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. Robert

    We have more shootings because we have a lack of personal responsibility. We (Americans in general) blame others for our (respective) actions. We are a Nation of blame shifters. "It's not my fault, it's ___________________ (fill in the blank). "I didn't do nothin'" is a commonly heard phrase.

    Just like the lunatic in Norway and the previous attacks carried out be lunatics, it's the LUNATIC who is to blame.

    Do we blame the car or alcohol companies when drunks kill people? Do we blame the makers of rat poison and bearings/bolts when bombers blow themselves up? No, because it's the individual who did the deed. But when guns are involved, every bleeding heart comes out of the woodwork to demonize guns.

    In the words of one of our greatest, "Those who would sacrifice essential Liberty for safety deserve neither iberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:31 pm |
  2. sfg

    fareed should move back to Jihadistan.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:34 pm |
  3. HonestyCounts

    Mad or Evil – Timothy McVeigh used FERTILIZER!!!!! No guns – a homemade explosive device. So What Fareed? Gonna ban fertilizer as well?...............................AND KNIVES........................and suicide bomb kits?

    What a stupid man!

    July 27, 2012 at 11:38 pm |
  4. Stevetundra

    Your article is far too brief to really give a good understanding of this topic (I understand there is limited space).

    Look up "Number of guns per capita by country" in Wikipedia and you'll see that the stats on number of guns in each country can have a very wide margin of error plus or minus. Hence, we may in fact NOT be the ONLY country with over 70 per 100.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:39 pm |
  5. gatorjaws

    Sure, but the reality is more people are killed by people talking, tweeting,blogging, and texting on their cell phones while driving every year than by guns. Where's the outcry over that?

    July 27, 2012 at 11:41 pm |
  6. AntiCitizenOne

    If Holmes did not have access to guns, the Aurora theater would have been the site of a bombing with even more killed, because Holmes apparently was cunning enough to build IEDs around his home. And you wouldn't have solved the original problem in the first place.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  7. Alan

    More gun laws? Well here is some interesting laws on the books – In PA you can't be a felon and own a firearm yet every years 5,000 felons lie on gun applications in an attempt to purchase a firearm. And you know what PA does with these felons who attempt to illegally purchase a gun. NOTHING! So yeah we need more gun laws.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:42 pm |
  8. mahmoud el-darwish

    Fareed. That's an excellent exposé . Allow me to temper the tendency to be one-sided about the issue of firearms related violence and gun proliferation. While I fully agree that the statistics speak for themselves with respect to the relationship between gun proliferation and gun-related homicides; I am not in agreement that the psychology of America is on par with that of the rest of the world- nor for that matter, with America itself in the past!
    I have written about this in various places, particularly right after a mass murder spree such as the most recent.
    What you may find even more alarming is the combination of gun proliferation combined with a progressively worsening social and psychological topography added to a deep and prolonged recession, spell real trouble for the US.
    It is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff at times. I advocate stricter enforceable gun laws plus more common sense as well. America's problem is a National Psychosis. If the violence wasn't enacted through guns, it would be implemented in other ways. Witness the booby trapped apartment of the perpetrator in question. Gun control is very helpful but it really boils down to healing a sick nation.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
  9. David

    Fareed, I always enjoy your perceptions and opinions, and most days I agree with you. Today, is not one of those days! Perhaps you might rethink your position on guns in America when you have a 45 cal.a.c.p. (pistol) at your head 30 minutes after you have dialed 911. Then just maybe you might want to have yourself and those around you armed. Because the criminals will always have guns.

    July 27, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  10. mahmoud el-darwish

    I failed to answer the second part. "What would you change"
    1) I would put a halt to the glorification of violence in media for the sake of entertainment and profit
    2) I would limit the number of guns a family may own
    3) I would put strict limits on ammunition
    4) I would demand a full course of training and PSYCHOLOGICAL assessment of each and every gun purchase applicant prior to granting a license
    5) I would require re-certification of gun license holders every 5 years
    6) I would ban assault weapons for all except military & police
    7) I would instate a nationwide system of community watch so that errant persons can be helped before they can do harm

    July 27, 2012 at 11:58 pm |
    • sevenseas

      And how long until your changes are applied to the other rights? By limiting one right in these ways sets precedence to limit the others.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:06 am |
    • virginian76

      I don't know about number #7... look what happened to Trayvon Martin.

      July 28, 2012 at 1:37 am |
    • kbwizard

      Why not just declare martail law? How about house to house serches? One reason that thsi debate never goes anywere is becuse people do not think befroe they write or speak. I have owned firearms for over a quter of a centry.
      I have not shot anyone. But lets just say we use your plan. Can you promise that this will never happen again?

      No one is safe against a mad man hell bent on mass murder. There is no law for that. BTW I have lost loved ones due to gun violence. So I know the pain. However I will not let my pain obscure my thinking abilities.

      July 29, 2012 at 9:03 am |
  11. UallRwrong

    We may have bought some time, but I and countless other people have gotten ready for it if they ever do get their way. All of my guns just,...... diappeared... Where did they go??? lol. Be prepared. Anything is better than being taken by surprise. Research about what is best for you. Mine's a good one. I keep the gun I use for work, but anything else I had just,....... disappeared......

    July 27, 2012 at 11:59 pm |
    • Jean Sartre

      Please tell us where you work...

      July 28, 2012 at 3:52 pm |
  12. safe

    Why not ban swimming pools lots of people die in those too. It is ignorant to think that we can legislate ourselves into safety, evil people simply do evil things and taking away guns prevents good people from having the right to defend themselves.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • nina

      Noone is going to take a swimming pool to commit a crime.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
  13. jUSTtHEfACTSmAAm

    Guns don't kill people.
    People kill people.

    A gun is a machine that without it's user, remains harmlessly dormant. One could stand in the middle of one-million loaded ak-47's and NEVER receive a scratch....EVER.

    Zakaria, do you REALLY want to stop gun related crime in the U.S.? It can be accomplished, but not by some fanciful 'restrictive' law being passed...

    No sir. If you REALLY want to things like this to stop, assign a weapon to every single adult in the country. Pass a law that make it a REQUIREMENT

    July 28, 2012 at 12:28 am |
    • Combat Veteran

      The second Amendment made it a Requirement. Time has changed the meaning.

      July 28, 2012 at 2:32 am |
  14. jUSTtHEfACTSmAAm


    Guns don't kill people.
    People kill people.

    A gun is a machine that without it's user, remains harmlessly dormant. One could stand in the middle of one-million loaded ak-47's and NEVER receive a scratch....EVER.

    Zakaria, do you REALLY want to stop gun related crime in the U.S.? It can be accomplished, but not by some fanciful 'restrictive' law being passed...

    No sir. If you REALLY want to things like this to stop, assign a weapon to every single adult in the country. Pass a law that make it a REQUIREMENT

    July 28, 2012 at 12:29 am |
  15. jUSTtHEfACTSmAAm

    ...to carry a firearm.

    True 'Gun Control' is the ability to hit your target.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:30 am |
    • UallRwrong

      I'll go with that one....

      July 28, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  16. Wisewoman1

    For sale: genuine howitzer, fires 1,200 rounds in 15 seconds, attatched to small size tank. Any buyers?

    July 28, 2012 at 12:38 am |
    • UallRwrong

      I'll buy it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! lol.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:46 am |
  17. Steve Kothenbeutel

    Here we go again... discussing the same topic we always discuss after a crime has been committed with weapons. Hey Zak.. if you don't mind me calling you Zak... actually I don't give a _____! So Zak... I say this... lets go ahead and delete the 2nd amendment. What happens after that? No longer does the American Government have any fear of its citizens. No longer does the American Government need to give people the right of trial by jury. No longer does the Government see a need in preserving the rights of people and effectively turns us all into sheep. Come on... seriously? Do we really need to have this conversation again? Its the price of freedom folks. Give your 2nd amendment rights away the federal government no longer fears you.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:47 am |
    • virginian76

      right said Fred....the 2nd amendment gives us the power to protect our self from the possible tyranny of our own government... our government was formed because of that reason. the people of this country threw out the British government from this land.... that's why our country is the country you know today, not some lame duck country like Canada.

      July 28, 2012 at 1:32 am |
  18. Sierrafoxtrot

    The individual is always the root of whatever act of violence is carried out, that being said the weapon of choice becomes secondary. The point is that guns are inanimate objects just as knives and the materials to make bombs and without human interaction are all harmless. This leads to another problem, if guns are not available what will be chosed to carry out a given violent act? A knife, a bomb, a vehicle? Again, if someone is in a state of mind that results in planning a violent act with the intent to cause death, fear, damage or sende a message the lack of a legal means to obtain an object or materials to craft an object will not stop the act from being carried out....maybe make it more difficult, possibly...but stop it, fat chance.
    Consider the last time that your pots, pans and cooking appliances and utensils got together and made you a nutrtious hot meal on their own....what? that has never happened? that's what I thought just like a gun has never wandered out on it's own and killed someone!
    The bigger problem is that governing bodies feel the need to govern to the lowest common denominator...example – a story makes the news where a man is burned by scalding hot coffee from a fast food restaurant...sound familiar...suddenly labeling and warnings are required by law that inform people that the coffee served is extremely hot and will burn should it come in contact with bare skin. It's as if we are all suddenly infants again and we need some great authority to tell us what to do at every turn.
    Remember that each bit of legislation is new and does not replace existing law so the mountain keeps getting higher and with the passage of each law an equal amount of freedom dissapears!

    July 28, 2012 at 12:52 am |
  19. Sierrafoxtrot

    ...also you are citing statistics...give me a break, statistics can be manipulated to support any arguement. Give me a challenge and I will show you how to do it. Tell me if you would like me to present my own set of statistics to negate your claims.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:03 am |
  20. SoArizona

    After so many pieces that are inaccurate, I believe the CNN public deserve you be demoted or fired. Where you come up with your fiction. . . er. . . facts is beyond reality. Maybe you should be working for Schoolastic in the fiction department. You obviously do NOT fact check. Where IS your paper trail or your recorded factual interviews. Ohhhh that's right, you have nothing but a keyboard and a deadline. You ARE a hack of a newsman. Seen better and more accurate reporting in the volunteer section. . . iReport section. Oh by the way. Pack up the things in your offce, YOU ARE fired before you cause us a libelous or defaming law suit. Now that part is fiction that would make wonderful reality.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:10 am |
  21. Dennis

    Fareed wants to draw a connection between having guns and gun violence but his cause and effect analysis is, well, lacking. The US has the worst road rage in the world. This must be caused by our highest percentage of automobile ownership too, right? We are also the most overweight country in the world. Must be caused by the most forks per capita!

    July 28, 2012 at 1:12 am |
  22. virginian76

    As a gun collector I must say that gun control in America is sort of retarded. It's retarded because when you fill out the local and federal criminal background to register the gun the applicants need to make a check mark if they are mentally ill or not.

    If I had the power to pass a gun control bill I would have every applicant who wants to buy a gun
    – First, pass a criminal background check of course.
    – Second, get certified by the state that the applicant is sane, not some nutt job.
    – Third, only civilians who are employed that requires a firearm be able to purchase bullet proof armor.
    – Four, high capacity drum magazines should be banned.
    – Five, get rid of state gun laws and instead just have federal gun laws.
    – Six, limit high capacity rounds to 30ish.
    – Seven, make it harder to get a Concealed Weapons Permit. I think it should be as hard as getting a Class III license...this would eliminate people like Zimmerman.
    ......that's all I can think for now.

    July 28, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • Joe D

      I am glad it is not up to you.
      1. already done 2. virtually impossible to do, and leaving it up to local authorities has already failed in many areas 3. body armor available to civilians is pretty poor stuff – dealers will only sell upper level protection to buyers who can prove they are in the military or are LEOs 4. the drum mag the guy used in CO jammed, like they usually do, so it may have saved lives 5. Only federal laws? Have you looked at the way DC is doing things? 6. most mags already fall in that category 7. CCW already takes classroom and range time as well as finger printing, proof of citizenship, etc. Last – you seem to have already judged Zimmerman, before any trial. Let's wait until all the facts come out, OK?

      July 28, 2012 at 1:47 am |
      • virginian76

        #2 So you're saying that when I check mark that i'm not insane on my application and they just take your word for it fine...why even have it on the application? I have to check mark every time I buy a gun.
        #3 I don't know much about body armors that are available to civilians, but logically who needs bullet proof armor if it's not job related? tell me one good reason why you or I should have one. you seriously think that you can put on the armor when someone breaks into your house middle of the night?
        #4 I have heard the high capacity drum magazines tend to jam, but 100rds really? I am ok with 100rd drum magazines as long as they allow us to buy full automatic weapons that are currently produced... I can unload my 30 clip FN Fal or my AK47 semi automatic in seconds... every gun "expert" knows that a shooter is more accurate with a semi vs a full automatic to begin with...it's all about placement.
        #5 I live 45 mins away from DC – to me they don't have any gun laws in DC because there is not even 1 gun dealer in DC LMAO..... For example, just make Virginia's gun law or even Alaska's gun law which I have no idea make it all uniform country wide... because in my case when I go to a shooting range in MD from VA different laws apply transporting firearms...that's silly... it's like the Tint Law MD is 35% all around, VA is 35% rear and 50% front so even if you have MD tags you can get a ticket.
        #6 Class III weapon license (full automatic weapons made before May 1986) requires you to get endorsed by your local police department and then get approved by the ATF. CCW permit is a joke in VA. You just take a basic safety class which doesn't require range time and this can be done in few hours... proof of citizenship is also in the basic license.
        Btw i'm a member of NRA and Virginia Citizens Defense League and I have collected guns for more than a decade. I have more guns and ammo than this wacko Holmes, but you all were lucky that I was actually sane when I check marked that I was actually not mentally ill...like the VT massacre where one guy with two handguns killed 32 people...he's a clear example of someone who checked marked that he was sane when he wasn't. How hard is it for someone to get certified by the state to be sane? I bet you no more harder than getting your annual physical.

        July 28, 2012 at 2:24 am |
    • Heknowsitall

      yup those criminals really care about Federal laws as much as they do State laws. Let's just keep giving the Feds more and more power because they have such alacrity to do so many things well. Just not on any planet with gravity.

      July 28, 2012 at 1:49 am |
      • virginian76

        I like the federal law vs my state's law... you ever been to VA? it's a police state, they tax you for everything, you can't buy liquor from the grocery store only the state regulated store, i don't even think we have a strip club in this state, no radar detectors, 50% front tint law... but guess what... in our state you can have a gun holstered in plain view in public....aka open carry like the wild wild west.

        July 28, 2012 at 2:30 am |
  23. logical1337

    why does everyone try to compare America to every where else? if we wanted to be like everywhere else we would still be British...

    July 28, 2012 at 1:42 am |
    • dokron

      everywhere else is NOT like Britain! I live in Canada,and we re not like Britain, nor are we like the US (THANK GOD)! I would bet you ve never been to britain,or anywhere else!

      July 28, 2012 at 7:47 am |
  24. Heknowsitall

    In nearly every massacre that occurs on schools, universities they are "gun free zones". This assures the psychopaths they can murder with impunity. When only criminals can get guns and this seems to be beyond the cognitive function of he gun control advocates and the fool who wrote this article-criminals don't care about laws. That's why they are criminals. At Columbine-17 laws were broken. So what? What is the democrat argument? We need more laws that will save us all...

    July 28, 2012 at 1:48 am |
    • virginian76

      You are so correct.... any criminal or a nutt case right now can walk into a class, theater, restaurant, church... basically anywhere you can find venerable people and shoot them like a fish in a barrel.

      July 28, 2012 at 2:01 am |
  25. Joe D

    Worse yet, if we wanted to be like everyone else, we'd be French! (Why do the French plant so many trees beside their roads? So invading armies can march in the shade.)

    July 28, 2012 at 1:49 am |
  26. huxley

    The NRA has this fantasy about how owning lots of guns is somehow protecting our rights as Americans against the US Federal government, but have guns ever been used successfully, at any time in history, by US citizens to protect their rights against the US Federal government? Has it even happened, once?

    The only cases I can think of are cases like Wako, Texas... the Civil War... the Freemen Standoff...

    Usually it doesn't end well for the guys trying to use guns to defend their rights.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:12 am |
  27. Jeff Baker

    Mr. Zakaria is a remarkably informed and intelligent commentator on international events. In most cases, his Harvard education has served him well.

    However, in this case he shows a level of ignorance that is nothing short of remarkable. He reads a few bits from articles he happens to agree with and then says that there is only one solution; no guns means no crime. During the 1920's people believed that if there was no alcohol there'd be no crime. Then in the 1960's people believed that if there were no drugs there'd be no crime. Neither has turned out to be the case.

    Americans are the freest people in the world. To attempt to infringe on one right to satisfy the public's sense of vengeance will eventually endanger all of our rights. After all, someone could easily use statistics and pie charts to say "If there are no Muslims, there would be no terrorists. We need laws to control them!" Such an argument is just as one-dimensional and unjust as Mr. Zakaria's and would be as great a threat to our country's freedoms as the laws that he is proposing.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:14 am |
  28. David Witcraft

    The problem with gun laws, is that a person intent on committing murder, doesn't care about other laws they break along the way. Gun laws overwhelmingly affect law-abiding citizens more than inconvenience criminals. A high quality handgun costs upward of $600 now, but stolen guns are sold on the street for less than $100. Where will a criminal shop? What good will background checks do? No city, locality or state that has passed a restrictive gun law has seen a reduction in gun crime as a result. A lightly armed populace is a magnet for criminals, ask the folks in Morton Grove or Washington D.C. The FBI estimates 99.9% of guns are never used illegally.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:23 am |
  29. Bill

    I always find it extremely funny when gun ownership is equated with "gun violence". Has anyone heard of a little country named Switzerland? People are REQUIRED

    July 28, 2012 at 2:24 am |
  30. Bill

    (cONTINUED) to own at least one firearm there. Now look up their murder rate. What are they doing that's right when we are soooo wrong?

    July 28, 2012 at 2:26 am |
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