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. DBertrand

    Why doesn't this article look at overall HOMICIDE rates by country? They'll see the United States is nowhere near the top of the list. Whether it's by gun, knife, or strangling someone with their bare hands, crazy is as crazy does, a person intent on murdering, will use whatever they have at their disposal. Also, outlawing guns will pose no permanent obstacle to criminals who want to obtain them, but it will turn an honest citizen into a criminal for having one!

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

    It's very sad that these articles are being written by people that have no idea what they are talking about. Spreading more and more misinformation. You can make all the laws you want...at the end of the day the criminals will still have guns. They aren't going to just go away. The only ones that will be affected will be the law abiding citizens. I own multiple guns. I only go to the range. I don't even hunt. I guess i should lose my rights because this country is full of animals.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  3. Marvin E Woody Sr

    I am astounded by the many people who blame gun violence on the NRA. I am a member of the NRA and yes, it lobbys...for me. I am also a member of ARRL (amateur radio) and they lobby for me. Blaming the NRA when in fact the movie and TV production industry has glamorized and enured violence to our youth for decades. When I grew up in the forties, guns were everywhere, yet I never shot a creature I didn't eat. As a HS student in a military school, there were guns all over the place, stored properly. We had firing ranges. We had instruction. There are people who wouldn't consider taking their child to a rifle range but do send them to violent movies and allow violent PC games.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  4. Inspector

    Look how many officials have a protection team around them at all times. What about the average American? Are we supposed to not be able to protect ourselves in the event of an armed robbery? Are we supposed to just lie down and be shot so there are no 'witnesses'?

    Outlaws will always have guns, just look at all the guns we gave the Mexicans.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply

    Fareed, don't distort the facts. Yes America has more guns, yes America has more gun deaths, but when you compare the number of deaths compared to the population the percentage is the statistically identical. I.e. America compared to Norway, a country with one of the most stringent laws in the world in 2010 had 2.91% of the population killed by handguns compared to America with 2.98% that's only a 0.07% difference. Gun laws only work for law abiding citizens and not criminals.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  6. Ryan

    No what we can do Fareed Zakaria is enforce a more stringent death penalty in this country for ultra-violent crimes! Commit a mass murder be executed hands down, no life in prison!

    We need to stop being so “warm and cuddly” with those who go against good and order in our society, ultra-violent crimes deserve the ultimate punishment hands down!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Reply
  7. smash

    Can someone tell me how many deaths are related to vehicle accidents every year? The top speed on an interstate is 75mph yet every year automakers continue to produce cars that have more horsepower and can fare exceed 75mph. But when people are killed by guns the automatic reaction is to take them away. Well thens lets all start riding bikes!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  8. NL

    You can have my gun, when you pry it from my cold dead fingers.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  9. Gwenola

    The NRA fantasy of everyone carry, at all times, in all places borders on comedy except that the impact on our culture costs accidental and intentional death. They write the stand your ground model legislation that appears in so many states now, and threaten any lawmakers that would question their so called 'god given' right to maximum market saturation. As if, at 50, with bifocals and hearing loss from firing on the Marine Corps rifle range...tipping in at around 30 pounds overweight, I would have had ANY chance whatsoever of getting a clean shot off in a dark movie theater. Especially after the tear-gas cannisters went off, in a dark surround sound environment with children and parents screaming; every expert marksmanship badge I ever earned would be completely useless. I dunno, something happened to my 'cat-like' reflexes in the last 20 years since I got out of the Corps. Its just stunning; we don't allow mamaw to drive when her glaucoma starts up, we take the keys away from Alzheimers patients, the legally blind and epileptics. We don't allow insulin dependents to drive any CDL vehicle. We track the sale of cars at every point of sale, we register them, require that they be insured, and require practical and written tests to obtain permission to operate them. Yet, somehow, applying the same common sense to projectiles that DON't weigh 4000 pounds, we are somehow infringing on the freedom of all America. Let me just ask all the wing-nuts – do you really feel safer having some middle age couch potato armed and twitchy? Uh-huh, about as safe as I feel when some idiot that shouldn't be driving speeds thru the school zone where my kid gets off the bus. Just like we regulate car seats, drunk boating, and the sale of cold medicine, we should 'well regulate' the keeping and obtaining of fire arms. NRA be damned.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • Inspector

      It seems you feel uncomfortable with so many guns.
      Why not move to a country where there are none?

      July 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
      • ski2xs

        ^ I second that. Find a place you feel comfortable with and MOVE

        July 29, 2012 at 2:40 pm |
      • Gwenola

        As a dual citizen, I would stay here, if for no other reason that to take advantage of perchance being the medical professional that removes you from the highways and streets of America when you are too decrepit to operate a vehicle safely. Or, alternatively, I may be the ER professional that saves your ass from some GSW to the chest. Either way, I'm keen to stay and defend our society from the fascist influence of the NRA/ILA. Oh, and yes, I own guns, have a gun membership and have taught all my sons to shoot, except for the one that has Aspergers, as he would be a hazard to society. You are welcome.

        July 29, 2012 at 3:43 pm |
    • ski2xs

      BTW. . . we see how good all of thise auto regulations have done, eh? Four times as many deaths than all gun related deaths lumped in together!

      July 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm | Reply
    • Marvin E Woody Sr

      A 1911A1 with a laser sight, readily available, would compensate for one's age and darkness. The round hits very close to where the red dot displays. You really think old people can't shoot accurately? Maybe you need a physical.? Interesting , for a Marine.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  10. Ryan

    1 in 2 own guns in Switzerland, guns don’t kill people…people do! Get rid of criminals not guns!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  11. Retired cop

    I live in the communist state of New Jersey the strictes gun laws in America. Camden NJ PD laid off 300 cops this year, and had the highest crime rate in the country for mid-size city. What are you going to do when you call 911 and nobody comes.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  12. ehudur

    Actually the US does have more 'nutcases' than other countries. The fact that these insane gun laws persist is evidence of a mentally sick society.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
    • ski2xs

      Blah, blah, blah . . .

      July 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm | Reply
  13. Angela Igrisan

    Yes, the US has a gun problem. It also has a mental health problem. Love Mr. Zakaria's program (avid fan). However, in this story, he has missed some key facts about mental health in the US. As a licensed mental health professional, I can tell you that there is much that can be done to prevent people with mental illness from burgeoning into full blown psychotic episodes. And, statistically, the United States does have higher incidents of depression than Asia. In the past 10 years, we have seen an obscene amount of money diverted from mental health programs to detention/corrections programs. Please have your researchers look up the differences in mental health policies and treatment internationally. Let's see a story on that topic! Obviously, we need to fix the gun issue. We also need to fix the mental health issue.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  14. sharky

    Yawn yawn Wahh waahh wahh the US has guns, wahh wahh wahh.

    I love it when people completely throw things way out of context and reality just to complain about the bad things in the US.

    Fareed, please just move to Europe since it love it there too much and leave the US alone.

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

    I'm not a Gun Nut. But countries that don't allow guns often have brutal police that arrest and torture for no or any reason. Also the public bombings far make up for the "Lack" or rather non-lack of public shootings. This is the "Trade liberty for the pretense of safety" issue.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  16. Name*patty

    Wow an article on facts and doesn't even get a main fact right in that you can't buy an automatic weapon! And wasn't it norway where a guy recently killed over 60 people! How many people die by suicide bombers?! It is called evil and I am proud to live where I can at least try to defend myself!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  17. dubrats

    face the facts....there are not enough police to protect all law abiding citizens....gun control only keeps law abidding citizens from protecting themselves and families.....wake up....more laws will not keep guns from the thugs and bangers....we need more police,better trained, less thug lawyers getting repeat offenders out in an hour so they can do it again.....

    July 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  18. Realist

    This is a stupid argument. Nobody's mind will ever be changed on either side. Just realize this...Chicago has outlawed handguns. They are AGAINST THE LAW. Chicago has had 300 murders by guns so far this year, leading the nation. Case closed. End of story. Nothing to see here. 'Nuff said. Good day sir.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  19. Ryan Smith

    Leave it to the consistantly Liberal Fareed to try to distort the facts and to try and make a point. If you are going to point out the facts, let's start by pointing out ALL the facts. Facts like how the cities with the tightest gun control regulations in the US are also the cities with the highest murder rates. Guns are used by citizens to deter crime or defend themselves nearly 1 million times a year based on a study by the Journal of Quanitative Criminology in 2000. A study of felons in 11 different federal prisons indicated that 40% of them had personally chosen NOT to commit a crime because they were worried their potential victim might be armed. Also interesting, this same survey found that nearly 40% (39.2% to be exact) of these criminals obtained the guns used in violent crimes from illegal sources. While the left targets these "out of control gun shows" (which it is NOTHING like what they claim), that same study found that to be one of the smallest sources of guns for criminals at 0.7% of criminals obtaining their guns at a gun show.

    The murder rate in Washington D.C. went up 73% after enacting tighter gun laws and remained 11% higher than the national average. In London the British homicide rate has averaged 52% higher than before enacting extremely restrictive gun laws.

    And also in a VERY interesting fact, after enacting a handgun ban in Chicago, the percentage of Chicago murders committed with a handgun ROSE 40% HIGHER.

    Simply put, GUN CONTROL DOES NOT WORK. It ENABLES the criminals and restricts the law abiding citizens.

    So if you want to talk facts, sure let's talk facts.... but let's talk about ALL the facts.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  20. fudgedragon

    Articles like this remind me to renew my NRA membership.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm | Reply
    • William

      Agreed. Fareed, you help the NRA quite a bit with ridiculous "opinion" pieces like this one. 🙂

      July 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  21. Tom Foolery

    Fareed is just yet another liberal who has decided he wants to take away the rights and freedoms of OTHER people because he doesn't exercise those particular rights, and he supposes there will be some marginal benefit.

    He cares zero for the cost of that assumed benefit – the theft of rights necessary to bring it about, because those rights will only be lost by other people, not him.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  22. jony

    Fareed's "facts" the typical limp weenie liberal knee jerk, pass some more laws, give the federal government even more power and that will fix everything. It never works yet they cling to it like stink on doodoo

    July 29, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  23. PK

    And owning guns is a bad thing???????????

    I'm a 60+ y/o female who lives in an unincorporated Texas county – response time by LEOs can be as short as 10 min or as long as 30 min just depending on where in the county the deputies are. I own several guns (.22, .380 and .9mm pistols, 2 rifles (30:30 and .22) and 2 shotguns (.410 and 20ga) – I am my own first line of defense.

    Oh, did I mention I'm single, live on 50 acres and my closest neighbor is 500 yards away???

    I have my CHL (last renewal I shot a 247/250) and often carry my pistol with me. Would I hesitate to use it? Probably not – AFTER I evaluated the situation where it could be warranted to use it – but if the need arises, the perp is dead. I've been shooting since I was 7 and have been taught that if the gun comes out of the holster you DO NOT aim to 'wing/wound/scare' . . you aim to protect yourself and those around you.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
    • ski2xs

      ^ 🙂 Will you marry me PK! LOL

      You rock. . . .Ditto to the LEO's. I'm in the same situation as you, could be 10, might be 30.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  24. Maria

    Without question, the biggest issue with this article is the use of the word "nutcase" to describe the mentally ill. We don't know yet if the man in Aurora has been or will be diagnosed with a mental illness, but it's safe to assume he has some very serious issues at play. So many with mental illness suffer in silence and refuse to get lifesaving treatment because of ignorant stigmatization like this. We would never stigmatize someone with diabetes, cancer, or heart disease this way. Mental illness is every bit a real condition as any of those. Once I hit the word "nutcase" I stopped reading; I'm not interested in anything someone that insensitive has to say.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • Inspector


      July 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • Mrs. Liberty

      Maria- He likely procured his gun legally so even IF he was seeing a psychiatrist his whole life the background check should have caught this (so the already tight gun control laws did not work as they were supposed to and need to be fixed to catch the mentally ill perhaps?)

      July 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Reply
    • forwardbias

      I am heavily offended by your choice of word – "mentally ill". How dare you call someone who is mentally different from many of us as "ill"? Have some respect for this "special" kind. Disrespectful ppl like you are actually the "nutcase" of this country..

      July 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
      • Maria

        I am sorry if you are offended, but conditions such as bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, among others, are indeed mental illnesses. They are not the same as being "different." People diagnosed with these disorders are not just different, they are ill and need appropriate treatment in order to live their happiest and safest lives. Labeling the truly ill as simply different does them a disservice and prevents them from seeking the help they need.

        July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm |
  25. guyincognito21

    Can't help but wonder why Mr. Zakaria left off liberal paragons like Sweden, Finland, and Switzerland from his bashing of the members of the "top 10 guns per capita" countries. Seemed like he only wanted to use the countries full of "scary, dark-skinned, non-Christians" to compare to us. Surely that was just an oversight on his part...

    July 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  26. CJ

    I think we'd all be safer if a larger percentage of our residents were educated on safe gun handling and more people carried firearms on a regular basis. If just one person in that Colorado movie theater had a gun and the requisite skills to use it, the toll may have been much, much smaller.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • forwardbias

      When you start your logic with "if", you already proved yourself to be stupid..

      July 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  27. Mark

    I wonder what the Syrian people who have been killed by government hit squads would think about gun control. Or the people massacred by Stalin. Or the victims of "ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo. Or the jewish people in the 1942 Warsaw ghettos. Or the Tutsis who were hacked to pieces with machetes. The list of people in supposedly "civilized" countries who were unable to protect themselves goes on and on. Thank God for the second ammendment making that impossible here.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:35 pm | Reply
    • forwardbias

      Your theory might have worked in the past during stalin/hitler era, but to think that a civilian can stand against a govt with a (or some) gun (automatic or non-auto) is preposterous.. Wake up dude..

      July 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  28. Me

    So let me get this straight – I must carry a gun even though I wish not to. That is the gist of so many comments in this forum, 'If everyone in the theater was armed the result may have been different" – DUMB statement. Because we have the right to bear arms, we all MUST bear arms to feel safe. How ludicrous....

    July 29, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
    • Inspector

      No, we must not ALL carry or bear arms (guns in this case).
      HOWEVER, just because YOU don't want to, don't stop someone who does want to!
      That makes about as much sense as having an Amish person telling you that you need to ride in a horse-drawn wagon as opposed to in your car.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  29. Steve

    Is this country in denial? I think so, because I really don't understand these responses...

    It seems to me that what Fareed is getting at, is that this incident is being analyzed from one angle, when it really should be analyzed from two. Yes, there's a psychological component to what happened. But, the fact remains that there are a ton of friggin' guns in this country, and they are relatively easy to procure. Case in point: last week in Colorado.

    Why does this get everybody so defensive? We don't need this many firearms.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • forwardbias

      You are absolutely right. The gun supporters just picked "easy to get firearms" logic and dwelled on that instead of seeing the overall message of zakaria- "we have too many guns"..
      Another brilliant piece of article by Zakaria.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
    • Harold

      You can't eliminate guns nor introduce enough controls to protect people from crazies and stupidity. A criminal or crazy individual can get a gun somehow, legally or illegally. Either that or they'll resort to something else like explosives, break into a construction site and steal dynamite, whatever. They will find a way to accomplish their goal. People seem to be getting more worked up about random craziness then they are about all the drivers on the road texting, sending emails, and reading this article whilst hurtling down the highway in couple of tons of death on wheels. And if you look at Fareed's map, there are a lot of "enslaved" people out there that have no way of rebelling against an oppressive government; something our founders wanted the people capable of doing.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
      • Steve

        This country averages 25 gun fatalities a day. That's over 9,000 a year, and two Aurora Colorado's per day. Killer automobiles, texting while driving and oppressive regimes notwithstanding, that is unacceptable in the United States of America, don't-cha-think?

        In my opinion, there is no short-term solution to this, but I certainly don't believe the answer is more guns. But I also don't believe that an all-out gun ban would do little to correct the problem, either. At least in the short term. It would be a completely unenforceable feel-good law in a generation filled with ignorant people and rampant paranoia. But why not put it on the books, anyway? Or at least, attempt to phase in something that would educate this country on the harm that we are doing to ourselves? It certainly has the virtue of never having been tried. Would it really do this country a ton of harm if an unenforceable firearms ban now, would ultimately cultivate a safer society 3 or 4 generations down the line?

        July 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
      • Steve

        I don't know... it just seems to me that there is a significant amount of short-sightedness when people try to tackle this debate and devise ways to "solve" the problem. It always splinters into to camps:

        "More guns NOW"


        "More gun control NOW"

        Both are equally stupid.

        July 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
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