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. Steve C.

    The "ireport" connected to this story wants you to share your photo and tell them why you have a gun. And anyone that does is very close to "retarrrrrded".

    Of course, right away Mr ireporter!


    July 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • Sue

      The person that provide a photo should have his gun taken away! That person is irresponsible. Big brother wants a photo of that gun too with you holding it.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
  2. Alex

    FZ, this article is a perfect example of correlation without causation. Please go back to college and take some stats.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  3. coloradom

    Let's just keep everyone (except the military) locked up in their homes for their entire lives. This would eliminate almost all crime and accidental death. Sure, you can take away guns and there would be fewer accidents, and the crazies who would normally purchase guns would take another route instead. People are naive to think that crime and homicides will decline with gun control. Only the means will change. I guess that as a country, we need to decide: would we rather have our freedoms, or would we rather the government decide on what we can do in every facet of our life?

    July 29, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  4. Travis Bickle

    Anyone who has ever read much of Fareed Zakaria's writing knows that he's a globalist shill. And anyone who has ever paid attention to what happens to U.S. cities when you tighten up gun restrictions (recent example: Chicago, IL) knows that while gun control or restrictions may reduce crimes in some other countries, it simply doesn't work here.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  5. GunsVersusBombs

    If he would have come in with C4 or a bag full of handmade pipe bombs... way more people would have died.

    Guns are NOT THE PROBLEM. Mental health is the issue here

    July 29, 2012 at 4:37 pm | Reply
    • FreeBlogger

      Exactly!! I agree, that's why we must have a mental evaluation with every single Gun Sale and every month of Gun ownership, just to determine why a person is so insecure that makes him to buy or even think to buy or keep a gun in this age.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  6. Kris

    I tend to think we do have more maniacs in the states. I have spent a few years living abroad and several months traveling only to come to the conclusion that each place has its positive and negative attributes, but people in the states have a unique mindset about their relationship to the state. Americans tend to be Hobbesian. They also tend to be Rambo-like in their love of guns. It's obnoxious to me. I get sick of living around gun violence.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  7. Globalist Shill

    This whole problem goes away when we adopt a One World Police Force.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  8. coloradom

    "We have 5 percent of the world's population and 50 percent of the guns."

    We also have 5 percent of the world's population and over 30% of the world's net worth.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Reply
    • Bill from Long Island

      Of course we have all that wealth, we produce over 25% world's GDP. Make sense, will ya?

      July 29, 2012 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  9. Bill from Long Island

    Only cowards fear guns. I noticed that Fareed never mentioned that this nation
    has never had a dictator,
    has never been invaded,
    has never had a military junta.
    Its a country where
    folks won't starve, cause they can hunt;
    where most sleep without fear of home invasion, because they can defend themselves.
    If you don't like the guns Americans are guaranteed as citizens.... leave. You will not be missed.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • FreeBlogger

      Only insecure individuals needs a Gun who always think there is someone who wants to kills you.

      July 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  10. rdeleys

    Ardent gun enthusiasts either 1) are such sissies they crap their pants at the sight of their own shadow, or 2) they have deep-seated doubts about their own se.xual adequacy and can't feel like a man without a gun. Either way, they need to see a therapist.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Bill from Long Island


      July 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  11. Rob

    Number One Favorite American right: to Buy a gun.
    Number two " " " to find a reason to use it on someone.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • Bill from Long Island

      You are wrong about the first thing you said, I would say its the first amendment, not the second. Let us know if your volunteering for the second thing you said, chicken little..

      July 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  12. Nutcases

    The U.S. stands out from the rest of the world because it has more nutcases like Fareed Zakaria.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  13. Leo

    Fact 1: Full auto weapons are extremely difficult to purchase due to the paperwork and extremely high prices (minimum $15,000 per gun) and the only ones available to purchase were all built before 1986. Fact 2: The laws in place for even attempting to convert a semi-auto to a full auto will land your prison and huge fines already. Fact 3: Semi's are not built to convert to full auto, regardless of whatever some people in here are posting. Fact 4: 10,000 plus gun laws are already in place in this country. Fact 5: Our right in this country to own firearms is exactly that, A RIGHT. Just like freedom of speech and the right to vote. And this right is just one of the many reasons why this country is different than the rest of the world, and will continue to be so. There is a reason people want to come to this country, it's our RIGHTS. Respect, support and defend all of them, or you might as well kiss them ALL goodbye if the second goes away.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  14. FortWorthBIll

    "guns laws have gotten looser and getting automatic weapons has become easier.' Obviously Fareed did not do his research. Getting an automatic weapon requires a Class III Federal Firearms License. Do a bit of research and read the requirements to obtain that license. Not having your facts correct blow all your crdibility!

    July 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  15. dkw

    Surely there is no one who believes more gun laws would curb gun ownership or gun crimes. Drugs have been illegal FOREVER yet not one ounce nor one bag has been cleared off of the streets. Think about it. The federal government has extensive organizations who do NOTHING but fight drugs from getting on the street but yet they have no success. Drugs can be bought most anywhere. Laws will not keep guns off of the street. Only a person with his head buried in the sand would believe that. Once drugs are erradicated from the streets, then, and only then would I vote for more gun laws.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Reply
  16. rarinmn

    As a few sharp-eyed observers have noted the word "automatic" appears in this and in E. J. Dionne's recent commentary. This looks to be a planned misstatement by both of them (and probably with the blessing of the rest of the anti-gunners) to subtly introduce the notion that their proposed ban of automatic weapons should include both semi-automatic and fully automatic ones since they make no distinction between them.

    This has long been a hot-button issue with the most rabid of the gun-banning politicians and writers since it has been their mission to eliminate all but single-shot rifles and 6-shot revolvers and it serves their purposes to lump everything else into an "automatic" category so as to broaden the scope of an overall ban.

    There will never be nor can there ever be anything resembling a "conversation" on gun control, at least not on the basis on which they want it. There simply is no common ground on which to build from.

    If you start from the belief, as they do, that all gun owners are nothing more than "pre-criminals" who are not to be trusted with anything more lethal than a cap pistol since they cannot guarantee they will not "snap" at some future date, there is nothing to discuss. You would either accept that assumption or reject it and that would be the end of the discussion and the obvious result would flow from it.

    Mr. Zacharia is simply of the belief that that there are sufficient gullible people who will buy into his distorted logic and sway their political representatives into banning everything since nothing can be made safe in the "wrong" hands since everyone is potentially classifiable as being the "wrong hands". However, all he's really doing is demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of the issue or a lack of research into it.

    Admittedly, gun control is a polarizing subject, perhaps just as much as abortion, capital punishment, or any issue on which people hold strong opinions. People will not be swayed by obscure polls showing what their authors want them to reflect. They will base their opinions on what they see in their own lives and will use their own judgement and will not be cowed into subscribing to what either the NRA or the Brady Campaign have to say. In short, people are not stupid.

    The trend for decades has been for a loosening of restrictions on gun ownership in general and the prevention of gun ownership by criminals and crazies. That's not because of the NRA. That's because of what the public wants and what makes sense to them. The fact that the politicians have no interest in opposing the opinions of the public who elected them is surprising only to those who have insufficient knowledge as to how representative democracy works in this country.

    Hopefully, there will not be a repeat of the tragedy in Aurora. But whether there is or not will have virtually nothing to do with the gun-banners' efforts to disarm the public. Just as we saw in the so-called assault weapon ban of a decade ago it had no impact on anything. The reason for its failure was determined by the anti-gun crowd to be that it did not go far enough because it was filled with loopholes. That is the one true statement being made by them. All "sensible" gun control measures will never go "far enough' so they must be continually tightened to the point where ultimately it will be impossible for the public to possess any firearms.

    Everyone knows this and that's the compelling reason no one wants to start down that road.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  17. DK

    Yeah.. it's much better to be in Syria, in which the government has the guns (and tanks, and jets) and uses them on the citizens... instead of here... in which our government actually has reasons to fear the citizens.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  18. Leo

    We have too many news agencies in this country. I think CNN should be banned from reporting news and posting opinions on our RIGHTS as citizens.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:47 pm | Reply
    • Globalist Shill



      July 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  19. True American

    Fareed, congrats at showing how un-American you truly are becasue you obviously have no understanding about WHY Americans have so many guns and WHY we Americans have the Second Amendment... and that is so that WE THE PEOPLE can protect ourselves from eachother and most importantly from Tyrants which is why the rest of the world opposes gun freedom because they are still new to Liberty and still under forms of Tyranny even if it is a minor form of Tyranny... we are the only free people in the world because we are the only ARMED PEOPLE in the world...

    July 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  20. American Exceptionalism

    “Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who didn't.- Ben Franklin, Founding Father.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  21. Globalist Shill

    So I'm hanging out with JackD up there at the UN cafe the other day and we got to thinking how we could best render guns as ineffectual as the pro-gun logic in this thread and we came to the conclusion that with the US's best days behind it we ought to just step back and let them self destruct. We both leaned back in our chairs, took a sip of our espresso, served in a sippy-cup by the nanny state so we could not hurt ourselves, nodded at each other, satisfied that time and an evil smirk was all that was required.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  22. Jim Weix

    Sorry, I'll suffer along in America.
    Canada has fewer registered guns, but the black market in Canada of unregistered guns is huge.
    Mexico is a joke, and the world's black market for guns is huge.
    Additionally, in many of the countries, murders are not even worth reporting because it is the governments doing the murdering.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  23. Matt Williston

    Fareed, your article missed the obvious point: Any change in laws will *only* affect those who *follow* them. Criminals can still get the automatic weapons on the black market regardless of any laws passed, because *by definition*, criminals aren't following the law to begin with.

    Your articles are usually thought out a little better than this...

    July 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  24. cucotx

    With the drug problem that the US is struggling with, guns will not go away. Sure, you may be able to make it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to own guns, but, the criminals will always have them.

    States with strict gun laws have the most crimes. Just look it up.

    Guess what will happen if one day there is a disaster and somehow food stops going to a city like NY. In 3 days, with the food gone from super markets, there will be chaos in that city. But, the criminals will have all the guns. Parents will have no way of protecting their family.

    No matter how civilized the world gets, as long as there are criminals, a gun is the most appropriate way for a parent to protect their families.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  25. Coolio

    Nice job trying to sidestep the facts and statistical data. By looking at a nation by nation comparison you are creating a set of prejudicial statistical law and law enforcement vary greatly from one country to the next. A better comparison can be made between locations inside the United States, where laws are more uniform. The bottom line is, and will always be, that... those places in the U.S. with more gun control also have higher rates of violent crime (especially those crimes involving firearms). For example without reviewing the data, I would venture to guess that Detroit, NYC or Los Angeles have more violent crime per capita than say... Wasco, OR, Ballarat, NV or Rolla, MT.

    Remember Zakaria is a news reporter who makes money stirring up this sort of response to a sad national tragedy. An opportunist, like the vulture that circles high in the sky waiting to feed upon carrion of an ageing or injured animal, he wishes to turn the death in Aurora into a tidy profit for himself.

    Enjoy your paycheck sir....

    July 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
    • Globalist Shill

      I'd venture to say you didn't read the article in it's entirety. He addresses local (state) murder rates and compares where gun control laws are in place (like NY) to where they are not. Gun control states have lower rates of murder by guns.

      http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/01/the-geography-of-gun-deaths/69354/ (the yellow ones are the sane states)

      July 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
      • Coolio

        I'd venture to say that you didn't understand what you read. The Atlantic article isn't talking about gun violence, it's talking about fatal injuries that were attributed to firearms. Furthermore it does not discuss "murder rates" like you said, since murder rates would include murders which cannot be attributed to firearms. The rate of death by firearm is higher, per capita, in those places where firearms are actively used but most of those deaths are accidents and not murders. If you want to get murdered you would do better to visit a "sane state" like New York where murders make up the bulk of firearm fatalities because criminals are the gun owners. You fell right into Zakaria's little statistical ruse. If he had wanted to provide a clear picture he might have compared per capita gun ownership by state against death and injury as a result of gun crime (excluding accidents). But that's not what he wanted to do.

        Make sure you read, and understand, the article which we are discussing before you post, and especially before you criticize other for not having read the article in its entirety.

        yours truly,


        August 2, 2012 at 2:43 pm |
  26. dkw

    Exellant point DK

    July 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  27. Pat

    His civilian owned firearms per 100 inhabitants graph also needs to reflect similar findings in murders per 100,000 inhabitants for this argument to even begin to be factual. US is #63 in murders per 100,000 inhabitants. That means US has 62 countries ahead of it with fewer civilan owned firearms and higher murder rates. What is the cause? Guns, no. Get rid of their weapons first, but twait that would not go with his idealogy.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  28. Loki

    Zakaria is such a wuss. Every week he snivels about something. Take your poofy statistics and shove them...

    July 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm | Reply
    • Poofy Stats

      "Take this stat and shove it, I ain't livin' here no more"

      July 29, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
      • Loki

        I can't take him any longer. Every week FZ has all the answers and everyone else is wrong. Maybe I just hate the way he looks.......

        July 29, 2012 at 5:12 pm |
    • Ret

      I don't know about a wuss... he signed his article and you are behind a screen name.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:08 pm | Reply
      • Loki

        How using your real name changes anything I'm not sure. I certainly used my real name when I enlisted in the Army. I don't think FZ ever put his head in harms way or held a gun. He is just a soft little "Tulip". sic "Lawrence of Arabia"

        July 29, 2012 at 5:20 pm |
      • Ret

        I did my time in the army as well using my name as well, like many here. You don't think or you don't know if he's used weapons? You've got no facts but you like to comment negatively on him and that's how you show here.

        July 29, 2012 at 5:27 pm |
      • Loki

        Well "Ret", I read his bio. He didn't mention any time served. So I'm going with my "editorial" on FZ. He's a girl.

        July 29, 2012 at 5:33 pm |
      • christy

        Zakaria doesn't understand that you can't legislate humanitarianism

        July 29, 2012 at 6:19 pm |
  29. edmundburkeson

    Perhaps Fareedy, you would be more comfortable in one of those others countries. I feel that we compare exceedingly well to other countries. Weapons are a free societies' check against tyrants and if you are not comfortable with the liberty. Go find a nation that is tyrannical enough to control your personal life and against which you have no weapon.

    July 29, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
    • edmundburkeson

      I think you are feeling a little smarted by the rejection of the world government's attempt to control weapons. We need a check against them as well.

      July 29, 2012 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  30. Nuetral

    I guess my simple question is what is acceptable from the PRO gun control crowd? Be realistic... and ANTI gun control crowd hold off on comments until there are 20 PRO comments... I've got guns, member of NRA (not by choice), and would like to know if there is any chance of neutral ground...

    ... limit the amount of guns? If so to what? How would this change the status quo?
    ... limit the capability of guns sold to public? If so to what? How would this change the status quo?
    ... increase requirements for background checks? If so to what? How would this change the status quo?
    ... register weapons? How would this change the status quo?
    ... tougher punishments for those who break the laws? How would this change the status quo?
    ... make handguns more difficult to purchase? How would this change the status quo?

    Answer any of these questions...
    Would any of these prevented the shootings in CO?
    Would any of these bring down overall gun fatalities?
    What should we do with the guns the population has right now?

    July 29, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
    • ReligiousGuy

      @Nuetral: Look at homicides in UK & India (both places with strict gun laws). Lower rate of homicides per 100,000 than in US.

      Secondly, if we had strict gun laws, the 2 nutcases in CO shootings would not have been able to buy all these weapons and ammo used.

      Many guns are sold by private citizens to others and that does not need background checks which can result in guns landing easily in the hands of nutcases.

      July 29, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Reply
    • Nuetral

      So what do we do with the guns citizens already have?

      July 29, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Reply
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