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. SmartLawyer

    We also have the most abortions. Who's in favor of "controlling" those?

    July 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply

    Just look at Africa...the civilians have nothin to protect themselves or their families from the onslaught of maniacs.But the maniacs like to kill with machetes also.How would you anti-gun nuts protect yourselves and your family from 20-30 people wanting to kill you with those said machetes.Oh yeah hope theres a person with a concealed weapons permit to protect your dumb @#^%

    July 30, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  3. Brian C

    We have a racial problem, not a gun problem. Germany, France, India, and Switzerland don't have a large black and hispanic population that commits violent crime at a rate that is far out of proportion to their percentage of the population. I'm a student at a major state university, and virtually EVERY time there is a violent crime on campus, it's a black or hispanic who's responsible. Where are white people going to wake the hell up?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply

    Definition of a Marine..... A bad Man who is prepared to bad things to bad people so you can sleep comfortably in your bed at night and open your pie-holes and offer people your opinions.Thank the military for that...Your best friend and your worst enemy.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  5. maria c. little

    Where is the legend?

    July 30, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  6. Jack Bissette

    Stop drinking the cool-aid. These alleged facts are flawed and factually wrong. Working 20 plus years law enforcement... you learn a few things. Less than 6000 deaths a year due to firearms. That's accidents, suicides, murders..etc. When you pass a law... only the honest....law abiding adhere to them. The bad...the evil... still will acquire... kill and mane. With or w/ out guns. Federal number nobody wants to talk about.... up to 500,000 cases yearly were a firearm saves a life... 500,000 a year. I also don't care what other countries have for guns per cap. or what laws they have. I live in America.... by choice. More knee-jerk politicians trying to make more knee-jerk laws. Weak minded Marxist... "don't let a good tragedy go to waste".... right Obumer!

    July 30, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  7. mahmoud el-darwish

    After reading thousands of responses, I am compelled to defer to an old solution.
    Either the police must be everywhere, or everyone that wants to should be able to carry a gun.
    The reason for this is the predictability of gun related crime is nil.
    Baring a reclusive society, I see no compromise.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:11 pm | Reply

    Obama only wants to address issues that will helphim get reelected like the latinos and the school issue.The only reason he said he did that was because it was the right thing to do....If that was the case why did he wait till his term was almost over to do it rather than the first week in office.That says alot about YOUR President.He sure isnt mine.I believe if someone wants to be president then he needs to have served a certain time in the military so as to understand them.He rushed to Colorado to comfort the victims and said he wasnt going to go on tv but he did because it was a photo stunt for his campaign.Why didnt he do that for the military who have died or the sailors on the USS Cole.You see where his priorities lay.He's a liar just like the other ones and will do and say whats needed just to get elected.I love my Country and am here to tell everyone that were in a hell of alot of trouble.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • Challenger

      Simply stated, since I was on that cruise aboard USS Ashland. It was in October of Clinton's last year.

      July 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Reply
  9. Ricardo J. DeForest

    After all the comments are made, from both Left and Right, here is the bottom line. If you come to take my guns bring body bags. I know that you will kill me but bring lots and lots of body bags. You will need them.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  10. Heinrich

    Mexico is shaded medium-green. Which is safer: sitting at a roadside cafe if the Bronx or Juarez? Note that most of Africa is shaded light green as well. Is africa safe? How about Syria? I am a huge Fareed fan, but disagree on this one. You have cherry-picked your facts and confused association with causation, Fareed. Shame on you.
    When I look at the map, I see that the darker shaded countries TEND to be more affluent and reflect the ability of the population to afford a gun. I imagine that the residents in Ethiopia would buy a gun if they could afford it, and would be safer if they had one. America has the highest gun ownership rate, but also has the highest rate of UFO sightings. Association; not causation.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  11. Davey

    I remember when Fareed Zakaria came on board with Newsweek a few years to be their "expert" on the Middle East. Now he is an expert on everything. If you want statistics, look at the numbers killed by drunk drivers versus firearms every year in the US. Statistics don't lie but liars use statistics. As a gun owner with a concealed carry permit I hope I never have to use my weapon. However, I would not hesitate to use it in a situation such as Aurora to SAVE lives. Over 84 million gun owners didn't kill anyone today.

    July 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  12. Yakobi

    Well, Fareed, you may want to turn the U.S. into another Mexico–where guns are banned so that only the violent criminal drug gangs have them–but I say no way!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  13. Natfka

    Cars kill more people than guns by such an incredible rate and to top it off, Car ownership in this country is out of control and much higher than anywhere else in the world. We need to put much higher reigns on who is allowed behind the wheel. I am all for Car control laws!!!!!!!

    Think that is silly. See how his argument works for so many different things, and how much more deadly cars are. There are so many other things that kill more people than guns each year. Tobacco, Cars, Fatty Foods, Soft Drinks, Drugs.... This is a silly argument, and the means by which he posts is is rediculous.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  14. Mike

    Violent crime in the U.S. has declined drastically – since the Assault Weapon Ban expired. And the U.S. homicide rate fell in the 90's as more and more states passed concealed carry laws; states with shall-issue concealed carry have much lower violent crime rates than those that don't.Homicide has decreased 40% in DC since the Supreme Court eliminated the handgun ban. Yet, the gun control lobby's OWN researchers (Phili Cook, for one) have found that gun laws like Brady have absolutely zero impact at keeping guns out of the wrong hands. So, at best, gun laws don't work and, at worst, they make things much worse.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  15. Mike

    Oh, one more thing: Why don't the media pundits stop trying to shift blame away from themselves for manufacturing these nuts? Thanks to so-called "journalists" and organizations like CNN, James Holmes is America's most famous celebrity.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  16. cary

    Please democratic party put assault weapons ban on the party platform. You will lose 10% of your voting base and rally 20% of republicans!

    July 30, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Reply
  17. econprofessor

    Reblogged this on Econoblog and commented:
    It's scary what is becoming of America.

    July 30, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  18. Ross

    This rocket scientist forgot to include how many people are killed every year by assault (i.e. fists) and how many people are killed by drunk drivers, and other forms of assault.

    Death by firearms (accidental or intentional) is nearly nothing when compared to those forms of death.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  19. Rich Halley

    Looking just at deaths involving guns is a bit ridiculous. Is it worse to be killed in a shooting as opposed to being stabbed to death or having your head crushed by a club? If you look at overall murders the statistics look different. Murder rates are primarily related to culture. For example Mexico has a homicide rate 300-400 percent higher than the US even though they have very restrictive gun laws. In Russia it's very difficult to buy a gun and they have much higher murder rates than the US. Switzerland has lots of guns but few murders.

    The reason for the second amendment is to protect citizens from tyranny. If you look at longer periods, say 100 years, the US is much safer than Germany where guns were confiscated and genocide followed in the 1940's. Over the last century over 100 million people were murdered by their own governments. While this situation may seem unlikely in America, the best long term prevention is to have an armed citizenry. The founders knew this and created the 2nd amendment.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:09 pm | Reply
  20. willis

    please tell me more how criminals follow the law and will abide by gun restrictions.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:19 pm | Reply
  21. AllenS47

    I'm thinking we need Media Control moreso than Gun Control. When a person gets killed it doesn't matter whether he was shot, strangled, bludgeoned, stabbed, run over by a truck or train, pushed from a tall building or held under water until he drowns....in the end he's still DEAD. When a murderer decides he is going to murder he will find a way to kill. Just yesterday in my city a man stabbed his own parents to death....with a SWORD!! At least the law abiding citizen can have a chance at protecting himself if he owns a gun.

    July 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Reply
  22. Incredulus

    Does anyone on here know the difference between causation and correlation?

    July 30, 2012 at 7:32 pm | Reply
  23. Concerned Citizen

    There seems to be a lot of confusion in this country when it comes to so-called "assault rifles." Most anti-gun people seem to equate all "assault rifles" with "machine guns." As others have posted here, 99% of all guns in this country are semi-auto and not "machine guns." To sell a machine gun, you need a Class III firearms license. To buy one, you need to go through an additional process which involves extra scrutiny. Most people also don't know that since 1986 it has been illegal to import machine guns into this country, which is why they cost on average of $20K. It is also true that you can convert a semi-auto rifle into a machine gun, but you need to do some machining on the inside of the receiver because they are built not to make this easy to do. Most reputable gunsmiths won't do this because they would also go to jail if caught, and I wouldn't want to be around anyone with a gun that they modified themselves.

    Going back to the "assault rifle" issue... whether or not you think anyone needs one is irrelevant. I know people who can shoot a pump-action or a lever-action rifle just as fast as someone who can pull the trigger on a semi-auto. So the real issue is whether or not you think that someone needs a 100 round magazine. And this misses the whole point of gun control: you can ban any kind of gun, ammunition, or magazine you want, but you only prevent law-abiding citizens from owning them. Criminals will find a way to buy whatever they want, including real machine guns. That's what criminals do. The best way to control guns is to crack down hard on criminals such that using them isn't worth it.

    Oh, by the way, remember that 19 hijackers killed over 3000 people using only box cutters. Banning assault rifles wouldn't have stopped them...

    July 30, 2012 at 7:59 pm | Reply
  24. jm

    "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed."

    Do we still have a "well-regulated" militia? Is such a thing still "necessary to the security of a free State"? Is the supposed reason for the right to "keep and bear Arms" still valid?

    July 30, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  25. Jataka

    Don't like it Fareed? Go back to Pakistan. You're not essential to anything or anyone. P.S. Phuck anti-gun people, you 're the one's who would surrender like the bunch of Frenchies that you are. If you won't fight against crime for your country then gtfo or lay down and die like the cowards that you are.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Reply
  26. authorextraordinaire

    Excellent.. I take concern with the dismissal via "matter of psychology." This should not be ignored–it is not an excuse.

    If Americans had an understanding of psychology–that causes this cowboy nation to worship guns–and the sociology in which that psychology is embedded we might be willing to alter the correlations–and results. I have no confidence that the cowboy nation will, in the foreseeable future mature to make changes in its ignorance..

    July 30, 2012 at 8:22 pm | Reply
  27. anon

    340,000 people die world wide per year, FROM FALLING. 20,000+ per year die FROM FALLING in the United States alone. WE SHOULD BAN FALLING.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:34 pm | Reply
  28. anon

    how about these FACTS
    2010 US Deaths by firearms: 8775

    2008 Unintentional fall deaths
    Number of deaths: 24,792

    2008 Motor vehicle traffic deaths
    Number of deaths: 34,485

    2008 Unintentional poisoning deaths
    Number of deaths: 31,758

    July 30, 2012 at 8:42 pm | Reply
    • Patel

      anon..the key word is "unintentional" same goes for car accidents and others. Nuts with guns don't kill unintentionally...they have purpose. Just because you have less death by firearms doesn't mean you should do nothing about it...its something that can be 'PREVENTED". If you remove firearms then think of # of lives that can be saved.

      July 30, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  29. LVKidd

    Just as soon as you figure out how to get all the guns away from all the criminals, you will have to figure out how to get all of the baseball bats away from all the criminals.

    July 30, 2012 at 8:52 pm | Reply
  30. Alex

    Or as Winston Churchill once stated: "You can count on Americans to do the right thing.........once all other options have been depleted." It will be a while – unfortnately- before the majority comes to their senses and stops holding on to their guns against overwhelming evidence that their society is far more violent than other western nations for it. Sure, smoking is not harmful, global warming does not exist and guns do not kill (people do??)....*sigh*

    July 30, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
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