.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  12. Sherri

    I fail to see why Fareed is quoted or asked for his opinion on anything like this. What are his qualifications to be writing this article? I thought he was an economics person or something, yet I see his byline on articles about anything and everything. I do not care about his opinion really. But I don't know why CNN or any other media outlet are even letting him write articles about things outside his area of expertise. And yes, if he does not like our laws, he can go back home. Where he will not have freedom of speech, freedom of thought or freedom period. Fareed, keep to you own area.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  13. Bob

    There goes Fareed taking giant leaps of logic again to defend his liberalism. We have more gun violence in America because we are much bigger than England or Germany. We have many more people as well. If you compared us to a country of the same size and population, I highly doubt there would be a big difference. If somebody started shooting in another nation, you would just end up dead. At least in most of this nation you could try to defend yourself.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  14. G

    Guns are tools. If you hand me a screw driver I may use it to do some work around the house. If you hand that same screwdriver to a madman he may use it to stab someone. Do we need stronger screw driver controlls? The tool isn't the problem. This guy had his apartment booby-trapped with explosives. Would tougher gun laws have prevented those IEDs? I'm pretty sure that building bombs in your apartment is flat out illegal. Clearly if his intent was to do harm he could do it without a gun and outside of the law. A firearm is a tool. A tool does nothing without an operator. The tool is not the issue. This article compares gun numbers in other nations, try comparing crime for crime rather than tool for tool.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:45 pm | Reply
    • RealTorr

      With your reasoning, I, as a proven non-madman, should be allowed to carry semtex + detonator when getting into a plane. Semtex does not kill people.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  15. Meki60

    hey Fareed, you are supposed to be 'low key' during Ramadan

    July 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  16. Doubtful

    What the author fails to point out that funs are not the point, killing is. There are plenty of ways to kill and as our Muslim brothers have so aptly proven there are many ways to improvise killing devices without needs of manufactured guns. The issue at hand is the desire to kill. Edged weapons, explosives, even bows and arrows are easily acquired or hand made. It is simply a matter of availability that so many Americans use guns. So far, blowing people up hasn't become the national past time.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  17. Christian Ciao

    For this ridiculous commentary by "FAREED", not only will I get at least one more gun... I will stop using CNN for anything. Ted Turner can drop dead.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • Meki60

      Jane Fonda would agree with that

      July 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  18. Mack

    Oh Fareed! When will you learn that us gun-loving folk is immune to all your fancy booklearnin smarts, logic, reason, common sense and cogent arguments. We clings to our guns, religion and proud lack of a quality education. We even vote Republican and support the NRA right-wing agenda at the expense of our socioeconomic interests. We say; keep America locked and loaded while proudly dumb and paranoid! YEE-HAA, TEA PARTY FOREVER!!

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

      Liberal troll

      July 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • keith123

      Concerning education, it has been the liberal mentality to teach to the lowest common denominator. In other words, dumbing down the quality of education in America.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
    • GBM

      How droll. When one's arguments look worn and shabby, there is always personal attack.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm | Reply
  19. Meki60

    Fareed reminds me of an arab goofey

    July 29, 2012 at 1:47 pm | Reply
    • Retired cop


      July 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  20. Meki60

    disarm the populus – communism 101

    July 29, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  21. Jack

    The solution is simple. We need to pass a law that makes it illegal to murder someone. That would solve this. Then put a NO GUNS sign on every door at the movie theater. Oh wait, that was already the case in CO. See how silly making more gun laws seems? For those who want to get rid of all guns entirely, I hope you are ready for the tyranny and mass murder that has followed in many other countries in the 20th century. See this Chart http://jpfo.org/filegen-a-m/deathgc.htm

    July 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  22. Dot8

    Maybe we should give Australia and England a call ... its time to change America into light green.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  23. Bob

    Oh, and U.S. crime is actually down since gun laws have loosened.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  24. AirBorne

    I respect much of the reportage this man has done. And often agree with him.

    I disagree in this particular however. I believe the U.S. does indeed have far more "NUT JOB'S" (as he describes), what I take to mean, mentally clear-thinking. yet otherwise emotionally challenged citizens.

    Today's U.S. culture, is fractured in so many way's, that the person who "seems" the most capable, may actually be far more over-burdened with self doubt, and assumptions of guilt, for long buried decisions, that sum up personal worth, and continue to influence current thought's and decisions , although no longer valid. He, or she, is shown lives of others in fictional way's," winners", that seem so distant, or "loser's" that seem far too close for comfort, and are known as episodic T.V. yet also resemble an inner feeling state too real to deny.

    When pressure builds, to ACT, more in line with whats' personally WANTED for one's life, only to meet with an inevitable failure, (as no real change has been accomplished, since that requires actual work finding and acknowledging one's inner beliefs), than an almost palpable depression can be graphed, and predicted. Choices when depressed, as any expert in the mental health fields can attest, are very often poor in quality and produce badly.

    So, gun's are a problem, YES, assault weapons are an especially bad idea, except in time's of war!

    Yet, the problem of human's that decide to use WEAPONS to communicate an idea, or a thought, or their feelings, instead of their language skill's, or writing skill's or artistic skill's is an area that I believe is the real value of the United State's of America. Enough political, courage and will by enough of the ELECTED officials in positions of power, can actually face, deal with, and lead the entire world toward, a solution. A solution that involves the human animals EMOTIONAL EVOLUTION. It could! Will it? Man that's the question, I really don't know. Too often pure greed take's over, since this nation is built on capitalism and capitalism by it's nature, is literally GOD to so many, I don't know if EMOTIONAL and MENTAL health, and honest understanding of reality could ever get enough traction to gain momentum here.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
    • Bill

      After that rambling rant, I'd seriously question your mental stability.

      July 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • Be-be

      O.k. there should be gun control. FOR THIS GUY!

      July 29, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
  25. Adam Hawkes

    Eat a dick Fareed you freeking unexceptional towel head!

    July 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Meki60

      you left out 'pig's' right after 'eat a'

      July 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  26. Dave

    Oh goodie, let's take his map of gun ownership and do the same thing of adding a bit more data to it; this time adding in genocides and government funded killings of the citizenry.

    But hey, let's just spew out statistically unsound speculation and copy-paste jobs of data from elsewhere, cause that's the best way to prove you know what you're talking about. /sarcasm

    July 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Meki60

      Dave, good reply

      July 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  27. keith123

    Well, the largest recent mass murder in this country was conducted by muslims using airplanes. With 3,000 lives lost, this amounted to what, roughly 60 times the number of vicitms (injured and killed) of the CO murder. We have laws regulating flights just as we have laws regulating guns. For those arguing banning guns, should we also ban planes and/or muslims? Yes, guns are manufactured for killing as well as general shooting sports. Planes are manufactured for flying, but have been used for unscrupulous activites as well. The solution is not to ban guns or planes, the problem is with responsibility. People like Zacharia try to put the blame on inanimate objects so they can try to control things rather than apply the blame to personal irresponsibility. If people would be held accountable for their actions, I believe you would see a lot less violence in this country. But as long as the blame can be passed off to others, objects, or insanity then there will be no improvement. How about it Fareed, when will you start promoting personal accountability for actions instead of trying to ban objects. Prohibition has never worked and never will.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  28. Be-be

    Fareed try to get my guns and you will get a bad case of lead poisoning

    July 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
  29. kaganmikhail

    BTW, Fareed.

    When they come to get the guns by force...I hope your leading the pack from the front.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Be-be

      Probably not muslim men usually use women and children as shields

      July 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  30. Damon

    If you add the fact that most of the violent crimes involving guns occur in states/municipalities with the most strict gun control laws, then it turns your whole article into toilet paper.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
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