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. Steve

    Maybe you should move back to Iran where your radical Islamist goverment rules over the peasants with a stone fist because they have no guns to defend themselves.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
  2. Fabrizio Remotti

    If you carefully look at the map, there are a lot of countries tht are depicted in dark green. These countries (Canada, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Germany, France end Canada), have very low levels of violence. I don't think the problems we are facing here in the USA is linked to the weapons or the numbers of weapons we own, but only to the
    poor control we excercise on many gun owners (like Holmes, who at the time of his legal gun purchases was also seeing a psychiatrist).

    July 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm |
    • GBM

      Not control over "many gun owners", just irresponsible, sick, criminal or sociopaths. Over 70 million gun owners do just fine without control, thank you.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:29 pm |
  3. RightNYer

    We also have nearly 100 million blacks and Hispanics, who collectively are responsible for nearly all of the violent gun crime. Most countries in Western Europe are still largely white.

    We don't have a gun problem. We have a race problem.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Steve

      Are you joking?

      July 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
      • RightNYer

        If you exclude gun homicides committed by blacks and mestizo Hispanics, our gun crime rate isn't that much higher than the rest of the developed world's. We don't have a gun problem. We have a race problem.

        July 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm |
  4. Blackhorse27

    The answer to this problem is the free market. Everyone will agree guns are potentially dangerous. Driving is also potentially dangerous. We require insurance for cars,- why not require gun owners to be insured. Hunting accidents, shooting range accidents and the incidents of nutjob rampages might be reduced if gunstores, gunshows and mail order sales requried an insurance policy they can verify prior to selling ammo or guns to a buyer. This takes the government out of the control aspect and alllows the market to regulate guns ownership. Uninsureable persons could not purchase or possess weapons. I realize there will always be cheats and stolen weapons but victims would be able to recover damages and many of the nut-jobs would be out of the field (hunting) and off the shooting ranges (standing next to me).

    July 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  5. 2nd amendment liberal

    I'm about as liberal as it gets on most things, however as has already been stated; making guns illegal won't stop CRIMINALS from getting them! Look at Chicago, some of the strictest gun laws in the country... go to the south side and see how peaceful it is!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  6. Susan

    The United States is sociopathic and paranoid about freedom, socialism, and gun control. The entire rest of the world is wrong–I don't think so! Who in the world is going to save the few of us here who don't want to have anything to do with guns?

    On the other hand...if the statistics are really correct and 70% of the people in the U.S. own guns (70 out of 100 above) it just proves how dangerous we are with them in so many odd ways. For instance... Every seven out of ten people in that Aurora theater should have drawn their weapons (ignoring the theater demanding they not carry firearms into the theater–I suppose every one of these seven out of ten left their guns in their cars?) I wonder how many survivors in that theater carried in their guns but were frozen and afraid to even think of using them?

    No, I agree with the opinion and with the world... It's way past time to get rid of all our guns grow up in this world. I'm sure the rest of the mature world takes heart that they are correct in their thinking–I wish we could join them.

    We made a bad choice and there isn't anything effective we can do about it now. Gun owners are not going to listen–just like conservative Christian Republicans and the greedy filthy rich are not going to listen. What would be best for the country doesn't matter.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
    • Mrs. Liberty

      Susan, The statistics simply do not support Zakaria's claim. We may have a high population of gun owners but not all nations in that study were included (Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, etc. were all excluded). Also, the U.S. homicide rate is relatively low per # of people owning weapons (especially compared to many other nations). Death by homicide is #15 in the U.S. and you are much more likely to die from influenza, heart attack, etc. than be killed by a gun.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:54 pm |
    • GBM

      Who's going to save you from your prejudice?

      July 29, 2012 at 3:25 pm |
  7. Nick

    So that picture (with no legend or statistical error data) claims than gun ownership in Afghanistan is between 0-10%. HAHAHAHA..... What a bunch of garbage. Obviously the author doesn't vet his sources

    July 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  8. Martin Samuels

    I disagree with you about nut cases, Fareed. The US does have more nut cases roaming the streets. In much of the world, nut cases are either put down, put away or run governments. There are exceptions, as occurred in Norway. But we systemically let our nut cases run around loose, and have access to guns. In any case, your statistics aren't about nut cases, they're about normal average people who become murderers because they get angry or scared and have a gun under the mattress.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:41 pm |
  9. Matt

    The map is statistically wrong to begin with. Switzerland has by far more civilians with guns per capita than any other country in the world. And they have the FEWEST incidents of gun-related violence per capita.

    Nearly every Swiss male from 20 -30 years old is forced into military service, with gun training. So if that does not equate to more gun violence, then these "facts" are totally irrelevant.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
  10. JP

    It was ok for our government to sell the to Mexico. Putting the guns right into the hands of the criminals.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  11. John Smyth

    What a CRAP survey.

    Population density and gun ownership.

    So what?

    Look at the Swiss for gun ownership.

    The US has a "gun problem" because the Feds (who cause most of the problems) and state governments do not want to enforce the laws that are on the books.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  12. johjacobjingleheimerschmidt

    Saying that guns cause homicide is like saying ink pens cause grammatical errors.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  13. BK

    Mr. Zakaria wants to deny the psychological aspect, which is astonishing as it is an overt continuation of the systematic denial that psychology could be a legitimate field of study; and then cites sociological facts to create an argument. That's fine. But how about the [cultural] anthropological perspective? Any anthropologists worth their weight (aka truly puts bias aside) would, undeniably, understand that there would then be a far more logical and massively understated discourse formed... but of course that won't be acknowledged by the mainstream...

    July 29, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  14. JP

    It was ok for our government to sell them to Mexico. Putting the guns right into the hands of the criminals.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
  15. Matt

    Lol @phil. You're honestly suggesting that criminals come from outside Chicago and D.C., travel to those cities, shoot up its citizenry, then return to their rural origins? I actually can't form a complete response to that, because logic and integrity prevent me from being so condescendingly mean...

    July 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • William

      Yep, agreed. This guy is ridiculous, as are most of the anti-gun people's beliefs about gun owners (we're scared, have no reason to own a gun, blah blah blah). There is simply no way to take these people seriously....but let 'em ramble.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  16. edge

    this is a nutcase. Please don't blame the gun. Blame the people that uses them. Gun is an inanimate thing.it's the person who uses it that should carry the responsibility of safe gun control. I believe in second amendment and i'll stand by it dead or alive!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
    • johjacobjingleheimerschmidt

      Saying that guns cause homicide is like saying that ink pens cause grammatical errors.

      July 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  17. Charlie

    I am very proud to own all my weapons.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  18. Carl

    I just think that any opinion piece, regardless of the issue at hand and your take on the content, that starts off with a statement like "time for everybody who doesn't agree with me to face facts" is not giving enough credit to the issue at hand. You can tell that the author didn't want to debate, or make a case or arguement, they simply wanted to vent. Instead of being one more useless pundit in a sea of talking heads, how about the author "face facts" that we need some freakin' civility in our country & politics and your self-gratifying article is not helping matters.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  19. conoclast

    One thing you do tend to get from gun-owners on this 'board:: good solid information about guns - specifically that converting a semi-auto to full automatic fire is a MUCH more complicated process than the general public fears. I for one am really glad to know that!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  20. Cassarit

    I think the problem is that we have a lot of affluent, professional class, first generation types like Zakaria, who grew up here and communicate like natives but who just don't understand the relationship between Americans and their guns. They should practice some humility and learn to respect the age old traditions of this country instead of trying to impose their own will on the majority. If they can't handle that they should leave. I'm first generation BTW and I'll fight anyone who tries to reshape me. But I respect the culture of this country.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  21. philS

    You are stupid foreign instigator, fareed, go back to your own country and write stupid articles there you mutt.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  22. Gman

    blah blah blah..here are some facts. 88 out of 100 US citizens have guns. so we are the majority. why wont even christ reborn obama ban guns? because the MAJORITY doesnt want it! just read CNN vetted articles on Obama and congress stance on the issue. they wont touch this with a ten foot pole.
    IF Americans are sooo horrified of guns why did background checks jump 40 plus percent after the shootings.
    so eurotrash gun haters..stay in europe ride bicycles quit visiting disney world and when some other country is whooping up on you dont scream for us gun loving Brave Americans to come save you..again!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • philS

      Thats right GMAN you got that one right!

      July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  23. Jesus Christ

    Another hit piece by Fareed Zakaria. Why do I even bother coming here anymore?

    July 29, 2012 at 2:48 pm |
  24. ib42

    No one except the borderline paranoid understands the relationship between (some) Americans and their guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  25. acutabove

    Almost all of these mass murders occur in ares that already have the touhgest gun control laws ie gun-free-zones, including the Ft Hood shooting. The criminals do not want their targets to be able to defend themselves, and the liberals are trying to help the criminals over the public once again.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
  26. dust

    stop whining...you can own an automatic weapon in many countries w/o a permit....[india] for one...most sw asia countries as well...i own an ak47 for home protection...if obama or any law enforcement can promise me i will not have have to use it to pritect my home/family against murderers,rapists,home invasion,common crooks looking to steal anything for a quick buck...then you can have my weapon...until then....keep you stinking nose out of my right to protect my own...

    July 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  27. Realist

    Conditions today much, much different than in the days of the Founding Fathers. If people want a musket, I'm fine with that.
    But typically, gun owners and the NRA are just a bunch of blowhards who don't usually provide logical and or valid reasons for why they feel guns are so necessary. Often times I hear its so we can take up arms against the government.....yeah, good luck with that. You'd be mowed down in a second. Try voting and democratic processes rather than force.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
    • William

      Try learning even SOMETHING about guns, will you? A musket, for Pete's sake? Are you serious? Do you know ANYTHING about guns? And for the record, my reasons for owning guns are 1) developing skill and mastery in marksmanship (a difficult skill to master), 2) self-defense if required (although I don't ever expect to need to use a gun), 3) hunting (if I so choose). As for defending against internal tyranny, the fact that you can't understand it bothers me not in the least...I'm sure there are a quite large number of things you don't "get". But the Founding Fathers knew what they were talking about.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm |
    • GBM

      There is no reason to explain why people should not be permitted freedoms. There is every reason to expect that denying ANY freedom needs to be justified.

      Look up things like Project Exile before making negative comments about the NRA. Those who rail against the NRA are usually ignorant of what it really is and speaking out of prejudice or based on drivel served up by partisans. The NRA supports and teaches RESPONSIBLE firearms ownership and respect for others. It also supports strong laws punishing misuse of firearms and enforcement of those laws.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm |
      • GBM

        The first sentence should read "There is no reason to need to justify individual freedoms."

        July 29, 2012 at 3:17 pm |
  28. gone

    Remember the WILDWILDWEST
    Well i guess everyone back then that had GUNS were mentally ill in some way.
    Another thing
    Economic hardship brings out the worse in humans.And, were all humans.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  29. Charlie

    We don't need more laws. Just enforce the one we have.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:50 pm |
  30. infresno

    I am always a little amused when commentators, who lack enough background to get basic terminology right, compound their error with confusion about the difference between passing a law, and enforcing it. We have plenty of laws, too many to enforce, and that is the problem. Legislators respond to inarticulate pressure to "do something" craft laws with no provision for additional enforcement resources, and law breakers, by definition do not care about what is proscribed by law. It is as if the government is trying to specify the equipment to be used in the commission of felonies. IMO, we need to reduce the number of laws to the list that we are willing to enforce, and enforce those that make the cut with greater vigor. More tightly constraining the law abiding, will have no impact on criminal behavior.

    Over time, there has been a gradual and insidious trend. Governments tell us that if we will but give up a little more freedom, we will be safer. We have, but they have not. We need to stop having knee jerk reactions to the situation that is directly in front of us, and take a longer, and broader look at problems before reacting. American politics has become the theater of the short attention span.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
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