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. mtram

    Spoken like a true liberal. Hold a mechanical device to blame not the person. When looking at so called facts, ask youaelf why this tragedy and Columbine (located a few miles away) happened in a predominantly liberal area. Based on your logic liberals are more likely to commit mass murder.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  2. Beth

    Sorry, we are 40 years too late for gun control.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  3. Yon

    No go back and look at the facts of counties and cities and look at the massive death where guns are the most restrictive. Also note these counties and cities are entirely blue and have been for decades. There are a lot of red counties in every state. Go back to Indian Faraad.
    "What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. Let them take arms."
    Thomas Jefferson
    to James Madison

    July 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  4. musclecar61

    I for one get tired of liberals doing their best to tell me how I am supposed to live and what I can or can't do. The US has allot of guns I admit that however that doesn't make gun owners criminals. I spent 37 years in the military and from 2001 to 2006 I was deployed to both AOR's Afghanastan and Iraq and every other muslem country have far more fire arms and explosives than Americans and murder far more than anyone else in the world they murder innocent people by the hundreds wit guns and bombs, don't expect me or other retired military to give a dam, I don't have any use for muslems either over there or here there will never be gun control in the muslem nations and I don't want to hear what a rag head has to say about gun control in the US either. One thing for sure Americans love their guns and are not willing to give them up to the liberals. The 2nd ammendment is there for a reason and Obama and his henchmen wount be allowed to ignore it.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  5. gelgoogguy

    I highly suggest EVERYONE read this. http://gunfacts.info/

    July 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  6. dreamer96

    Let's be realistic the NRA control our Congress..and now with the Super PAC's they will hold on to the goverment...SO we might as well all buy bullet proof vest and hope we are not shot in the head....

    July 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • GBM

      Garbage. The NRA is the major organization behind safe, responsible firearms owner ship. They lobby for an educated approach to firearms laws. Calling a law a gun law does not make it an intelligent or productive move as there are just too many people working from ignorance or prejudice involved in creating these laws. The NRA provides a buffer to their ignorance and prejudice.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm | Reply
  7. no gun needed

    feel free to take away all guns from the gun people.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  8. Steve C

    Such a weak statistical case. Pathetic actually. Why not look into the homicide rates in chicago and dc where there is a gun law.

    I resent being lectured by someone who was not born here and haven't walked in the average Americans shoes.

    July 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm | Reply
    • chris

      Look at the map again friend. The one free has more guns Per capita, but the other country's have more civil rights problems. The lighter the country, the more oppressed the people are. The guy that wrote this article had tunnel vision, and could not see an obvious fallacy in his argument.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  9. paige

    Amazing that the most oppressed countries are the ones with the less guns. Homicide rates are not calculated in those countries because the government does all the killing and is therefore legal, and not murder. The free countries in the world are the ones in dark shades because our guns keep up free from a dictatorial government. Only when bleeding heart laws are applied and gun control is in place do we see homicides sky rocket. If every person in the Colorado theatre was armed, that man would have been dead in 2 seconds. But he probably would not have come in the first place. Nut cases don't want to be gunned down by citizens. It takes the Hollywood out of their delusion of grandeur. Armed citizenry are the backbone of freedom. But we can take a few lessons from another armed country who has not ever been invaded. See this article.
    and this one

    Let's get some rational thinking from all you "free thinkers" out there. Fix the problem and stop blaming a piece of metal.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  10. AuroraCOresident36

    these facts that Fareed are throwing out there are not exactly correct.. Some states and some cities have very strict gun control laws.. Like Chicago, New York and L.A.. these states and cities have the Highest occurence of murders and violence in General, with the exception of Alaska which has so few people and such a high percentage of crime..
    The fact is Gun Laws only effect the law abiding.. Criminals dont really care about the law to begin with.. I live in Aurora CO about a mile from movie theater.. Its a sad thing yes.. but if we start making laws in America based on what Crazy people do then we will be under house arrest based on what a very small number of Crazy Americans do... More people die a year from car accidents, smoking and obesity related health issues by a mile.. And yet Gun violence is the only one people seem to cry about.. Your far more likely to die from that big mac your eating than by a bullet..

    July 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
    • ask23000

      Actually, your rationale is wrong. Most of the illegal guns that end up in these cities that have lots of gun violence are smuggled in from OUT OF STATE. These cities - which tend to have gun control laws - are where these out of state guns end up. The guns come from states WITHOUT gun control laws and are smuggled into states WITH them. For example, the New York State attorney general has said that around 90% of the guns used to commit crimes in New York City come from out of state. They come across the Iron Pipeline from states like Virginia and Georgia to New York City. The same is true in Chicago, L.A. and other big cities with gun control laws. The guns that end up in these cities that are used to commit crimes are usually purchased - often legally - in states without gun control laws and are then ILLEGALLY smuggled into these cities.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Reply
      • GBM

        Yes, the guns are smuggled in. You would see the same scenario for gun access for criminals and nut cases if the entire country had a total ban in place. Guns are always available for criminals. The history of the "war on drugs" should be instructive.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  11. JC in Western U.S.

    Maybe our debate could actually get us somewhere if we had more and better data. It would be good if data was kept on accidental injuries with guns as well as on gun crime. It would be helpful if we knew how many gun crimes were committed by registered vs. unregistered guns. It would be good to know how many shooting injuries were accidental, vs self-inflicted vs. inflicted on others. It would be helpful to know exactly what type of guns were most often used in crimes. It doesn't seem really rational to make assumptions that semi-automatic weapons are the big problem unless we know that more deaths are attributable to them than to, for example, .22 pistols. Frankly, I doubt it very much. We may be screaming loudest about the wrong kind of guns. And we might be exaggerating the dangers of various gun crimes or making assumptions about certain kinds of ammunition. We need to have a discussion based on facts not on assumptions and I don't think we have enough data to be able to do that very well.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
    • GBM

      The "kind of gun" really is irrelevant. It's all about the person using it. If one kind is not available or criminal chic another weapon will be used.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:09 pm | Reply
  12. Rico53

    ok they wouldnt show my last post so this will be short and to the point, i believe Holmes was dressed in armor not for a shootout to the death with cops , he surrendered too quick for that , he was afraid he would encounter an armed citizen with a concealed carry permit that would defend himself. This will be proven at the trail.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  13. Yon

    The AR15 is a semi-automatic weapon, but any weapon can be modified. Even fertilizer can be modified and if that were done, everyone in the theatre would be dead. Not just 12

    "Are we at last brought to such humiliating and debasing degradation, that we cannot be trusted with arms for our defense? Where is the difference between having our arms in possession and under our direction and having them under the management of Congress? If our defense be the real object of having those arms, in whose hands can they be trusted with more propriety, or equal safety to us, as in our own hands?"
    Patrick Henry
    American Patriot

    July 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  14. don't touch my gun

    let's see, another liberal socialist agenda propaganda tool to use. History has shown when the government removes the populaces ability to fight back, the tyranny begins ie Hitler, Hussien, and now Assad. So Fareed while u live in your crystal palace of one world love, I choose to maintain my ability to fight back, especially now that this planet is becoming more destabilized by the poor economic decisions of the few who have full compliment security with better weapons that I don't even have. I for one will refuse to lay down and accept the policy of one world govenorship...I am an American not a United Nations citizen. If someone is deranged enough, not having a gun isn't going to stop them. What next take away all the house hold silverware?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  15. doug

    All the gun fanatics will moan and groan about taking their guns away – the solution? Maybe it should be a law that every U.S. citizen MUST own a gun – we get rid of all law enforcement and go back to the days of the wild-wild west where we each are responsible for our safety – shoot outs – whatever it takes – seems like we are almost there now.....

    Of course it is common knowledge the bigger a man's gun the smaller his manhood...... 🙂 🙂

    July 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  16. chris

    Did anyone notice that the lighter the color on the map, the more oppressed the people are in that country. Just wanted to point that out. Dictators sure love when their citizens are not armed.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
    • doug

      Yes – it definitely is true that in Scandanavia – Germany – France – UK – the country in green or light green – YES – dictators in those countries keep their citizens from being armed – WOW – amazing that you know this rarely understood "fact" lol

      July 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  17. Twit Happens

    Guns have one purpose – to destroy. Ban assult weapons now. Stop the killing of the innocents, ban guns. You may be the next victim whether you're "carrying" or not.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  18. Kuron

    The USA is the safest country in the world. Know why? All the guns! If guns make us safe, then the USA is the safest place in the world.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  19. P.U.

    Fareed....please go away. You really just hate this country. Please stop trying to change it and go educate the people from YOUR country. By the way, can you stop shipping off people to be educated here and stay? In other words, I think that the people of ASIA sure could use some intellect to solve infrastructure and other problems. Why is it that MOST foreign students wind up staying in the US instead of taking their education and uplifting their OWN people?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
    • doug

      WOW!!! What a racist bigot you are!!!! Great letters for – PEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUU

      July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  20. Notaposter

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

    This sentence is enough to crash down all the validity of the article. It tells me the author is completely ignorant about gun laws and probably wouldn't be able to tell a flintlock pistol for an assault rifle.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  21. NauticalMan

    Why are so many arguing over whether a weapon is automatic or semi-automatic? It takes a lot more practice and skill to fire an automatic weapon accurately, so semi auto is the killing weapon off choice for any nutcase. I don't think any of the 32,000 people killed by firearms each year in the United States cared about the difference. Come on folks, just have some sensible laws. Why are we allowing people to buy weapons at gun shows in 30 odd states without having their names run through to check whether they are mentally ill or have a criminal history? This seems like common sense..

    July 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
    • ski2xs

      Are you absolutely out of touch? EVERY gun sale at EVER gun show has to do the same check that is done at a gun dealer.

      Where do 'you people' come up with this information . . . . . oh, wait. That was a stupid question

      July 29, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  22. Drew

    This is not a gun control issue. If you make guns illegal, people will still have them. If more people in that theater had a gun and knew how to use it, less people probably would have died as they could have defended themselves. Guns being illegal would not stop a manic from kiling people. He would have found a way. Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  23. Make drugs illegal too!

    We should also make drugs, like cocaine, illegal, then they won't exist here in America!

    Making something illegal doesn't mean they won't exist, it means that law-abiding poeple won't have them.

    Welcome to reality

    July 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  24. John

    I like how he mentions the interesting graph he saw recently, even though the graph/article is 18 months old.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  25. dewayne

    The simple fact is more people are kill by knives every tear than guns. Should arm troops run around and collect all the kitchen knives

    July 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  26. KyRunner

    fareed isnt even American, he is just an antagonist and nothing more

    July 29, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  27. Bill

    Everyone seems to get sidetracked with their arguments and comments on here. I take no sides. I think people should be able to purchase a firearm through whatever legal means we as a democratic society deem appropriate. I really would like an honest answer to two questions:

    Why do we have so many more guns per person in the USA than every other country on the planet?

    What is the specific need we have for all these guns in the USA that the rest of the human race apparently does not have?

    Remember, I'm not a gun hater. If someone breaks into your home, I think you should be able to shoot them as many times as you'd like.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
    • keith123

      Why do we have so many more guns per person in the USA than every other country on the planet?
      What is the specific need we have for all these guns in the USA that the rest of the human race apparently does not have?

      We have the right to own guns. We are a relatively wealthy country and, therefore, we can afford to buy guns. We appreciate the functions and factors associated with the various types of guns and ammunition. Concerning hunting, squirrel hunting generally requires a different type of gun / ammo than you would use for deer, etc. Some people enjoy collecting guns just as some people enjoy collecting coins, knives, stamps, cars, etc. I saw this morning where one man collects toasters and he has 1100 of them. He doesn't use them, but he appreciates their various types of mechanisms and visual appeal. I own several guns and enjoy shooting each one for its own characteristics.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  28. Peikovianyii

    Farhud's stance on terrorism is well-served by his request for a disarmed American public.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:07 pm | Reply
  29. Q1

    Right...and therefore those places with fewer guns have a much higher rate of gun violence. Stop picking on US. WE are not the problem.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  30. mike

    Great! Here is another example of some author taking a tragedy and turning it into so gun control movement. He lists so called facts with numbers of gun violence. Lets ask a different question about the amount of deaths caused by guns around the world. How many deaths in America are due to legally purchased guns? There will be some but a fraction of the number that is mentioned in this article. We should add psychological evaluations to gun owning rights but that is all. The rest vast majority of the deaths are made with illegal guns. Getting rid of guns or Lessing the amount of guns will solve nothing Look at Chicago and their gun control laws. They got rid of all gun ownership in the city and guess what? The gun murder rate grew higher.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
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