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. Jim

    While not exact, it's interesting to consider how closely the gun deaths map from The Atlantic magazine resembles the 2008 Electoral College map.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:38 pm | Reply
  2. MMeans

    HA! They don't ban cigarettes and they kill 300K a year, not to mention shoot medical costs through the roof. Think they'll ban guns? Yeah right. This country is slave to the almighty dollar, and if there is a market, dead people or not, we'll always embrace it.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  3. wyoh-not

    Gotta have my gun, need to be able to fend off zombie-Fareed! He knows what's coming, and is afraid!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm | Reply
  4. Duke

    If you live in a sick culture that promotes violence, hollywood, celebrity and immoral liberal behavior then you get sick individuals. Guns have absolutely nothing to do with someone's madness or the ability of a sicko to carry out mass murder. He could have easily run over 15 people with a car, or used a stick of dynamite. It's socialists that are making this country sick.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
    • MMeans

      Ok, please, by all means – EXPLAIN WHAT YOU MEAN BY SOCIALIST? Not to mention, hate to tell ya, but history proves it, liberals are consistently against violence. Your logic is flawed and backwards. An uneducated and ignorant response to fear mongers telling you that the government is going to take your guns. People like you, shouldn't own guns. And....wait for it....I own guns, semi automatic rifles and I'm former military. Kooks like you ruin it for people like me.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
    • MMeans

      As a multiple gun owner (semi auto firearms), former military, and liberal...I see why so many people don't want others owning firearms. Just reading over the ignorant comments on this page is embarrassing. Yes, the government is OUT TO GET US!!! See what happened to England, France and Germany! Oh yeah, they have some of the best quality of life in the modern world. I see a ton of people on this page that are uneducated, easily influenced by fear, and have likely only had the influence of a small group of people, probably not even venturing out of their state lines. Kooks make it hard for people like me to honestly own firearms.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Reply
  5. gary luetge

    Two points to ponder. In that shaded map, which countries citizens enjoy the most freedom? 2nd point. 2 day after the Aurora tragedy, 14 people in south Texas were killed in a single vehicle wreck. I just saw, but have not read yet, that 7 people were killed in another wreck somewhere today. In 2010, over 31000 Americans died in traffic wrecks. In the last 3 days in Houston, 2 people were stabbed to death. Yeah, maybe we need more controls. No one can drive, can't own a knife, no baseball bats.........Hmmmmm now we are just like some of those other countries that are shaded green. Funny thing, too. In Mexico, where there are some of the toughest gun control laws around, need I go on. 40000 plus dead from guns in the last 8 years or so.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
  6. Mike

    Sorry Mr.Zakaria, but your analysis is flawed. You compare the gun deaths in the US to Switzerland and note that the deaths in the US are far beyond the Swiss. You fail to mention that nearly every household in Switzerland has a fully automatic rifle in the home. Usually a Sig 550. Not a semi automatic....but a fully automatic rifle. Following your reasoning, the streets of Switzerland should be awash in blood....but they aren't. As for stricter gun laws, New York and NYC have some of the most restrictive laws in the nation, yet the deaths keep occuring. It's not the guns, its the people that use them. Law abiding citizens who are gun owners should not have their rights violated any more than they already are because of the acts of the lawless. Yes, the event in Colorado was a tragedy, but I would suggest that you do some research and find out how many crimes were stopped or interrupted by legal gun owners

    July 30, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Reply
    • Biff

      Yeah, he picked the absolute wrong country to do a comparison with. But this is typical of those who eat up media influenced anti-gun rhetoric.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • Duke

      Mike, he's a socialist who has no logic or reason only emotion. It is frustrating that these people cannot think beyond their child like emotions.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:48 pm | Reply
  7. Gary

    More gun control laws is like putting a bandaid on a mortal wound. What we need is for ATF to figure out a way to keep guns out of the hands of psychos and criminals. An assault weapon ban would simply put money into the hands of gunsmith's who are able to convert any gun to the specifications of the user.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  8. Biff

    I find it hard to accept any sort of gun control when we see how Syrian forces murder weaponless citizens by the thousands each day. If you don't think our own government is capable of doing the same to us, you live in a fantasy land.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  9. the_dude

    Why doesn't CNN get an actual firearms expert to write these opinion pieces? Someone with a little credibility in the subject not some limp-wristed knee-jerk.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:47 pm | Reply
  10. Steve in Colorado

    To all the rightists politicizing this...
    Keep this in mind in November:
    Romney passed the strictest gun control laws ever while governor of Massachusetts, and then lied and said he was a lifetime hunter when he really had been hunting twice. He also lied and said he owned guns when he did not.

    Obama has never lied about guns. He has passed one gun law while in office, which allowed US citizens to carry them in National Parks.

    NRA for Obama 2012!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  11. nototheleft

    We have gun rights because our forefathers knew that some day, the common people would have to fight againt a tyrannical government again in the future. Our govenrment has perverted our democracy and rightfully fear that we will take the power back as we should. The government does not want us having access to automatic weapons due to this. I cannot think of anyone, left or right, that would say our coutry is doing great. It is in the toilet. Both presidential candidates are worthless puppets for their respective parties. Most people are sheep who only believe what cnn tells them.

    To those who want to take my guns, why don't you give up your freedom of speech? I am tired of protecting ingorance, why don't you go do it yourself....

    July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  12. Scott Herman

    In the US, we've decided to make high-capacity firearms available to the general public. A percentage of the general public is crazy. It stands to reason that high-capacity weapons will be purchased by people who are mentally unstable. I'm afraid that if we're going to continue to allow high-capacity firearms to be available to the general public, then we are going to have to make peace with events like this.

    Unlimited gun ownership made perfect sense in a muzzleloader world. Basically, a person would be overpowered before they could fire more than a few shots. We have to decide what freedoms we are willing to give up in order for greater safety.

    The NRA is very skilled at rhetoric. They have slogans that make people feel good, such as "... my cold dead hands from around it" and "a man with a gun is a citizen; a man without a gun is a subject." "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." While these are true, if we continue to allow these types of weapons we can expect them to be used by unstable people.

    I am a responsible owner of multiple firearms. Nothing I do requires the ability to fire fifteen rounds in six seconds. Statistically, self-defense scenarios take place at under 12 feet and are over in two shots, one way or the other.

    When people throw up the second amendment, my response is "So should Bill Gates and Donald Trump be allowed to have Minuteman missiles?" I don't think anyone is disputing that members of society should have the right to own firearms. I do think our society needs to rethink the capacity issue. If we allow firearms of this capacity, we can reasonably expect events like this to occur.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  13. bozo

    I see that you left out Israel which has more guns per person than any country but seems to have a far fewer as you call it "nut cases". The middle east has proven when you want to kill you will find I way with or without guns. Put that in your pipe and smoke it because what you are smoking know is affecting your brain.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  14. Rick

    I say we get everyone guns and we end all this nonsense. As much as we hate each other it would be a breath of fresh air for everyone to police their own yards and ideas!!!!!!!!

    July 30, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  15. JustEric

    "Time to face the facts on gun control"

    It's a start, CNN...but next time could you actually INCLUDE some facts? Or maybe take your own advice? KTHXBI

    July 30, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
  16. Grampa

    Seeking to dismiss Zakaria's arguments over quibbles between the meanings of automatic and semi-automatic is idiotic. Zakaria's points are well made and clearly show that our infatuation with guns is responsible for our staggering number of deaths by homicide. We won't ever get rid of guns in this country, but we can at least be sane about their ownership. Semi-automatic weapons have no place in our civilian society. They should be banned.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Reply
  17. Steve in Colorado

    To all the posters on here who claim more guns in the theater would have prevented the massacre: please have your buddy dress up in armor and shoot you with an AR and see if you can draw your concealed .380 fast enough and aim well enough to hit an un-armored part of the attacker and not hit an innocent bystander. I bet you can't. I bet you need more education on victim blaming. I bet you would have bled out in the theater and your CCW would not have stopped the bleeding.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  18. john

    Fareed has inherited the slave mentality from his South Asian background. Remember that Shahs, Rajas, and ayatollahs are his proud heritage. People should be grateful for their bowl of rice.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  19. rfox

    at 10k gun deaths a year over an adult lifetime of 50 years 500k people will die for every gun owner's right to have free acess to fire arms outside of a 'well regulated militia'

    Freedom isn't free and the fact of the matter is if you are a gun advocate or just sitting on the sidelines on this issue you are saying 'I am ok with 500k people dying so I can use an AK-47 to hunt a moose'

    Ok let's be conservative and say half of those people 'deserved' to get shot because they were criminals or 'bad guys' – then you are just saying it's ok if 250,000 people die for your gun rights.

    Freedom isn't free, just be brave and honest enough to admit that you are willing for others to pay that price for you. Politicians and the like need to stop talking about the Aurora shooting or the VTech shooting as a tragedy and terrible. Just all it what it is, a price you are willing to pay and move on.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
    • anon

      Hmm, by that logic we'd also see 1.23 million deaths from falling in the US in 50 years (just over 20K deaths from falling per year in the USA alone). There's about 34,000 automobile deaths per year and almost 32,000 from accidental poisoning.

      July 30, 2012 at 11:48 pm | Reply
  20. Josh

    Is Mr. Zakaria even a US citizen?

    Gun contol or gun related laws won't stop gun related crimes. Criminals break laws. The only deterrent would be to increase penalties for gun related crimes and given the number of people convicted of crimes that can potentially result in the death penalty, that doesn't work either.

    Had a couple of legal gun owners been present at the time of Holmes shootings, there may have been fewer victims.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  21. Tom D

    A free society has certain perils associated with it. Given the choice of a safer environment versus a free one, I'll take the free one. We resist gun legislation, seat belts and fast food bans not because we are stupid. We resist because we recognize through history that oppression begins when someone else determines what's best for us.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • Biff

      Well said.

      July 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  22. Rock On

    Let's face it, it's our culture. Not even a culture of guns. Why do we have a high crime rate and why do people want to hurt other people? We have a narcissistic society.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  23. Stephen.

    Zakaria, you need to go back to the mid-east. You are clueless and out of touch. Tell me, if guns were outlawed today, who would take on the task of collecting all the firearms? You? Sounds like NAZI Germany to me. When the Brady Bill was introduced, I went out and purchased a high-capacity firearm with stacks of high-capacity magazines... just because I will not have a government control my 2nd amendment rights. It would have been nice if everyone in that theater were armed! After a few shots, people would have shot back at the attacker and even with collateral damage the numbers would be much lower. Wake up. Every time you and your like in the media mentions this.. gun sales spike. Every time a politician thinks about it, .. gun sales spike, countless numbers of even more people obtain a conceal and carry permit.. lawfully! That would be with the exception of States like "The People's Republic of New Jersey and New York".. where guns are not allowed by citizens, and crime is skyhigh. Keep talking, watch the numbers rise.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  24. Perry

    So he begins by suggesting that the relatively high rate of gun deaths in the USA cannot be ascribed to a disproportionately high number of "nutcases," asserting that lunatics are equally spread among comparable societies. He then cites gun deaths per capita as the driving reason for more restrictive laws. In fact, 60 percent of USA gun deaths are suicides; the vast majority of the remaining 40 percent, homicides, are from gang violence, usually involving young people in urban areas. Only a very tiny percentage of the deaths are from "nutcases" who publicly shoot people they don't know, like in Aurora. Whether we need to further restrict gun ownership, while certainly related to the overall homicide and suicide rates, has little to do with the relative number of "nutcases" in the USA, yet Fareed's argument is that because our rate of nutcases is consistent with those of other countries, we therefore need to focus instead on the number of gun owners as the determining factor. The implication is that if we had substantially higher nutcases, it would explain the higher rate of gun violence. Rather a silly argument, since the total proportion of nutcases has very little to do with the overall death rate statistic. Fareed's clumsy attempt to fit a tragic news story into his desire for gun control is pretty lame. Establishing causality is tricky business. True, we have lots of gun owners and lots of gun deaths in the USA, but there are many other factors (as Fareed admits, to his credit); assuming that strict removal of guns will (a) substantially reduce homicides, and (b) not have any other undesirable effects, is both naive and wrong.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  25. Manny

    Mr.Zakaria should do a complete study of all the facts. Most of the homicides that he calls out are done in major cities where we have a bigger population of gangs. The American Citizen who has a gun legally iis not the one that will commit murder and robbing of citizens. If we can control the illegal guns that have committed the murders, we will succeed in stopping most of the killings. Our own government sends guns to murderers and gangsters. Look what they did with Mexico, and now does guns are coming back with illegals. Most of the countries that have less crime are also run by dictators or communists. We have teh right to have arms and we should not loose that right.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  26. bizarro25

    I love the rationale that making certain weapons illegal is pointless because the would-be killer would simply find another kind of weapon. If you applied that same logic to drugs, making Heroin or Crystal Meth illegal is a waste of time too, because the drug abuser would simply find another drug. Strangely most people who support gun rights would be appalled by that same rationale applied to drugs.

    July 30, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Reply
    • Biff

      I support guns and I support drug legalization. So there.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  27. Kevin

    South Africa has about 1/7th the number of guns per capita yet about 8 times the homicide rate by guns...

    Stats can say anything you want if you selectively ingore pieces you don't like

    July 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Reply
  28. Patriot

    Yes the United States has more guns than all of those other countries on the map. Why dont you go to some of those other countries in green and take a stroll down the street? Why doesn't CNN put up another map showing the amount of violent crimes???

    The answer is simple less guns does not mean less violence, it means more innocent people are victims.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  29. BrianP

    No matter what is posted here or what any of us think on this issue nothing is going to change. There are 90 million gun owners in the U.S. with some 400 million guns.

    With that said my opinion is that we as a society must accept risk if we are going to enjoy the freedom and liberty past down by our enlightened Fore Fathers. It is important to realize that throughout history people not able to defend themselves against tyrannical rule have lost all of their liberty.

    Psychotic people have always existed and will continue to exist and will use any weapon or tool available to inflict violence or harm to others (even psycho's in government i.e. Hitler, Pol-pot). The current psycho had reportedly manufactured explosives and had could have used them to kill everyone in the theater. It is not the inanimate objects that we should fear but those who are disturbed and mean to cause harm. These individuals will find any method to hurt others and will only be stopped by equal violence. Since police cannot be everywhere to stop or prevent violence, willing and able lawful citizens should be able to defend their lives and the lives of others from death or serious bodily injury.

    "Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of liberty." Thomas Jefferson

    July 30, 2012 at 1:00 pm | Reply
  30. Bill

    The article states there are 70 guns per hundred people in this country. So in this crowded theater there was not one other person carrying a firearm to stop the shooter? I think maybe the statistics in this article are a bit misleading. This was a lone nutcase once again. If he didn't have access to guns he could have just as easily made poison gas from household chemicals and killed as many people. Are we going to ban bleach and ammonia? I was military trained in firearms back in the 70's and have chosen not to have a personal weapon since I was discharged. That is MY choice, not the government's.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Reply
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