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. thelivingnotebook

    Why do so many people defend their second amendment rights in one breath and call Obama a dictator in the other? Either Obama isn't as bad as these people claim, or they're windbags who are too afraid to rise up in defense of the rights Obama has supposedly stolen. What a joke.

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

    If you can assure me 100% that there are not going to be any gun, not one in the hands of anyone then I could say my life is not in danger and you can have your gun control... but if only one gun goes through then my life could be over... that being the case, my life is what matters the most to me...

    Can you guarantee my life....?

    Until you can do that... then there is no way I am going to agree with gun control....

    You can take your facts and keep them as a number because at the end of the day I am the one who cares... hence every single one of my fellow citizens.. would you care about the numbers if you were killed last weekend...?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  3. Inspector

    So, they know, FOR A FACT, that the countries in different colors have ONLY that many guns? I seriously DOUBT THAT. When guns are outlawed, everyone knows that people who break the law and who are OUTLAWS will and do have guns. So, one might think that there are two guns for every 100 people in a certain country. Do you really think the people that are not "on the list" are going to come out saying "you forgot to count the eight guns I have hidden!"

    Let's face it, there will always be guns as long as there are people needing them for both protection and for hunting. If a government takes "all" the guns away, what does history show happens NEXT? After the guns are gone, people can be rounded up by the hundreds by a single person and anything can be done with them, anything. Look at history.

    If more people protected themselves through legal carrying, people bent on shooting people would most likely forget it or find another way.

    Are we also going to take away everyone's cars, how about matches and lighters? Some crazed nut could easily kill many people by going full speed into a crowd of people.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • Carlos

      Well said... 🙂

      If you can assure me 100% that there are not going to be any gun, not one in the hands of anyone then I could say my life is not in danger and you can have your gun control... but if only one gun goes through then my life could be over... that being the case, my life is what matters the most to me...

      Can you guarantee my life....?

      Until you can do that... then there is no way I am going to agree with gun control....

      You can take your facts and keep them as a number because at the end of the day I am the one who cares... hence every single one of my fellow citizens.. would you care about the numbers if you were killed last weekend...?

      July 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  4. rg

    guns don,t kill ,i seen the movie ,john wayne did not die at the alamo .and tom berenger did not die in platoon

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  5. Freedom


    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  6. ABC

    Fareed, I have yet to hear you say anything positive about America. If you hate this country so much you should get your @$$ back to Pakistan

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  7. RichardSRussell

    The real reason this happens so often in the United States is partly because we've got lots of guns, yes, but also because we've got lots of people: 310,000,000 of them. Just by sheer random chance in a nation this size, we're going to get a fair number of "nutjobs".
    Yes, it's horrible that Holmes blew away a dozen people in Aurora. But why is that news? Because it's RARE!
    You know what they'd call a dozen people mowed down in Afghanistan? Friday. What would they call it in Somalia? Coffee break.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  8. Scott Dickison

    Why is it that any time that a crime is committed with a firearm does everyone want to take the firearms away from the people that didn't do it?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  9. Jake

    Where are the stats on lives saved by lawful use of guns? How many crimes were prevented or stopped?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  10. GW

    I want to see the statistic that show how much money CNN, its shareholders, and senior leadership give to the anti-gun lobby every year?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  11. Ryan

    In Switzerland 1 in 2 of their citizens have guns…and look at their crime rate!
    Guns don’t kill people, crazy criminals do! Get rid of crazy criminals!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  12. Goinz

    The fact that 95% of the posts here are defensive and try to justify the right to bear arms shows that there really is a problem in US society. Folks, YOU DO NOT NEED FIREARMS. Look at any other western country on the map. FIREARMS ARE NOT REQUIRED. This self-defenese debate is nonsense. The only use that guns have is to make the NRA and weapon industry richer.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
    • acutabove

      Guns are actually used more often to save lives in the USA than are used to take lives. To limit guns would be to increase deaths.
      http//: gunowners.org/guns-save-lives.htm

      July 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  13. Ron

    bottom line if you outlaw guns, people who obey the law and strictly have guns for defense of their family or for hunting will be the ones who
    Comply with the law. Criminals will continue to get weapons illegally if they want them and there will be no deterrent for them to commit all the violent crimes that you mention have dropped significantly. I bet there is a strong correlation between the increase in weapon ownership and the massive decrease in violent crime.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  14. dc

    When will Fareed run for President? He's about as full of himself as our current President. Both have book smarts and not enough common sense to pour pee out of a boot!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  15. dcc09

    Fareed is missing something in the US you also have 5% of the world's population and 25% of the worlds prison population. You either have a nation where the community is able to protect others and individuals stand up themselves as well as for others. Or one where individuals are too frightened, of even their own neighbors and at times resort to last measures to stand up for themselves.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  16. acutabove

    This is the worst argument put forward by anti-gun seekers I've seen in a long time. No wonder CNN has lost audience and the chief has resigned.

    The problem today is a problem of culture. Most guns and ammo are bought by lawful people who want to protect themselves from lawess and/or nutty criminals who are produced by our culture. Our laws and our courts refuse to protect the people, so the people try to protect themselves. Then the very people who would not put crimanals away are the ones condemning the ones trying to protect themselves! The law of unintended consequenses.

    This 'reporter' compares us to countries that have lower death rates becuse their culture will not promote murder. Notice how he did not compare us to those many, many countries that have few guns but higher murder rates like SE Asia and most of Africa. People in those countries murder more effectively with bombs! Guns are too slow!

    The USA is not a non-violent culture because we are a blend of many different cultures including the violent ones. This blend also provides benefits but the state would have us all the same and blah.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  17. rburns

    What's the evidence for the assumption that "nutcases" would be evenly distributed in all populations?

    If a person's environment contributes to mental illness, then Zakaria's assumption is false from the get-go.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  18. Mike M.

    Where there is a will, there is a way. You dont need a gun to kill somebody, and you can't isolate a report of violent crimes to guns only and consider the study not biased or isolated. Within context a "good" writer can make the "data" say what they want it to, but for it to really have merit the full scale of violent crimes and the tools used needs to also be presented.

    Just trying to sell ads...

    July 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  19. No more Guns

    We do have too many guns – we have always been a violent society, nothing new there. I say ban all guns, not just semi-automatic weapons. You have to start somewhere – guns have no practical application other than to kill. But the pro gun says"well criminals have them too" – well if a criminal confronts you with a gun and you reach for your weapon, you will become another statistic – problem is too many people in this country think that a gun will offer them a degree of safety, too mamy bill bad asses out there with guns think they are Wyatt Earp at the ok Corral – what a joke.
    Enforce the laws, send people to jail for illegal possesion for 5 yrs or so – make it a federal offense. At the same time stop the manufacturing and import of guns and the amount of guns will drop – until then, we will continue to be a violent nation.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
    • Carlos

      Sorry my friend but... DONT BE NAIVE...

      there is no way anyone can ban guns... look at history, look at the past, look at the present... have they been able to stop drugs...? do you think they will be able to stop every single gun... what if you were killed by the one that slipped through...?

      July 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
      • No more Guns

        Too many guns....got to start somewhere – I am a conservative but I am also practical, but the 2nd Amendment was written a long time ago and should be amended. Our society is filled with too many uneducated, irresponsible people who have no business owning a firearm,legally or otherwise. When a society is unable to behave itself, it is the duty of Govt to protect it's citizens – we are too great a nation to have this type of problem in this day in age. The NRA's solutions is more guns – thats like giving more crack to an addict in this sick and broken society we live in

        July 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • ski2xs

      No. . . you're just ignorant. Tell me there. According to your reasoning, why isn't everyone in Switzerland dead?

      and as far as in 'Billy Bad Asses'. . . tell that to the old fart that just kicked the butt's of those two thugs (who had guns in thier robbery attempt) in the coffee shop just a few short weeks ago.

      Why is it that 'you people' never want to talk about how LEGAL guns are used to stop crime over FOUR TIMES MORE than they are used to kill in ALL applications (suicide, defense, accident, homicide)

      What was that? It doesn't fit your agenda?

      July 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  20. Mike

    I find it rather hypocritical for a liberal to even insinuate we should have more gun control for the sake of safety. After all it is the liberals who always seem to be the first to cry their eyes out when their civil liberties are threatened all in the name of safety.
    Apparently since the majority of gun owners are Republican voting conservatives they have no problem taking away the ciivil liberties of their opponents but when it comes to their own civil liberties Lord forbid they become inconvenienced.
    It is just more of the same B.S. from liberals about how they want everyone else to do something but don't want the same rules applied to them.
    They scream about taxing the rich, but yet they don't want their own taxes to go up. They want to force feed their agenda down the throats of every American and if you don't like it then you're either crazy or brainwashed by the Republicans.
    Look up "hypocrite" in the dictionary and the liberals fit the definition to a tee.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  21. bigdoglv

    Look at the map. The areas in brown have the most freedom.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  22. fubarack Obamadinejad

    Australia and the UK are excellent examples of gun control backfiring. Remember a few years ago when there were so many stabbings in the UK, they actually banned knives as I recall.
    Also I find it interesting that back when many of us were kids and had guns in school, there was no such thing as school shootings. It's not the gun.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  23. Truth Today

    I appreciate the facts and the willingness to inform Brooks that his argument or position is weak at best. Gun violence has many variables, one being access to firearms that are instruments for violence. Again, the right demonstrates the inability to argue a no-spin zone position that may even challenge their own support of the second amendment. I am very weary of people that cannot honestly support valid conclusions to counter their own position.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  24. Terry

    Let see the fact of homicides per country TOTAL. I would bet it would be a different picture than the lefty nut who wrote this article. The fact is if you can't get a gun you will use a club, knife, rock, car. You name it people will find a way.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  25. Dennis

    He failed to mention these statistics. http://gunowners.org/sk0703.htm

    July 29, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  26. Retired cop

    Who is anyone kidding. the librals arent taking anyones guns. I own 2 assault rifles now and thinking about a third just becouse I can. Whos going to come get them from me? No one! What happened to the them worying about tree hugging!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
  27. J Simmons

    I love the comments on how automatic weapons are easier to get and therefore we should have gun control. Do any of you realize that automatic weapons are ILLEGAL?? So who will this new gun control law affect since illegal guns are so prevalent? There are enough laws already, why don't we try to enforce them instead of creating new ones. New laws only affect law abiding citizens. Get over yourself Fareed.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  28. Itsall Tuna

    I have jet to read of any theater patron that night who said he would have has his gun in theater #9 except that a law stopped him.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  29. The Loon

    3 deaths per 100,000 people....DEAR GOD IT"S A WARZONE OUT THERE!!!!!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  30. Daniel

    "I think we can assume that those people are sprinkled throughout every society equally" – When someone says "I think" without backing it up with a source, I stop listening. Anyone can can think. Few think well.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
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