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. philS

    The author is clueless. What do you expect from CNN, they rarely spell check their articles. I say again go back to your own country fareed your are disgraceful being spewing garbage out of your immigrant mouth.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Reply
  2. yurlipsrmuvn

    The USA is below the world average annual homicide rate. We are at the top for personal freedom. We have the ability to protect ourselves and our families from foreign or domestic enemies and our civilian population is the largest armed force in the world.

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

    CNN this is example of awful card-stacking reporting. This article is awful because its bias and uses no critical thinking. To report on the USA homicide rate and not mention the largest war 'THE DRUG WAR' is taking affecting these stats.

    Honestly who approved these bias article, CNN producers need to know one sided liberal reporting is as bad Fox News one sided reporting.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  4. Realist

    slavery was an age old tradition of this country too. So why was their room for reopening debate on that? Because smart people realized that it was just wrong. I'm not trying to say that slavery is the same as gun ownership, but I am saying that the use of "well we have always done it this way, or this is tradition" is a ridiculously uneducated defense.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  5. Dan

    RickS – You need to do your homework. Switzerland has over 10 times the homicide rate as compared to countries like England. That is not "best in the world" as you claimed.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  6. ak

    i own an ak for home protection. i dont hunt or sport shoot. promise me that i will never have to defend my family,home,belongings against crooks,murderers,rapists,and you can have my ak,if not,keep your nose out of my rights.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Reply
  7. jmissal

    Regarding the chart in the Atlanta Journal that Fareed is mentioning, if you actually READ what it states, you'll know that those figures include accidental shootings, suicides, even acts of self-defense, as well as crimes. In order to get an ACCURATE study, all those categories must be separated and analyzed individually, otherwise all you get is mis-information....

    ....but then, that's what Fareed does best.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Reply
  8. Lisa

    You know if there had been armed security and PROPER alarms and surveillance provided by the theater, it would have at least been a deterrent. This should be required in states that have a concealed-carry for businesses that decide that their customers, employees, etc. should be sitting ducks.

    And any large order of ammunition should be immediately flagged for investigation. It seems that it is now more difficult to get two bottles of cough medicine than 20,000 rounds of ammunition.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:56 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      The entire event from first shot to last shot was less than 20 minutes. Alarms and security guards with guns would have made no difference to this liberal. He still would have had plenty of time to do this murder. The only thing I regret is that one of the Active Shooter/First Responders didn't put him down right then and there. Sadly, the guys rifle jammed and the officer was too professional and honest to just kill him.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  9. John Tucker

    The US is also the only world superpower. By far. Our system is dependent on individual civil liberties and nothing says respect more for a citizen than weapon ownership. Its unfortunate to some but true.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
    • allenwoll

      JT - Your views are indeed laughable ! ! !

      July 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Reply
  10. allenwoll

    But Fareed, we DO have more Nutcases, substantially more. A nice random selection of them - Gunophiliacs and Gunomaniacs (as well as Gun Dealers and representatives of Gun Manufacturers) - are responding here to you right now ! ! ! . Just LOOK ! ! !

    A part of the problem can be identified as THIS : The Second Amendment is one of the most effective and scuccessful marketing strategies ever devised by man ! ! ! . FEAR is always a effective strategy

    July 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  11. andres

    The author would have much more credibility if he didn't slant the data to fit his preconcieved notions. Had he pointed out that Mexico, while it severely restricts gun ownership and mostly for possession in the home, it absolutely forbids military type weapons (think assault weapons) and has very long prison terms for possession. Yet the murder rate in mexico is very high, by percentatge higher than the US.

    Gun control does NOT provide the benefits promised and until one can propose a method of 'control' that willl work we will continue to have these deaths.

    Fareed should spend some time training in the use of guns in self defence, he might gain a more objective perspective, but that would go against the grain of his masters at cnn.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  12. al

    Weapons are for the American public to protect ourselves from the government (as in army). Not that it is conceivable that this senario would ever happen : that is where the commanding generals executes a coup against the while house, the guns in the houses of every day Americans are there ultimately to keep this government honest. The first thing any dictatorship does once in power is to disarm the public. Americans are too smart to let that happen here.

    So evern though there is this unfortunate violence angainst the public occasionally the vast majarity of the citizens are law abiding and will never give up their arms to self protection.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  13. Tom

    The other thing to note about that world map is that the United States is the only true Free Country in the world, too.

    Everyone should hope that the United States IS NOTHING like the rest of the world.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  14. Return to India


    You have no say in the subject. You were born in Mumbai. End of conversation. I don't care what level your naturalization status.

    When the Second Amendment becomes negotiable, then so will all the rest of the Amendments. Including Freedom of the Press.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      India has plenty of murder. Although they prefer starving the people they don't like to death. So they claim India doesn't have a Caste system? Then they are not paying attention.

      Indians murder more with starvation and their Caste system than guns have ever killed in world history.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
      • Jim34

        You have evidence that Indians murder with starvation? I.e. they intentionally starve their countrymen? This is more childish than your chimpanzee comment below.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm |
  15. Bob

    This article is based on the fallacy that the state's control of weapons creates a safe living environment. Empirically, this does not prove true. As you remove the tools to expedite injury to others a violent offender we turn to increasingly more rudimentary means to carry out the task. Any large penitentiary is a perfect example of this phenomenon. In effect, where there's a will, there's a way. Guns only add elements of efficiency and convenience. If you take away the means the perpetrator will turn to an alternative method. I suspect that even if authorities were to initiate a complete ban on all guns in the US and mandate nationwide confiscation the result would be a temporary reduction in firearm related deaths. The criminal element would quickly secure other means to facilitate their acts. A look inside any American prison would support my argument. The same behavior observed inside these environments can be extrapolated from the microcosm of prison life to the general populace.

    July 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  16. sammy

    These comments are a beautiful example of intelligent, deep thinking debate. We have an issue, and then the public comments with well-reasoned arguments devoid of emotional baggage. In this way we work through our problems and find common ground on which to structure our laws. Great job, guys and girls–this whole conversation was enlightening!. What did I learn? Why of course that all liberals are lazy, commie morons, and all conservatives are stupid fascists who only care about Jesus, guns, and big business. I did not know that.......

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

      It's naive to believe that humans will ever debate in a way that does not include emotions. Only a chimpanzee like you would ever consider the possibility.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  17. Gunner

    It's time we all boycott the Commie News Network (CNN) for their unrelenting attacks on the 2nd Ammendment and the 99.9% of gun owners that do obey the laws and posted "No Guns Allowed" signs at theaters. Fareed has his head where the sun doesn't shine, that is why the corporatist's and politicians that control the mainstream media (even Fox Snews) pay fools like him to stir the pot and keep this issue at the forefront until they disarm all of us and make us defenseless. Fat chance!

    July 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm | Reply
  18. lfoes

    How do all the countries in the graph compare as far as their freedom is concerned?

    July 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  19. azreal

    Anyone missing the point that this fool did more damage with a shotgun and two hand guns then the rifle that jammed do to his ignorance of firearms and a high capacity magazines/ammo.........

    July 29, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Reply
  20. SteveO

    "One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot" – I find that quite hard to believe. "know" someone as in heard about it on the news, or "friend of a friend of a friend", or "know" someone personally? Where did this statistic come from?

    July 29, 2012 at 3:02 pm | Reply
  21. mblac

    Maybe people think the country is getting more dangerous and violent because of the talking heads like fareed here in the media. Sunny days and blue skies don't sell ads Luke doom and gloom.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  22. Daniel

    His argument that the shootings in the U.S. result not from more unstable people but from more guns would be valid if and only if the United States did not also have high rates of homicide unrelated to guns. As it turns out, the rates of homicide, gun-related or not, are high in the United States compared with other developed countries, so his argument falls flat. The problem is not guns but unstable people (for further confirmation, look at Switzerland, where a larger percentage of the population owns guns–although there are fewer guns per person–yet homicide rates are extremely low).

    July 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Reply
  23. Richard

    1 – As long as we are well-armed, we do not have to worry about being invaded by foreign countries or occupied by their military forces.

    2 – As long as we are well-aremed, we do not have to worry about our own government enslaving us at gun-point.

    And, as long as our government continues to prove itself to be untrustworthy and incompetent at their jobs, I will not feel comfortable relinquishing my right to bear arms to them..

    July 29, 2012 at 3:03 pm | Reply
    • Tom

      That's exactly the thought behind the 2nd Amendment. Why would anyone in America want to be like the enslaved peoples of the rest of the world.

      We no longer have a representative government. We have a tax hungry, waste filled government. The 2nd Amendment is more important now than it ever was. And those people in elected positions are terrified the American People will finally wake up to the truth.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  24. Drew

    One can fully exercise their 2nd Amendment right by owning a shotgun, a .38 or a .357 - or all three. Those guns aren't the problem. No one needs an AK or AR-15 to protect themselves, and making them available gives the nuts military-level firepower.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  25. Tom

    Usually the only people who want to outlaw guns are those that have never used one .

    Elitist such such as @eqgoldg who quoted earlier that is a "sick hobby", in other words since he cannot relate to it, it should be outlawed. that is why people raise concerns about the socialist agenda of the left. The fears is from the idea to create a society where all decisions are made by the government,and take away all responsibility from the people... Hope I never live to see that day.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  26. carbon dioxide is good

    No more Guns wrote "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."

    When society becomes filled with idiotic statements like this, this is when we know we need more guns to protect ourselves. Anyone that has looked at why the Founders put the 2nd Amendment in the Bill of Rights was not their concern about sport shooting or hunting but the people keeping the government in line. Who protects the citizens against the government? That is a question the Founders would ask.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  27. Gun Toter

    With all due respect to law enforcement officers, there won't be anyone around to protect me, or my family, from an assault, but myself. Criminals by their nature, don't care about laws. They will obtain whatever weapon they want one way or another. So until my family and I can get a government issued body guard capable of thwarting any and all threats, I will continue to exercise my right to carry a firearm to protect myself and my family.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  28. Alex

    I once did a report on whether or not guns prevent crimes in the United States. With each state containing concealed carry violence rates were around 15% lower then the states that do not have concealed carry laws. Also, States that enacted concealed carry violence dropped dramatically over the years they contained concealed carry, compared to the years they didn't. So yes, there are facts out there...just depends on which ones you want to report based on your opinions.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  29. Redeye Dog

    Maybe if all the facts were there, your point would be taken well, Fareed.

    However, this issue has to do with the human defect which brings us to kill our own species for things other than food. If your facts would also include how many people are killed by other means such as machetes, knives, rocks, bombs, etc., we would see an entirely different picture, wouldn't we?

    We would see that the US actually does NOT stand out in the amount murders if you include murders perpetrated by any means. After all, DEAD is DEAD.

    Face the facts! This is NOT a gun issue.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
    • MIT

      And your facts come from....where?

      July 29, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Reply
  30. Drew

    And anyone who thinks their hundred-round drum protects them from government is kidding themselves.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
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