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. Larry L

    The semantics of gun operating systems seems to always be where the argument goes. I own a safe full of hunting weapons and do my own gunsmithing. After a long Army career I really do know the difference between semi-auto and full auto. We should stop challenging non-gun owners with these terms and they should try harder to understand the mechanisms and capabilities.

    More basic is a 2nd Amendment question that leads to the original ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court. I believe the founders were concerned about potential conflict betwen states and considered the state governments more more autonomous that what evolved from our republic. The words of the 2nd Amendment actually mean they wanted to protect gun ownership so "Well-regulated Militias" could remain functional at the state-level. I don't believe they envisioned a situation where private gun ownership for self-protection, hunting, or simply collections would be in question. For this reason I believe the 10th Amendment gives that right to the States. The N.R.A. dialogue indicates a strong belief (at least from the far right-wing) our Founders wanted to protect ownership of "arms" as a means to overthrow our federal government, should inividuals decide the government has been too oppressive. Following that logic Tim McVeigh would have been a "patriot" rather than a terrorist and it would be all but impossible to commit acts of terror using "arms" if the person considered the government oppressive. It would also be unreasonable to lmit arms in any fashion if we intended the "patriots" to have a reasonably level playing field against our Service Members – since that's who they'd be trying to kill. Did our founders inten to arm us for anarchy? It's a valid question that needs to be answered before we debate the mechanics of firearms.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  2. RiadaKram

    It's not just moronic but disingenuous and purposefully evil to provide comparisons with other nations where gun control is severely restricted and in some cases totally illegal. Apples and oranges. Hey FZ, you still have the right here to move to another country where you don't have rights.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  3. Samarah Tackett

    Gun control as a whole is a silly idea. It looks good on paper but, that's it. I own several guns for hunting, target shooting, and so forth but I do agree that automatic and semi-automatic weapons should be more controlled. Those who want guns flat-out outlawed are ignorant. That's not going to do anything but put more weapons in the hands of criminals. Pot and cocaine are illegal too but, there is no shortage of either. The media is jumping on the tragedy in Colorado to further their own agendas. It's sickening really. Holmes is an evil monster. He wanted to kill people and if hadn't had access to any firearms, he would have found another method to kill. The man, although sick and twisted and evil, is a genius. He would have found a way. I think the media should focus more on the families and the victims whose lives are forever ruined because of what this man did and stop worrying about how he did it for now. And Paul B, I am from Kentucky. I grew up around guns my entire life. They are a part of our culture and whether you like it or not, we don't go around shooting each other. We are not all ignorant Hillbillies stuck in the 1800's. Stop watching Hatfield and McCoy shows.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  4. pault

    Ok , when are we going to deal with the reality that guns are bad news for the US, there should be a total ban for ALL guns, if you want to go hunting get a pea shooter or "sign out" a gun from the local police station for a high and short rental fee. This 2nd amendment "right" idiocy should be reinterpreted by the Supreme Court as meaning the States have the rights to raise militias eg National Guard, nothing else. Too many politicians afraid of the NRA lobby

    July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      First of all I don't need to "sign-out" a gun from my police department to go hunting on my own land or defend my country or prevent a tyrannical government from trying to take over...I have the right to own and use my weapons and it's been paid for in blood...Not about to give it up.

      Second, you cannot guarantee me that there will be NO guns when you outlaw them, you can only guarantee me that there will be no "legal" guns...funny thing, the illegal ones do just as good a job killing me or kids or wife or relatives...or aiding in the theft and destruction of my property....

      And what if the states decide (as they did around 1812 and again in the 1830's and 40's) that the state militia is too expensive and decide to rely only on the federal military...then are my rights protected by my state and with what teeth?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
    • Paul B

      well said. the rest are paranoid red neck idiots who have been convinced their personal safety requires they carry a gun. absolute lunacy.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:36 pm | Reply
      • Dave

        Paul B – You seem very passionate about this, make a logical argument and I will listen (I'm not a liberal after all, I use the matter between my ears).

        July 30, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
  5. Franco Russo

    I just get the feeling that no matter how tough gun laws are or will be, criminals will find a way to obtain them.
    How tough are drug laws...yet they are easily obtained.
    Tougher gun laws will just give birth to another element such as illegal traffickers.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  6. StatsEqualFacts

    Hey Fareed,

    If we are the most armed society on the globe its probably because we want to be? We are a country built on personal rights.

    Could some massive attack be perpetrated with out guns? yes... Look at 9-11, Oklahoma City. Seriously?

    Do you think such regulations are really going to stop tragedy? How about looking at the cause of these problems. Is it the guns or the select few disturbed people misusing them? How about spending all that anti-gun lobbying money and effort on the sick people that need help and not restricting the freedom of the people that are living the American dream.

    Obama stating that arms only belong in the hands of our troops and police is scary. The 2nd amendment doesn't say the right to bear hunting and sporting goods. It says ARMS. Wake up people.

    I'm all for keeping mine. I will vote to that effect. You don't have to own one if you don't want to, but you the choice to own one.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  7. ProProtection

    I believe, being a human from Earth, I Shall be free to defend my life against all threats regardless of my physical location and assailant type.

    People of the United States, Its not the guns, its not the ammo or rate of fire of a weapon. Its the people behind the guns that is the issue and always has been.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  8. TR in ATL

    Your twisted use of the data does not make a strong argument at all. First off, the data is not specific enough to come to the conclusions you reach. Second, the percentages are staggeringly low. Chew on the numbers a little more...
    Americans have 30 gun homicides per 1,000,000 people. England has 1.5.
    Americans have 880,000 guns per 1,000,000 people.
    England has somewhere between 0 and 100,000. If England has 20,000 guns per 1,000,000 people, then the US is far better in 'managing' its guns. US:England -> 20 times the homicides, 44 times the guns. Fewer than half the homicides per gun!
    If England has 100,000 guns per 1,000,000 people, then they are better at 'managing' their guns. 20 times the homicides, 8.8 times the guns. US has 2.3 times the homicides per gun.
    Is America better or England better at managing its guns?

    In either case, the fact that 30 gun homicides are committed with 880,000 available guns is only .0034% of guns used for homicides. How can you affect 99.9966% of gun owners with legislation that MAY help with the .0034% problem? That's like banning all cars because there were drunk drivers who killed innocent people in America.

    GUN CONTROL is NOT the answer. GUN OWNER CONTROL is. I'll let you take the first shot at fixing that one!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  9. WhatNow

    Mr. Zakria...Many people never listen to facts or real evidence. They have already made up their minds based on their own preconceived ideas and values. Even with proof, you will not be able to convince them of the obvious. I am sad to say that instead of moving forward, we seem to be moving backwards. But thanks for the effort. Some of us appreciate the facts.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:12 pm | Reply
  10. Robert

    Is it just coincidence that the red area is the place where almost all of the green wishes it was?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  11. Craig

    Here is some hard evidence to show you just how 'safe' guns make you:
    In gun ownership america leads the entire world, at 88.8% thats 1.52 TIMES more than 2nd.
    In gun related murders we are number four. Well you would say that isn't so bad.
    But look at that list more closely. Number 1-3 are all 3rd world nations. South Africa, Columbia and Thailand.
    In that same list there is ONLY one 1st world nation, and we are the lucky winner
    If you look at the top 10 safest nations in the world, no surprise america isn't on there.
    Who IS on there are ALL nations that have tough gun laws.
    Guns do not make you safe
    Guns make your dead

    July 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      And when you take out suicide we drop dramatically...hey let's outlaw sleeping pills too..that would really reduce the rates...we're talking VIOLENT CRIME here. And if you're going to cite facts, provide a reference...I can spout "facts" all day long and not support them, but that's almost as point-less as your argument.

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

    Mr. Zakaria states that there are 3 gun related homicides per 100,000 people every year in the United States. How about smoking and alcohol. There are 143 smoking related deaths per 100,000 with 26 alcohol related deaths per 100,000 each year in the US. Looks like smoking and alcohol is a much larger problem than gun ownership. Are we ready to ban these already heavily regulated activities. Gun ownership, smoking and drinking alcohol are all personal choices.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  13. Saxo Grammaticus

    Note to proud gun-toting NRA members: Do you know that the Second Amendment views you mouth were formulated by Malcolm X? The Black Panthers wanted lots and lots and lots of guns.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm | Reply
    • Dave

      So what's your point...that even racist groups agree that guns = power and therefore it's a good thing to keep your government in check and defend your country if the "power" is with the people...oh way, that's really close to their slogan...

      July 30, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Reply
  14. gcoop

    Since when does the U.S. compare it's freedoms against those of others and decide to conform with the world? We're supposed to be the freest nation in the world, and the fact that the government hasn't imposed too strict of laws on our rights to arm ourselves against criminals (or our own government, should that horrible day ever arrive) is a testament to that. There aren't too many hostile countries that would be brave enough to invade our soil, for even if they defeat our military, they're faced with a heavily armed civilian population.

    Bad things happen. Yes, we have more guns (and also more people than most) so more people get shot. We also have more cars, and more car related deaths (except China).

    Enjoy your freedoms and stop wishing you were as restricted as those nations that look up to us.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:21 pm | Reply
    • independentlyowned

      "Freest nation in the world"?? What does that even mean? If you somehow think that other developed countries aren't "as free" as the US, then you're quite ignorant. What exactly is freedom to you? The ability to do whatever you want? Having a government that doesn't force you to do anything? Well guess what, every time you drive a car, you're forced to obey the speed limit. Every time you purchase something in a store, or get your paycheck, you're forced by the government to pay taxes. Is that free? True freedom would be complete anarchy, so if that's what you want then take all your gun-toting comrades and go find a place far away to be as free as you want.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
      • Dave

        To be free is to be one of the 16% of all humans who live in a "free country" and we're jealously guarding that. If you want to know what it is to be truly free you would have to live in anarchy...but we've got a pretty fair compromise here...not withstanding freedom is bought with blood and kept with patriotism and passion...there's no such thing as freedom for free.

        Some simple statistics: http://www.quora.com/Freedom-of-Speech/How-many-countries-are-there-where-there-is-no-freedom-to-publish

        July 30, 2012 at 2:51 pm |
  15. phill

    Wonder what the non gun violence is in these other countries. Wonder how many get stabbed with no way to protect themselves?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:22 pm | Reply
    • Paul B

      Can you stab 70 people at once?

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

        Knife no, but how about a man trained in special martial arts with a knife or a sword or wow how about a home made bomb....until you're faced with the situation how will you know?

        July 30, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  16. Ken

    A british newspaper showed that exact same map but they didn't show homicides commited with guns in a particular country. Brazil has low ownership of guns compared to the us but their homicide rates with a gun is tremendous. I think there should be sensible gun controls like not allowing assault rifles. Do I think there should be a total weapons ban? No. But common sense should prevail. I've always said, those that do not belive in even a common sense approach to gun control should allow any person to have a nuclear device. Our founders said nothing about the limits of "arms", so nuclear bombs in a persons backyard should be fine.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  17. nolongerarepublican

    But Fareed Zakaria sees absolutely no issue with his fellow Arabs blowing up tens of thousands of innocent people and blowing up American troops.
    Is Fareed Al Qaeda? Isn't he Saudi? All of the 9-11 attackers were Saudi.
    I think we need to face facts on people like Zakaria.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:23 pm | Reply
  18. Nolongerarepublican

    Fareed the Saudi, posts anti American dribble about how bad we are, and some of you just drool all over yourselves.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
  19. Bob

    Someone shut up Fareed Zakaria. He has no balls and probably crys everytime he hears a loud noise. I swear to you to Fareed Akbar Jihad Mohammad. Try and take my guns away and you will not wake up in the morning. If you don't like it, leave the country and don't come back. Don't mess with my right as a American citzen.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Paul B

      don't mess with redneck rob's rights to pack heat cause he'll shoot you dead.

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

        Paul – Now you're getting it...it is HIS RIGHT and he WILL defend it...don't mess with a free mans rights!

        July 30, 2012 at 2:56 pm |
  20. dave

    So, this man, who broke like 100 laws, including MURDER, for which he will likely either be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison, would have been deterred if possession of the firearms that he used was illegal? I'm not seeing that. Can someone please explain?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  21. GeorgeBos95

    Fareed, it seems you're confusing the terms "fact" and "analysis".

    That's a pretty bush league mixup, but commonly employed by pundits such as yourself.

    So let's be clear, you aren't forcing us to "face facts", you're merely subjecting us to your analysis, masquerading as fact.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  22. eram

    I respect and usually agree with Zakaria, but I'm not so sure on this issue. I'd like to hear his explaination for Chicago–where we have had a ban on handguns for many years (until recently?) and we have had a tremendous amount of gun violence over those same years. It just doesn't add up. It seems like Chicago's gun ban was ineffective.....?

    July 30, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
    • independentlyowned

      Maybe Chicago is the exception. Fareed said the trend of gun regulation and decrease in gun violence was a generality, not a definite correlation. Perhaps Chicago already too much of a deep seeded gun culture that the bans just didn't do any good. It is where Al Capone and the American mafia reigned, after all.

      July 30, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
      • Dave

        "maybe" can you offer a fact to support this position or are you just "hoping" that your argument will be right?

        July 30, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
      • independentlyowned

        Well Chicago is obviously the exception since it's the only area that doesn't follow the trend. Besides, correlation does not mean causation, and that goes both ways. Just because Chicago put some gun restrictions in place and gun crime went up does not mean that the restrictions were the cause of the violence. However, when overall patterns do emerge in the greater picture, such as gun-restrictive states in general having lower levels of gun violence, the correlation is undeniable. As Farheed says, there could be other factors, but the restrictions cannot be ignored.

        July 30, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
      • Dave

        DC exhibits the same issues with gun control as does Boston...seems like the trend is actually for more violent crime not less with gun control laws in place. (see earlier posts for reference to DC gun control ban and similar in UK)

        July 30, 2012 at 2:55 pm |
      • independentlyowned

        Are you just looking at cities? Because yes, most violent crimes occur more often in cities simply due to the sheer number of people in urban areas compared to the rest of the country. That's why it's more relevant to look at state laws and state-wide gun violence.

        July 30, 2012 at 2:59 pm |
  23. Ross

    Anything that gives money to the arms dealers and at the same time reduces the population will always be a political winner in this country.

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

      Who are the arms dealers? So by this logic cars should be really hot political topic since they kill more people in the U.S. and the automakers a way richer than the "arms dealers"...did I get that about right?

      July 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  24. azbycx

    The problem with gun regulation is that the people who frequently push for regulation have little to no knowledge of what they are trying to regulate. Look at the infamous "What is a barrel shroud" interview (YouTube has it) for example. Similarly, the old trick of showing two images, one of a Ruger Mini-14 sporter and another of the Ruger Mini-14 tactical and asking "which one is the 'assault rifle'?". Invariably, those who aren't knowledgeable will pick the scary black one. It's a trick question, they are the same exact gun and function identically except for one having wood stocks and the other having black plastic stocks. Then the anti-gun crowd will poo-poo it saying that gun nerds are getting hung up on details. The thing is... anti-gun people would not sit still for someone less knowledgeable to attempt to regulate something that *they* are knowledgeable about for the same reasons. If you want to regulate or ban something, it is the duty of those who want to regulate/ban to demonstrate why the thing needs regulation/banning and how that will help. The problem is... it always boils down to "it looks scary".

    July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  25. Nolongerarepublican

    Fareed is from India not Saudi Arabia.
    That changes things, since India is so perfect.
    Why is it people from India think they are so perfect and everyone else is nothing?
    4101 people murdered by firearms in. India, or 12.2 per cent of all 33727 murder victims that year
    Hey Fareed, why don't you push for stricter gun control in your homeland?
    In other words shut the f up.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  26. kxr

    Mr. Zakaria,
    The biggest problem of your analysis is statistics. Or better to say the absence of such from some regions of the world to which you compare the US statistics.
    For instance former USSR had 0 (zero!!!) crime – according to the official USSR statistics (named propaganda)
    The current official statistics from Russia says Putin has support of 75% of population, though unofficial says it is no more than 40%.
    The current official statistics from Belarus says the crime level in Belarus 0%!!! Same in China, Cuba, Venezuela, etc... which is total bogus.
    So please be more intelligent when presenting your analysis!

    July 30, 2012 at 2:33 pm | Reply
  27. HowlgnorantCanYouBe

    I think you need your facts straight. It is very easy to get an automatic weapon. Just go to a gun show. It really is that easy. Remember this guy got his legally."

    He did not have an AUTOMATIC wweapon... You can't go to a gun show and buy one either...

    July 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  28. Robert Navin

    Your writer made all of the gaffes of the technically misinformed and his statistics do not seem to agree with what the FBI publishes. He is simply copying what the Anti folks preach. The major fallacy is simply no matter how much more you twist my arm the bad guy remains the bad guy. The State of Colorado and Aurora had lots of gun laws which were broken by the bad guy. Assault rifles, pistols and pick axes exist and are deadly when someone other than me wields them. The mistake is that the governing folks herd forcibly disarmed into large compact groups with no plan for protecting them. You don't have to strip search a guy to find an AK or a 100 round clip. Legal smeagle, the gun laws work in the reverse of the intention. Take a look at the Eighteenth Amendment or the Cocaine, Heroin Marijuana War On Drugs. The government and the Pols are essentially helpless boobs.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Reply
  29. Carlos Javier

    This article, like most others I've read, fails miserably to understand and accept that the real issue is not controlling guns but violence in our society. The author gets lost in statistical data ant technical details without grabbing the bull by its horns or even acknowledging that the bull is there. Take for instance the movie in question. It's nearly three hours of pure, unadulterated violence. Incredibly it's rated PG-13. If we want to control something, we should begin with Hollywood, not the gun store. Most people who own guns do so responsibly and are not about to let the actions of a few that are sick or depraved be used as an excuse to infringe on their rights.

    July 30, 2012 at 2:40 pm | Reply
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