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. Paul B

    Yes, we have many guns. Do countries with fewer or no guns have less violence ? And how do people protect themselves from rebels trying to overthrow their government ? What if the government is a tyranny ? MANY more people will (and have) been maimed or killed..... What about "real" punishment for violent criminals ? Let's see, it's OK to kill people because my grades are too low or because the other kids don't like me (sarcasm). Probation will be OK in this case... boo hoo.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  2. Zorg

    So Fareed, did you ever look up illusory correlation? I like your style and it would be a shame for you to fall into the mental gutter with the rest of the talking heads.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  3. MrId

    I got one word for you: zombies

    July 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  4. MyFeelsMatter

    President Barack Obama is backing a controversial campaign by progressives to regulate schools’ disciplinary actions so that members of major racial and ethnic groups are penalized at equal rates, regardless of individuals’ behavior.

    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/07/27/obama-backs-race-based-school-discipline-policies/#ixzz227hkvFLI

    July 30, 2012 at 12:17 pm |
  5. Matthew

    I usually hold a high regard to Fareed Z arguements but this is by far the stupidest artticle written to date. The whole reason for the 2nd amendment is to arm the populace. our founding fathers believed it was the people's obligation to overthrow a tyrannical government. The last thing I want for my countrymen is to be unarmed and face the same fate of those like the Palestinians, rebel Syrians, North Korean populace and other unarmed societies.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:18 pm |
  6. Andy

    Didn't the gunman's semi-automatic rifle jam and he was unable to clear the jam? The level of ignorance by commentators shows that despite having so many weapons in the United States, apparently a very large percventage of the population knows very little about those weapons. The shotgun he carried, in a small space like a movie theater was the far, far more deadly weapon, especially if it had a high-capacity magazine, a choke that spread the pellets, and big game shells with lots of large pellets.

    With both military and law enforcement experience I would choose the shotgun over the rifle every time for a firefight under 50 yards.. and no one is talking about banning hunting shotguns.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  7. Terry

    Another factually inaccurate anti-gun article on CNN. It's really embarrassing how CNN is using it's position in the media to try to influence opinion on an item like gun control. It's pathetic actually.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:19 pm |
  8. Scott

    Why is it that our founding fathers from hundreds of years ago can be seen and referred to as trustworthy yet today there is "NO WAY" the government can be trustworthy. Time to knock off the conspiracies and scare tactics to further your agendas. Sure, hindsight is 20/20, but perhaps we need to give our leaders some credit and quit making them out to be guilty thugs. All of this rhetoric does nothing but slow progress in this country and make us look like a bunch of fools to the world. It's downright tiring.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  9. Terry

    If the movie theater would have let people carry weapons for self defense into their theater, the death toll would be a lot less. Colorado and the city of Aurora have laws in place forbidding those with concealed weapons permits from carrying into business which forbid weapons. But the media is not reporting that.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:21 pm |
  10. Shuffler

    Well freek does not have to buy a gun to protect himself from whackos. He does not have to post any story..... oh wait in our country we have freedoms. Maybe freek is not happy here and would like to move to a place with less freedom. Well he is free to do that too. Isn't that great.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  11. cmnsns57

    I have to take exception to the assertion that these other countries with fewer guns per capita have less gun violence than the US. Have you watched the news lately? Every day there are reports of attacks throughout the middle east, most of Asia and many of the states in Africa. I guess since we tag them with the "terrorist" label they don't count. But where do you think the anit-social and psychotic in those areas gravitate to? They are not as inactive as you try to portray them. They find acceptance and access to guns through the extremists that manipulate them and point them to political targets. It may not be as random, but the effects are the same.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  12. peterd

    There is a simple solution to this issue.
    II see no valid reason civilian ownership of Semi or Automatic military rifles, or machine pistols like UZi's etc so these must be banned for civilian use. All existing ones in civilians hands should be handed in under an Amnesty or if Antiques handed in to a museum. Value of guns can be deducted in Income tax bill to avoid financial loss. Automatic Hand guns no hand carry, No exception, OK to own for home protection but only if trained and certified to use one and can be stored safely. And for Hand Carry, can only be revolvers. SIngle Shot Hunting Rifles OK, Shotguns are OK, with longer than 18" barrels(s) but should not allow those with automatic actions. And of course all must be registered in a central database along with their Ballistic record. Ammo can only be supplied in cases of 100 rounds or less. Max of 500 rounds per sale per person. No online sales. You know presently the going rate for a 1000 rounds of M16 ammo? It is about $450, that about 50 cents a round, and there seems no limit on how much you can purchase on line. This makes absolutely no sense to me.
    So you can still own and bear arms. Why why, can we not be sensible and responsible about it? Ok I was dreaming....

    July 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
  13. momzna

    The world map in the article looks highly bogus.
    What does it show for the Middle East? From what I see every day on the news, either there are no civilians in that region or they are all armed with things much more serious than just AK-47s.
    The same applies to many countries in Africa and South America.
    What about the ongoing bloodshed in Mexico?
    Those places are all miraculously "green" on the map. Russia looks like a docile place on the map. I don't know how they count homicides, but until recent times not a single day passed by without somebody having been shot or blown up. Some former Soviet republics in Asia – armed 110%.

    If people think that stricter gun control would make our life better, then by all means go for it. Just don't use fake statistics to promote somebody's political agenda.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:22 pm |
    • momzna

      Speaking of statistics: how do you consider a person who owns several firearms? As a single armed civilian or as several armed civilians?

      July 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm |
  14. Charles Riley

    I disagree with Mr. Zakaria. We need more gun training at all ages so as to make ownership and gun handeling opportunities safer for all involved. Gun control does not work.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:23 pm |
  15. Nick

    Gun control laws will certainly help to keep guns ot of the hands of law abiding citizens including such folk as retired military and police. But how do you advocates of "gun control" propose to keep the "bad guys" from getting ahold of a weapon?

    July 30, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  16. zibom

    Fareed Zakaria statistics are wrong and misleading and he is also leaving out some very imporant information. Ask him to show you the statistics for England where gun violence rose 49% after the government took away guns from citizens. The reason gun violence is on the rise is becuase criminals know you are disarmed. If you want solid gun control you re-arm people so they can defend themselves. That is the best deterent for people who want to walk into a movie theater or internet cafe and cause harm to another human being is knowing there are armed people in there. If you don't believe that you are brainwashed.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:25 pm |
  17. Rick

    Wow – CNN is becoming the new MSNBC. Thats 2 pro gun control pieces in a matter of days.

    There are so many missing points in this story, but just to pick on the chart....how about another chart that shows the number of televisions per household? Maybe, just maybe, the number of guns is in correlation to the wealth and the freedom of the country? Murder capitals of the world like Kingston Jamica and Mexico city aren't in those brown areas, are they? Stop spewing the liberal mantra, and have an honest debate, Fareed and Rowland on one side and some sensible guys on the other.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  18. Brian

    As usual picking and choosing his data. The citiies with the strictest gun laws are also the most violent. I have half a dozen weapons, not a single one has ever killed anyone

    July 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  19. canniwander

    Take away the guns. Then you'll need to take away the knives, then any chemical that can be used for combustion, then any chemical (or plant) that can be used as a poison, then any martial art training. Also, people that served in the military will need to be confined to an island somewhere far removed from the rest of us because they have been trained to kill in hand to hand combat.

    Sure, this makes total sense. Kind of like TSA banning knives because someone used a box-cutter for evil purposes. Quit being a coward and thinking the tool makes the crime. Guns maybe more convenient to use in a killing, but they certainly do not have the market cornered. A long ways from it, as you like to say, in fact.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:26 pm |
  20. Piyush Desai

    Fareed Zakaria presents a problem; but what is the solution ? Can enacting gun control laws recover almost 300 million guns already in circulation ?

    In countries like Britain or India, killers use other weapons like switch-blades or hockey sticks. Should these also be legally banned ?

    July 30, 2012 at 12:27 pm |
  21. Aaron

    I appreciate the amount of deception Mr. Zakaria uses in his data analysis. He repeatedly refers specifically to violent crime perpetrated with guns. Why? It's because a cursory look at a chart of intentional homicide rates around the world reveals that, while a high rate gun possession may correlate with more gun-based violent crime, it does not necessarily imply more violent crime in general. Murderers will always find a manner in which to murder; gun controls only serves as a hindrance to our Second Amendment rights.


    July 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Aaron

      Here's the legend:


      July 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • MMeans

      Yes, of course. Because without guns, this guy would have walked into the theatre and killed everyone with his superb hand to hand combat skills, some throwing stars, and a Rambo knife.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm |
      • Darkseider

        Or he could have done the same thing as what was done at Happy Land in NY. A gallon of gas and a match killed 87. Hell a 5 gallon bucket of gas mixed with commonly available gelling agents and a road flare and he could have killed far more than 12. But hey this is CNN and I wouldn't expect any rational thought at all.

        July 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  22. Satan

    Odd, I thought that it was illegal already for people being treated for Psychological disorders to possess a firearm?

    July 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  23. james - St. Paul, MN

    Because Zakaria makes a clear and proper analysis of the situation, it will be rejected. Americans don't want to face the facts about guns, war, budgets, climate change, or most other issues of relevance. Americans want to continue living the fantasy life they see in the movies, which has virtually no relationship to the actual issues / concerns of our country or our world.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
    • Joel

      Actually, if i were grading this as a research paper it would get a D. Why? Because of inadequate research. His findings are dead wrong on some points. I looked at the same graphs he did. Zakaria fails to mention that DC with some of the strictest gun control has the highest firearms homicide in the US. Assault weapons used in crime are almost 100% of the time, illegal firearms. No one with a class 3 license is going out with a $20K firearm to rob a liquor store. Firearm storage and trigger locks are common sense anyway.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm |
  24. James Brady

    Some of you should reread the article. Using his own statistics, one could come to the conclusion that violent crime rates have dropped due to widespread gun ownership in America. That's what's wonderful about statistics . . .

    July 30, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  25. idb

    Yes, let's face the facts on gun control. Fact is that is doesn't work, except for criminals. They love gun control.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
  26. Kelly Kim

    I agree firmly with this article. Guns kill. No if or buts! It does not matter who carries them. Guns are made for destructive purpose-to end life. Civilians should not be deciding who dies and who live. Gun enthusiasts twisting the 2nd amendment as an excuse for evil.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:33 pm |
    • ski2xs

      Yet you won't cry the same way about auto related deaths. You find that 'acceptable' because you enjoy the convenience, right?

      It's only when it deals with something you're ignorant about and don't understand that it becomes something we need to 'ban'

      Grow up!

      July 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm |
  27. Grafknar

    Must have forgotten that Holmes tried to use a Bomb as well.

    Crack down on guns, and eventually Zakaria will start whining that people shouldn't be trusted with matches.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  28. Sal Voce

    Yo, Zakaria better checkout http://www.abc4.com/content/about_4/bios/story/conceal-and-carry-stabbing-salt-lake-city-smiths/NDNrL1gxeE2rsRhrWCM9dQ.cspx

    Next thing he'll be wanting is KNIFE CONTROL! WHAT A DOLT!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:34 pm |
  29. ski2xs

    Can't believe the ignorant masses here. For those who REALLY think that "more guns = more violence" Look up Kennesaw, Ga. and their unique 'gun control'

    Now, explain to me why everyone there isn't dead. . . go ahead, I'd love to hear the reasoning. Add Switzerland to that list too!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
  30. Joel

    Sure we got a few firearms deaths. Maybe we need to look more closely at the statistics. How many of the deaths involved illegally owned firearms(convicted felons)? Legally owned firearms involved in good shoots(killing should not even be in the statistics) or police kills or suicide by cop. Maybe instead of banning firearms from law abiding citizens, we should be increasing penalties for felons obtaining firearms.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:36 pm |
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