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. radix

    I saw a good comparison on this the other day. Drinking and driving! Some people are not responsible and have done horrific things drinking and driving. Does this mean that we should take away cars from everyone so that they don't some day drink and drive? Maybe don't allow alcohol to anyone? Sounds stupid doesn't it, a clear over reaction. Apply that same mind set to guns. You may be responsible with your gun, bought it legally, registered it, use it legally for sport or protection. And because some wacko in Colorado does this there is talk about gun control (disarming law abiding citizens. This guy was determined and had financial resources to hurt people. He was going to do it one way or another. If not guns, a home made bomb, poison, a fire, ramming his car into a crowd or something would have happened.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  2. Dave

    How about a Fact for a Fact: "I saw an interesting graph in The Atlantic magazine recently. A spectrum shows the number of gun-related deaths by state" try this graph http://www.justfacts.com/images/guncontrol/dc.png which shows DC had a 73% increase in gun related deaths AFTER they enacted their laws and it dropped when the laws were repealed.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  3. SammFan

    Mr Zakaria – Your use of "facts" seems limited to support what appears to be an anti-gun agenda. In fact, the US is actually 35th globally (effectively the lower half of the 2010 UNODC Study) in intentional homicide rate. One can infer that in FACT, it is more of a psychological/sociological problem rather than one of specific weapons. It would seem that weapon of choice is less than relevant to statistical data. We do need to face facts but that process will benefit from our actually including, rather than obscuring, them as part of the discussion.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Reply
    • SammFan

      So, to connect the dots a bit more, more guns may mean more gun violence, but not more violence (including homicides) overall. In fact, within the US, higher legal gun ownership appears to lead to lower homicide rates.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  4. dmc

    Here's where I think we are in the US – We absolutely refuse to install any gun control – or any more gun control depending on which way left or right you fall. Therefore, as a society, we must be prepared to accept that anyone has the right to arm themselves with as many guns and as much ammunition as they want and proceed to kill peple in pulblic places. If we are prepared to accept this as a cost of living in our society where gun contorl is minimal, then we need to admit it.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  5. CJ

    So what about the guy in Utah who stabbed grocery store customers before a gun carrying civilian stopped him from killing everyone? I don't here anyone calling to ban knives. Also, Canada does not allow guns, or bullets for that matter, their laws didn't stop people being shot in the Eaton Centre weeks back. Bottom line is, bad guys will always have guns, why shouldn't citizens?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm | Reply
  6. Dave

    In 1968 and 1997 Britian enacted gun control laws: Since 1968 there has a been a 58% increase (even after all but 8 guns were surrendered) and since the 1997 law there has continued to be an increase in gun related violence (15%) indicating strongly that unless you can magically erase all guns from the earth a ban on guns only serves to remove them from the people who rely on them for protection, sport and hobby. (sited: http://www.justfacts.com/images/guncontrol/england.png)

    July 30, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Reply
  7. Vic of New York

    Satan, who is behind the NRA does not want guns banned. How else can he recruit volunteers to help him populate his domain in hell? Satan acts through the unsuspecting leaders and active supporters of the NRA to keep guns on the street. They may not even be aware, unless they are part of his secret dominions posing as Christian Fundamentalists.

    Satan's role in our world is to create havoc and lead as many souls as possible to hell. Guns give hi a powerful tool to recruit masses. It's not just the gunmen, mind you. It's also the innocents who may have been rolled dead at a transition point in their lives when they may not have been in good stead with God. The copycats and vengeful are the collateral wins Satan gets to take home as well.

    Do you really think there is a chance in hell Satan would let the NRA back pedal? Ultimately Satan's greatest joy would be to a nuclear device in the hands of every mass murderer!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      Vic, I'm not even sure where to start with a reply to that...except to say...ok, keep the tin foil on really tight - they are listening.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
    • Master

      Then, using your "logic", why don't you suggest that we pass a law, making it illegal for a crazy person to own and set off a nuke in a public place so we can all sleep better at night. Ever hear of a prohibition, you dimwhit?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  8. USK

    If it is illegal to own guns in these other countries, then who is going claim they own one? It is therefore highly possible that the statistics will show, falsely, lower ownership – and skewer the "facts" that we need to face. I am leaning to equally plausible facts that there are more mad people in the US of A than anywhere else.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  9. DJO

    The Problem with the US is there aren't enough guns. If everyone had a gun no one would do something like what happened in Colorado. Its kind of the same with the rest of the world. Every country should own Nukes so that no one will fire one on each other.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Reply
    • Paul B

      it is paranoid thinking exactly like your's that has gotten us into this predicament.

      July 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  10. Paul B

    Redneck gun-lovers are terrified of the facts.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  11. TomInVa

    Figures dont lie, but liars can figure. Like most lefties, Fareed ignores the "inconvenient" facts:

    Israel and Switzerland have higher gun ownership rates than the US but they dont show up on this map because they are considered "military". So why dont they have high mass-murder rates?

    Or, we could emulate some of the low gun-ownership countries like China and Cuba – hey its worth a little loss of freedom to avoid the 0.0000001% chance of being in a lunatics sights.

    OR – we could actually assume that psychology IS to blame – and hang the b*st*rd in public. No more assuming that if you are a mass murderer then you must be crazy. If craziness is to blame, why dont we see homicidal nuts driving on the wrong side of the Interstate – is it because they realize that they might get hurt?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
    • MMeans

      OR you could just ignore the facts about countries like Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Finland...etc., etc. Can you explain to me about the "loss of freedom for these countries"?

      July 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  12. Robert

    And while we're at it, why don't we fact the fact that we also need to reintroduce God into our public school system?

    July 30, 2012 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  13. Paul B

    paranoid gun-toting rednecks are scarier than the people they think they need to protect themselves from

    July 30, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      Paul – we are scarier than the people who we are protecting ourselves from and hence we are protected....get it, it's a wonderful concept. Who are you going to rob, the guy with the gun or the guy without one?

      July 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
    • john

      I haven't owned a gun in 12 years, but I support the right to own one. Mexico is an example of a country with no 2nd Amendment right. The cartels run rampant with heavy machine guns and grenades while the decent people have to obtain permission from a "general de division" to purchase a pistol.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  14. Mark

    Nice job using numbers beneficial to the article. perhaps you should include the number of guns used by law abiding citizens versus the number of illegally possessed guns. Why not include the fact that more people are beaten to death with hands, or clubs than are killed by rifles? If all of those countries are so nice then you should live there. If our country is so bad why are so many trying to come here? Even Obama says we are a great country with a great system. Why are they trying to change it if it is so great? The problem isn't the guns its the people that are not good citizens and are to lazy to work for themselves and want everything given to them.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  15. dan

    correlation does not equal causation.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  16. south4evr

    Dear Zipperhead (i.e. someone who has had a frontal lobotomy with no visible effects) Zakaria,

    You spout off about more gun control laws, however, the existing ones aren't enforced! What good will more laws do other than to make those flaming liberals like you feel better in your Utopian, need to control everyone society?

    JEH (I won't use his name to deny him the glory he seeks), the theater shooter, is only being charged with 24 counts of first degree murder and 112 counts of attempted murder and that's it. How about 4 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. Add to that 4 counts of felony perjury for lying that he was not under treatment for mental illness on the federal purchase forms for each firearm that he bought? Now let's hear some venom from you about the DA and the judge "chosing" not to enforcing the existing laws.

    JEH may get out of the death penalty by claiming to be insane, but that guarantees the conviction for perjury, by his own admission!! Right?

    We won't mention the fact that you are muslim and dearly want the population of the U.S. to be disarmed so that it makes it easier for your ever so tolerant, peace loving muslim friends to kill Christian Americans! Sorry pal, this Christian American Infidel is hanging onto his legally owned firearms.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  17. Galacticon5

    Hey! Lookit the pikshers of the eevil hunter people all smeered in bloud!
    Where the shots of the martian expidition when they killd the red magarumps?
    Oh! My, my, my, my-my! An Obama is releted to a slave!
    Yowie! So am I!
    More news! More news! More news!

    Fareed. I will personally Fedex you the sock, if you will accept it as a permanent oral fixture.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  18. J

    There are a number of post relating to reading this or that for further information regarding gun control. I would suggest reading Tocqueville as to why America is unable to have a rational discussion on this issue from either side...

    July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  19. mike

    As with most things in the US we are prepared to ignore the facts presented here, or bend them to our own predetermined conclusions. Facts and logic will get you nowhere, which is why we get so little accomplished and argue endlessly.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  20. Paul B

    paranoid rednecks + guns = dead bodies.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      unarmed *victim* + armed attacker = bad
      armed citizen + (oops the armed attacker didn't try) = good

      unarmed *victim* + government take-over = totalitarian regime
      armed citizen + government take-over = no government take-over (gee just like it was designed)

      July 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Reply
  21. Steve

    I love that graph. It shows the brilliance of our countries founders for having the foresight to included the 2nd amendment. Our country is becoming more police state and militant everyday. Small town local police now operate SWAT units, thanks to military equipment infusions from the federal government, federal FBI can write their own search warrants and demand that whom they serve them to cannot reveal them even in a court of law, the president has weekly "kill meetings" where he reviews lists of people, including American citizens, for assassination or drone bombing. This is exactly the kind of encroachment that the founders were most concerned and why they included the 2nd amendment.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:55 pm | Reply
    • Paul B

      how do you know the president has weekly "kill meetings"?

      July 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
      • Dave

        Dang you are really not up on your country, current event or your rights and what they mean...try these:

        cited here:


        July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
  22. Kanageloa

    Zaco is partially correct. Better gun registration and background checks with a waiting period will stop some Nut Jobs. A mandatory gun safety class is needed because at present anyone with no experience can buy one and not know how to safely use it. Get rid of guns, nope. It's not the answer. We glorify Nut Jobs more than most cultures. We seem to glorify murderers and outlaws. Gun control is NOT the only answer in our overall culture and understanding.

    July 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Reply
  23. south4evr

    Tell us all about how nice a place Syria is to live. How many people a day are killed there? You should be calling for more gun control in Syria!!! I'm sure they will respect your opinions there in that most peaceful garden spot of the middle east!!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  24. Jerry

    I think the author of the article, like most liberals, doesn't even know the diference between auto and simi-auto weapons! If you are going to tell me what kind of guns I can own, you might want to educate yourself a little as to what type of weapon you are talking about!

    July 30, 2012 at 1:58 pm | Reply
    • Paul B

      paranoid rednecks + guns = dead bodies

      July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  25. Dean

    By looking at the map illustration, I think one can quickly see which are the freer societies.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  26. john

    I haven't owned a gun in 12 years, but I support the right to own one. Mexico is an example of a country with no 2nd Amendment right. The cartels run rampant with heavy machine guns and grenades while the decent people have to obtain permission from a "general de division" to purchase a pistol.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  27. Paul

    Fareed also completely ignores the fact that violent crime in Mexico is many times that of the USA. Gun murders are the same as the USA. This is a country where it is HIGHLY illegal to own ANY firearms, except for those supplied by the ATF! I like the fact that he mentioned Switzerland. The Swiss gun murder rate is less than 1/3 of the USA!
    One thing that is ignored in all of this is the OVERALL crime rate. In countries with severe gun restrictions, most other crime is much higher!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  28. Drew

    Very well said, Fareed. Humans, with all of our various emotional and mental frailties, are not well suited for gun ownership. Guns make it FAR too easy to do irreparable harm to ourselves and others when our mental and/or emotional faculties are compromised. Merely having a gun at hand in a moment of personal crisis – something that is FAR more common than instances of being confronted by "evil doers" – can result in a mistake that will last forever. With a gun, there's no going back. There are no do-overs. Gun owners like to say that they are responsible, upstanding citizens. That may be true...until it's not. There are far too many people thought to be responsible, upstanding citizens who went off the deep end with a gun at hand. Why allow it to be that easy? Say no to guns and a culture of death and say yes to life! We all have far too much to live for.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      So Drew, you're saying that James Holmes (the catalyst for this article) had a moment of weakness and picked up his guns and went to the theater? Wait, what about the careful planning, the weeks before, the purchase, the detailed notebook....

      So in this case (again the catalyst for this article) not having a gun ready would likely have resulted in the use of an explosive, gas, or other weapon capable of killing large numbers of people (which seems to be this mans aim). I mean, he could have just driven a big rental truck through the crowd waiting outside the theater and killed as many people as he killed with guns.

      It seems that for your comment to hold water we all have to be criminals with only a thread of restraint and we should not be allowed to play with dangerous implements. You'll probably so, no there are sane people...and I would respond to you: who makes that decision?

      Looking forward to your response....at least you made a semi-logical argument.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  29. Jerry

    Another thing I never hear you guys talk about is how crimes against persons and property actually falls in jurisdictions where citiaens are afforded CCW rights. Why? because the bad guys know if they attack a person, there is a good chance that the person they attack will be armed.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  30. MMeans

    HAHAHA according to this forum, our neighbors across the Atlantic are all waiting in bread lines, praying the government won't take over, and living oppressed, miserable lives without their "civil liberties".

    July 30, 2012 at 2:05 pm | Reply
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