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. Chuck

    Why hasn't there been a law past after Virginia Tech massacre so that persons who have undergone psychiatric counseling are not eligible to buy "any guns" this would keep guns out of the hands of unstable people, and let legit gun owners, hunters and collectors have guns

    July 29, 2012 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Chris

    For the record I am a proud "tow-the-line-liberal-Democrat". Howvever, I have owned guns since I was 16 years old, and have been on both the military and in law-enforcement. Few limitations on gunownership were ever imposed in the entire history of the US. The decision not to impose meaningful limitations has been made consistently or hundreds of years. Right or wrong, if we tried now, it would be pointless because we likely would not see the effects for a couple hundred more years. Todays guns don't have a measurable shelf-life and with the exception of heavily used guns, very few ever just "wear out". Most people in this country, law abiding or not, will not give up their guns and law enforcement won't make a dent if they are outlawed. I would say trying to decrease the number of guns would be like putting the worms back in the can, but there never was a can to begin with. Therefore, guns are here to stay for a long, long time and we as a socirty will have to deal with the consequences of our decisions.

    Now the Democrat in me comes out. Rather than focus on gun limitations, a band aid that will never stick, why don't we invest in education, health care to include mental health, decreasing poverty, legislation and law enforcement to seriously combat the drug problem, and all the racial inequality that exists in this country? No, we may not see the results for a couple of generations but that is a far better and faster return on our investment. I can guarantee we will see improvements in all areas of society, not just gun crime.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:42 pm |
    • Truth Sayer

      Rather than focus on gun limitations, a band aid that will never stick, why don't we invest in education, health care to include mental health, decreasing poverty, legislation and law enforcement to seriously combat the drug problem, and all the racial inequality that exists in this country? No, we may not see the results for a couple of generations but that is a far better and faster return on our investment. I can guarantee we will see improvements in all areas of society, not just gun crime.

      Why not do them all and become an even greater nation once again? If it needs fixing lets fix it. Dont make excuses as to why we shouldnt...

      July 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
      • Chris

        "Why not do them all"

        If you are referring to what I think you are referring to, you are part of the problem. And in need of some serious help..

        July 29, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
      • Mike

        I think he meant do all the thnings you mentioned.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
      • Chris

        Ah, my apologies...

        July 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • iamsam

      Bravo. Let's treat the cause instead of the effect.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  3. Mike

    The city with the strictest gun control laws (New York City), also controls the size of the soda you can buy. This is what happens when government no longer fears the people.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
    • Marvin E Woody Sr

      I don't think "His Eminence Bloomberg" fears anyone, what with his own armed security detail.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm |
  4. D

    Can we see a map of nutcases per thousand world wide????

    July 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  5. Scared


    July 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
    • Ben

      You mean in the hands of violent criminals?

      July 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
    • sbeth

      There are 300,000 million (and growing) people in this country. Taking away guns will only lead to finding another way to kill each other. We are the proverbial rats in the maze, reacting to overcrowding.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
    • Marvin E Woody Sr

      Gun lovers? I don't love my guns any more than my old Bonneville 750. I am a member of the NRA and they are responsible for none of the violence of which you speak. Which of the "bent-out-of- shape" persons committing mass murder was a NRA member?

      July 29, 2012 at 5:00 pm |
    • Joe D

      Neither the NRA nor firearms enthusiasts committed the tragedy in Colorado or at Virginia Tech. Those were the actions of deranged men full of unspeakable evil.

      Instead of being scared, try being prepared and taking responsibility for your own safety and that of those you cherish. Americans have had a historic relationship with firearms that is unique in all the world. Where other countries in Europe, Asia, and Africa have a tradition of weapons being the privilege of the wealthy and powerful, Americans started this country by force of arms and have kept the tradition of an armed citizenry for over two centuries. Comparing us to the rest of the world is foolish for we are, indeed, different. Even in the nanny state we are becoming, self-reliance and personal accountability still count. While there are no promises of success or safety, the promise of freedom as we know it here is the best opportunity in the world.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  6. James N. Benko

    There is no easy answers to the dilemma of gun violence in the United States. We end up legislating new gun laws only to have criminals flout and break them. Law abiding citizens fear the prospects of becoming gun victims one way or another. If guns become difficult to buy on the open market, people will try to get them from the black market.
    Fareed Zakaria comments on guns in America is a wake-up call to constructive action. But no one really knows where to begin in spite of the Second Amendment and all the gun laws already on the books.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  7. Josh F

    Aside from the IMMENSE amount of cherry-picked data in this article (if you look at OVERALL crime, the U.S. Is BY FAR the lowest of any civilized nation, mostly becuase people are worried about getting shot, which they SHOULD BE), Our founders made a public policy decision in 1791. They choose freedom over security. Why should Americans give up our God-given rights because a minority of U.S. Citizens reject the founders collective wisdom and want to feel safer?

    July 29, 2012 at 3:45 pm |
  8. James

    The firearm is nowhere to be seen in the top 5 worst mass murders ever in the US.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:47 pm |
  9. Destiny

    Maybe it will take one of the second amendment apologists to be gunned down while viewing a movie, participating in their Congresswoman's rally or eating in their high school cafeteria before they are convinced that tighter gun-regulation is needed. Hopefully it won't be too late.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  10. caesarbc

    Republicans fight for the right to own guns and praise people like Jared Lee Laughner and James Holmes ability to access them, own them, and use them.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:48 pm |
  11. Todd

    You think passing laws banning guns is the answer?

    Criminals DON'T pay attention to LAWS .......DUMB4$$!!!

    July 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • caesarbc

      They were able to crack down in internet gambling. They can crack down on internet gun purchasing.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
      • Ben

        You are an idiot, seriously, you have no clue what you are talking about.

        First of all, banning gun/ammo sales on the internet would do absolutely nothing to stop gun violence. Anyone who makes the conscious decision to perform a violent crime with a firearm isn't basing that decision on how easy it would be to buy a gun online. Holmes didn't even buy his guns online, he bought them at a hunting store down the road.

        Secondly, the government there was no "crackdown" on internet gambling. There was a crackdown on online gambling sites that were laundering money and bribing banks. Know the subject matter before you start talking on it.

        July 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm |
  12. rla

    115 people die per day in auto acidents-- 81 die per dy by guns (all types-sucide, acidents, police and homicide), less that 1/2 of that is by criminal behavior... So I guess the conclusion is that we should ban cars

    July 29, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • caesarbc

      80 kids will die today by smoking epsom salts because they think they are the drug "bath salts." In order to reduce more of the stupid population we should call the next drug "rat poison."

      July 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  13. McMullet

    Americans seemingly will never agree on the subject of owning a gun. One way to find a compromise is to have a law nationwide that gun owners need to be registered. Also, the number and type of weapon should be regulated. If you want to have a gun for self-defense, fine, but be registered and have only one non-automatic weapon. If there are guns that can be made automatic, the designs should be changed. there should also be some psychological background check. I do think that gun crimes would be significantly reduced if laws were to be tightened simply because it wouldn't be quite so easy to have a gun. Nutcases will always be able to get guns and use them, but I'm pretty sure that there are plenty of stupid and arrogant gun owners out there who overestimate their own ability to handle a gun or use it as a p3nis extension. I bet also that a lot of gun owners do not adhere to proper storage regulations of their guns and that it is easy for teenagers or young adults to obtain that way who might be tempted to use the gun.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • ELRod

      I just will build my own version of what weapon I want. These are fire arms not space rockets. I can build a RPG at the local Home Depot. Should we close them down too?

      July 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  14. John Hillman

    The author needs to read more about the American Revolution.

    The reason the "shot heard round the world" happened was because the British were coming to confiscate the guns of the civilians being held in a common armory.

    The revolution started because of attempted gun control/confiscation.

    The author is either a LIAR or intentionally IGNORANT of the difference between a FULL AUTOMATIC weapon and what is available to citizens. It is a common tactic from the left. Lie, distort but NEVER rely on truth. Truth hurts their arguments too much.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:50 pm |
    • McMullet

      What an angry person you are.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  15. ELRod

    As long as I don't trust the Federal government to protect my liberties I will remain armed. It is a deeply rooted concept in American history Mr Z. I will compel others to follow in kind as long as I have breath. I do not support concealed or open carry laws. Personal self defense is a nice benefit of owning a firearm but not the primary reason for many gun owners. A unarmed population is not safe from its own government. As long as we maintain the right to bear arms they have to proceed with caution when dealing with us citizens.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
  16. James OD

    Mexico blows a huge hole in Fareed's theory.

    Mexico has exactly the sort of gun control the left is always demanding for the US: a;; guns are supposed to be registered with the government. "Assault weapons" are banned; in fact all "military caliber" guns are banned. There are strict limits on the number of guns one can own and the amount of ammunition one can own. There is a single gun store for the entire country, and it's run by the Mexican government.

    And yet somehow Mexico's murder rate is THREE (3) times HIGHER than that of the US?

    And that can't be blamed on drugs or guns from the US: Mexico has had far higher murder rates than the US for decades; in fact for as long as crime statistics have been collected.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:51 pm |
    • Steve

      Most of the guns in Mexico get smuggled in from the United States.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:59 pm |
    • Kandi

      I didn't make this up....

      "Murder rates in Mexico City are half the national rate of 18 per 100,000 residents and are lower than homicide rates in U.S. cities like New Orleans and Washington."

      July 29, 2012 at 4:03 pm |
      • Ben

        While you're at it, compare Juarez, one of Mexico's worst cities for crime, to New Orleans and Washington, two of the US's worst cities for violent crime. I'm not making that up either...

        July 29, 2012 at 4:11 pm |
  17. Natfka

    I think we should ban cars before we ban guns. More people have cars in this country than any other country in the world, and they are killing many more people than guns are.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:53 pm |
    • J Phil

      Agreed! The more people who respect cars as potential killing machines, the better - the less they will drive around half-crazed on meth or anger and the less they will endanger us all by trying to text at 70mph.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  18. Joseph R Utz

    When China comes over here to collect there money from the US you are going to be wishing you owned more guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
  19. Bootyfunk

    the US is nuts for guns. guns kill people. it's simple math. no guns, no gun deaths. countries with the most gun control have the least gun deaths. "they're gonna take my guns!" good. i hope they do.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:54 pm |
    • Natfka

      That is not even close to being true.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  20. JJ

    Fareed, where's the "nutcase" or "homicidal maniac" data that that you say is safe to "assume?" How do you know they are sprinkled in every society equally? Maybe our great nation with disproportionate innovation and ingenuity also has disproportionate nut cases?

    July 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
  21. Rob

    I don't own a gun and I do believe more guns equals more killings. But I also believe if I support restricting someone else's rights, I should should expect my rights to soon be restricted. And once the philosophy and good will of why the law was enacted fades, we're left with a more powerful police state which is why we have the right to bear arms in the first place.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • ELRod

      Amen Rob. This isn't about the individual its about all of us maintaining the ability to resist if need be. Our fellow citizens need to wake up before all of our civil liberties are surrendered in the name of psychological perceived safety.

      I guess this 2 purple heart veteran is now on a FBI list for my comment.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:16 pm |
  22. jake

    What does being a Muslim or an Arab have to do with his reporting? If you don't agree with what he says, debate the issue, not man, his politics, his religion, or his race or ethnicity. This is what is wrong with many in this country, they slander people instead of presenting an argument to support their view. He may not be a gun expert, but what good newsman or reporters do is research the subject matter and speak to experts on the subject, even have them demonstrate physically or with knowledge the basis in which the story has it's foundation. The fact doesn't change, America with 5% of the people has 50% of guns. If he had to have an expert demonstrate how you can modify a semi to an automatic, that would not have been a difficult task.

    There is something obviously wrong when we see what happened in Colorado, happen time and time again. And obviously, whatever rules, laws, restrictions, and controls there may be it doesn't work. Nothing stopped this guy from buying anything and everything he wanted to commit this henious crime. We just can't continue to ignore this problem as it is not going away, more lives will be lost. Guns for legitimate hunting is not the issue, it's guns for the purpose of just having guns to play with is the problem. And no, the 2nd amendment was never intended to make this a Wild Wild West. It never would have be written if they saw what was happening today.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  23. tyrone byrd

    The facts are simple. Either the US does a better job of contolling the flow of assault weapons into the market and the NRA/ leaders aggressively promote this change or we continue to live with blood on our hands in the future. You can't stop every tradegy but work to reduce them can be improved without harming the 2nd ammend. The choice is ours.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:56 pm |
  24. Sean

    I refuse to give up essential civil rights due to the actions of occasionally nut cases, or the statistics of inner-city gang violence.

    July 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  25. merlyn

    Take away all private gun onwership and see how fast we become completely subjugated to either our own government or some foreign power. Andrew Jackson said "A man with a gun is a citizen, a man unarmed is a subject."

    July 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
  26. ProtectAmericans

    Americans are a very strange people. Common sense doesn't exist any more in this society. Fear is its replacement and gun ownership is the answer.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:00 pm |
    • ELRod

      You got that bassackwards. Your the one who sounds scared. If you came out of your apt and got to know your neighbors you wouldnt be so fearful of a right we have had since this nation was founded. Your willing to surrender your own freedoms pretty easily it seems to me.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:20 pm |
  27. sbeth

    Until the Supreme Court rules otherwise, we will keep our guns.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  28. Woody

    The same argument could be made against the 1st Ammendment as well. In this case alone we have seen the Mass Media (Brian Ross at ABC News) libelously identify another person with the same name as the killer, and we have witnessed media outlets telling us what this nut had for breakfast his first morning in prison and what conveinence store clerks thought about him buying soda and candy etcetera...They glorify these mass murders and give them noteriety and attention that they crave and are perhaps influencing the next nut to take the steps to kill many people to "get their name in lights" and live forever in infamy...The Mass Media also glorifies and dehumanizes violence, as well as giving a face and a name to those that commit heinous acts....The Batman movie series itself is very violent and could very well be influencing people too....Most people are responsible and can separate reality from fantasy, the same as most gun owners are and do. We have VERY FEW controls on our Media here in the US and have many controls and restrictions on firearms to no avail...Chicago and DC are GUN FREE cities yet have have the highest gun murder rates in the nation...Maybe the thugs in the hood should be put on a media violence restriction and journalists should be restricted from reporting on all bu the basic facts in these types of cases????

    July 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
  29. Steve

    America is the only country in the world that doesn't use metric. Then they wonder why no one wants to trade with them. The love for guns is another example of a failed education system and systemic ignorance.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:01 pm |
    • brandon

      actualy, Liberia and Myanmar also dont use the metric system

      July 29, 2012 at 4:08 pm |
  30. J

    `Guns in the hands of wrong people is the reason.... psychiatric patients are not the most suitable individuals to be purchasing firearms at free will.... if you continue to take guns from the people who are responsible you will not fix the problem of felons and "nutcases" with guns because they will still find a way to obtain them.... other fact.... arm the right people (with the possibility of multiple armed individuals under a concealed carry state) do you think the "nutcase" would have walked into the "not so helpless" crowd and started firing knowing they would and reasonably could defend themselves.... WAKE UP FAREED

    July 29, 2012 at 4:04 pm |
    • not a deterrant

      J: the "nutcase from CO" was wearing body armor. He was expecting someone else in the theater or police to shoot back at him. Clearly, this knowledge of other gun carriers didn't stop him from carrying out his plan. Additionally, would you feel comfortable with someoneone else in the theater opening fire at the killer amidst a crowd of other people? Civilian gun carriers are NOT trained and tested in marksmanship like the police.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm |
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