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. desertgranny

    America will destroyed by enemies both domestic and foreign and the first part of that is gun control. Bad people will always find a way. gun control will not stop anything, this is anti american article and anti belief in the basic part of america.

    July 28, 2012 at 2:27 am | Reply
  2. Scurvy

    Odd that he mentions that other countries, with less guns, have fewer gun-related deaths... he doesn't mention how many deaths (homicides) are caused by other means... I would imagine that britain's cicket bat-related crimes are much higher than in the US, because we don't have cricket bats... people find other means to kill each other. The fact that other countries with less guns have less gun-related crime is moot.

    July 28, 2012 at 3:43 am | Reply
  3. helenecha

    Oh, Boy! Always be good at crying out to people about changes before doing something in helping with the changes, somebody seems to have inherited Obama's fault. Do you agree with that, Mr. Fareed Zakaria? Those callings for changes would not cost Americans’ vitalities on doing the jobs while they were undergoing certain recoveries, for American people are energetic, right?

    July 28, 2012 at 3:47 am | Reply
  4. bob

    please tell me more about how these criminals follow currant gun laws and how they will follow new ones.....

    July 28, 2012 at 3:58 am | Reply
  5. getterdun

    I respect Fareed. He is one of the few journalists that I pay attention to, due to his lack of obvious bias. But, I disagree with his conclusion here. I think that James Holmes could have done what he did by carrying a bag with loaded pistols. Also, had he not been able to get guns, he had the know how to rig a bomb. So, I don't think focusing our attention on guns is will do much good. I don't know what the answer is, but I think it's something to do with our culture. Why do we allow movie makers to make movies that show such awful violence. Common sense tells me that the images stay in people's minds; and, for some people, they end up acting out what they see. I just wish more people shared this view and we could end such movies. But apart from movies, we need to figure out a better way to recognize that people like James Holmes are dangerous, and do something before they lose control. I think that if we focus on these two goals we would be better served than focusing on guns.

    July 28, 2012 at 4:28 am | Reply
  6. Schmedley

    Yeah, but it's never going to happen.

    1) Since there are so many guns out there already, banning them now is like closing the gate 200 years after the horses left
    2) There are a lot of guns because there is demand for them. As a result there is large industry (i.e. lots of jobs) that are associated with guns
    3) Banning guns will just create a huge black market. The Mexican drug cartels would make you an honorary captain for opening up a lucrative new market for them

    July 28, 2012 at 4:31 am | Reply
  7. aklogic

    I live in a remote roadless community of about 450 people where guns significantly outnumber people. A large number of those guns also happen to be semi-autos, and as for ammunition, people typically buy by the case, instead of the box. Even with all this firepower, gun crime is nearly non-existent. Food for thought.

    July 28, 2012 at 4:36 am | Reply
  8. LizardLance

    Without a doubt the pro-crime NRA will come moaning and crying about the negative effects of so many guns loose in our society. The NRA loves guns and hates people. That's a fact based on their actions, and every single member of the NRA shares in the responsibility anytime someone is shot.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:08 am | Reply
  9. Jeff

    The mere thought of my guns being taken away from by the govt, and sent to Mexico to track drug cartels...is..WAIT WHAT!....You mean we have to worry about American Citizens having legal weapons, when the Govt give weapons to criminals?

    July 28, 2012 at 5:13 am | Reply
  10. Jeff

    A Proper Gunsmith would refuse to convert a Semi-Auto to Full Auto, a unscruplous one however has no such problem and when it comes to the all might dollar.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:16 am | Reply
  11. Sally Field

    Interesting to read some comments: Like little children some people don't understand the problem and not being allowed to have a gun, means America is finally disappearing. The liberty thinkers in the tradition of the founding Fathers get cold feet: suddenly the world changed and having a gun to shoot something to eat; like a rabbit this isn't necessary in times of supermarkets. Oh dear! Probably women should start to question the role of strong men with guns, weapons, fast cars and all this macho-behaviour and choose those with diplomatic skills and cleverness...

    July 28, 2012 at 5:21 am | Reply
    • Red herring

      Some of us gun owners are women! This Mach.o stereotype is ridiculous.

      July 28, 2012 at 7:38 pm | Reply
  12. retsilla

    Ok lets ban guns. In 50 years maybe they will have worn out and stopped circulating. Lets ban cars and motorcycles because some idiot drove at 150+ miles a hour and killed people. Lets ban nailguns on a worksite. Point is that a gun isnt dangerous until a idiot picks it up. This idiot was under care from a psychiatrist. Its not a failure of gun control its a failure to disclose information due to client and doctor treatment laws. This guy should have been reported, flagged and investigated.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:32 am | Reply
  13. Ed Whitney

    3 gun homicides per 100,000 people? and fifty percent of the worlds guns? uhhhmmm, sounds like a low ratio to me.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:04 am | Reply
  14. Mark

    "We cannot change the psychology of madmen"?
    Oh really? Then why are there mental health professionals?
    Wasn't this "evil" "madman" seeing a psychiatrist?
    Was he not reaching out for help by seeing a psychiatrist?
    Why didn't the psychiatrist have this evil madman in the hospital?
    Why don't insurance companies pay to have a patient's psychiatrist actually listen to the patient?
    Why do insurance companies routinely tell mental health professionals to treat their patients at a less expensive level of care, even when the patient's clinical symtomotology suggest the need for a more restrictive level of care?
    Why do psychiatrists choose to ignore their patients?
    Why do psychiatrists always seem to be the doctors that finished at the bottom of their class?
    Why is the suicide rate among psychiatrists so high?

    The discussion of gun control as a result of this incident will last as long as it did as a result of Virginia Tech and incident after incident before it.

    These incidents are simply the result of a society that is F**cked up. When people see no meaning to their lives, they behave in meaningless ways. Did I just rip off Monte Python?

    July 28, 2012 at 6:05 am | Reply
  15. sirleo

    If we pass laws to limit he 2nd Amendment then the rest of the Bill of Rights can't be far behind. Freedom of the press, Freedom to worship, Freedom to express our opinuoin etc. " Those that give up saftey for security, deserve neither saftey nor security" Benjamin Franklin. See Goerge Orwell's "Animal Farm"

    July 28, 2012 at 6:20 am | Reply
    • dokron

      the 2nd amendment is an amendment to the original bill of rights, and wasnt there to begin with.It was only added later(as an amendment), and could be removed or changed(amended) to reflect modern society.

      July 28, 2012 at 7:26 am | Reply
  16. Mike

    I'm a gun owner, and was ready to make a post going on about doing more to lessen the number of crazy people walking the streets instead of guns, but what's the point? Bottom line, both sides will cling to what they believe, damn any differing opinion, and again we have an issue that no one is willing to compromise on and no meaningful change will come of it. One side gets their way and goodbye 2nd amendment, the other gets their way and tragedies like this keep happening. I really do hope that this country can come together eventually and learn to compromise for the good of us all.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:28 am | Reply
    • dokron

      you sound like a reasonable,responsible gun owner.What would you think of a law making gun owners responsible for the crimes committed with their gun,even if it was stolen? I mean, if your a responsible gun owner,and most crimes are committed by illegal guns(which is what most responsible gun owners tell me),shouldnt you be responsible for keeping that gun safe?And if you cant guarentee the safety of your gun,why should you own such a lethal weapon?

      July 28, 2012 at 7:37 am | Reply
      • Dennis

        Great idea. Let's do the same if your car is stolen and used illegally. This country is big on blaming someone else, this would really be a great way to legally get rid of any personal responsibility.

        July 28, 2012 at 8:33 am |
  17. JAC999

    I think the map makes it clear..... Just pick the shade where you would rather be if you could live anywhere in the world you chose. Select the area where you would feel most secure. So easy.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:44 am | Reply
    • dokron


      July 28, 2012 at 7:39 am | Reply
  18. John D

    We tried to outlaw alcohol and that didn't work. Drugs are illegal, how's that working? It's illegal for people to enter this country without permission. Why would anyone think gun control laws would be any more effective?

    You can't enforce a law that most people won't obey.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:55 am | Reply
    • dokron

      because if guns are harder to get they will be much more expensive and less available,therefore less gun crime.

      July 28, 2012 at 7:21 am | Reply
      • Dennis

        Or more guns get stolen. I don't think the cost of gun has anything to do with it being used to shoot someone.

        July 28, 2012 at 8:21 am |
      • John

        Hello. Earth to dokron. So you're saying that because drugs are illegal they are much more expensive and it's harder to get your hands on them? You can get drugs and nearly every high school and middle school in the country. And with the current administration giving guns to criminals who then use them to murder U.S. citizens, I'm a bit skeptical about trusting our government with any more guns.

        July 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm |
  19. Johnathon

    So where in his article did he say we should ban guns entirely? Plenty of people have made comments against him on that basis, but he is talking about stricter gun control laws, not banning guns completely

    July 28, 2012 at 7:10 am | Reply
  20. dokron

    america will never have decent gun laws because it is no longer a democracy;it is a plutocracy(gov of the wealthy...all your gov lackys are multi-millionaires) and an oligarchy(gov run by a small number of people-corporations,like the oil corporations,pharmaceutical companies,and the NRA,which get their policies and laws passed by lobbying(paying) gov. lackies.) They even get to decide who the american citizen can vote for...only a small number of people decide who represents the dems or repubs,not the average american.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:18 am | Reply
  21. brad

    Just blame it ALL on bush, isn't EVERYTHING that's wrong , Bush's fault anyway? the president and demoncrats say that all the time.. isn't what these 4 years were about, placing blame instead of actually doing something that was promised.. da mn bush and all that's wrong with this country..

    July 28, 2012 at 7:21 am | Reply
  22. Dave

    A lot of comments focus on automatic vice semiautomatic. Mr. Zakaria appears ignorant of guns, perhaps he has never even fired one. In his defense, his article focused on gun control, not the type of controls that should be put in place. I am an avid 2nd Amendment supporter but understand why many people believe why gun controls should be put in place. One nice one would be to not allow gun sales to nut jobs. Since most of us are nut jobs, this one will never work. How can you accurately identify a nut job? Another is an assault rifle/large magazine ban. I hardly look like Rambo with my 45-70 lever action rifle. In many of these shootings, I do think the Rambo factor does have an influence. Assault guns are cool and you look cool and feel cool firing one. I personally love them. But the ease in which one lands in the hands of a real nut job does scare me. No doubt many people's lives could/would be saved if there were no assault rifles/large magazines in our country outside the military. But, since there are so many already out there, an assault weapon/large magazine ban would just drive up the price of assault weapons/large magazines (buy now!). The nut job looking to use one would just have to pay more. Sadly I think good gun control will have to remain close grouping at 100 yards.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:40 am | Reply
  23. Wildone

    Mr. Zakaria and other anti-gun zealots can skew the data on personal gun ownership in FREE NATIONS like America, but do not take into account that many gun owners own more than one gun. For him to say that there are 10 guns per 100 people in America fails to take into consideration that, for example, I personally own 10 firearms in different calibers which I use for legitimate hunting and target shooting purposes. I also have a toolbox full of different tools for different purposes. Does this make me a "tool nut"? Hardly. It is not the proliferation of guns that Mr.Zakaria should be concerned with, but guns in the wrong hands. His op-ed smacks of anti-gun bias.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:41 am | Reply
  24. David

    I'm statying out of it. I agree that I see no reason for anyone to have an AK-47. However, I do NOT see Governmnet being aable to regulate such a thing. Now the only people that won't have one are the law abiding people, the criminals will still have them. Plus, thhis law wouldn't have prevented the Colorado shooting. Best case scenario, he would have used another weapon. So you guy go ahead and fight amongst yourself about a problem I do see, but you will never successfully do anything about. I wish you luck though.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:47 am | Reply
  25. Keel Hauler

    Anti-gun people always pull out a bunch of statistics and go "See? Guns killed all these people!" What they don't accept is that gun owners have guns to avoid becoming statistics. There are thousands of incidents each year where guns save lives, often without firing a shot. But those incidents don't generate statistics. It doesn't mean they don't happen, and in large numbers. People who drown become a statistic. When they get saved by a lifeguard, they just go home and don't add to the body count. If there's no statistics on people saved, are you going to tell me that lifeguards don't save anybody?

    July 28, 2012 at 7:50 am | Reply
  26. Leroy

    Quit picking on guns. A club in the right hands is a deadly weapon. Sling shot? Crossbow? Poison in the popcorn? People kill people.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:52 am | Reply
  27. David

    I noticed they leave the stats out that would contradict this. Common media one sided mentality. Their are many other data points that could be used. Why are they ONLY using the ones that help their cause? At least be fair and show all the data so one can make their own logical opinion, instead of this brainwashing video.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:54 am | Reply
  28. David

    One reason this incident still would have happened, evern if ALL guns were illegal. Did people not read about his appartment? All the bombs he had built, that would NOT have been subjected to the illigality of guns. He would have just took the smoke grenade, goglle, gas maks and bomms in there, and started blowing everything up. We would then not be talking about illegalizing guns, but maybe goggles, or smoke, or some other checmical he used to make them.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:59 am | Reply
  29. Wildone

    If Mr. Zakaria were really interest in "facing the facts", he would go to the United Nations Office On Drugs and Crime (UNODC) from where he "cherry picked" the map accompanying his anti-gun op-ed and read what they wrote on their official site on 6 July 2007 when the reported on the destruction of 14000 illegal firearms in Columbia (which has the highest number of firearms related killings in the world) on July 9th's International Gun Destruction Day.

    For the benefit of those who don't have the time (like Mr. Zakaria) to look this up, here is a direct quote from the UNODC report:

    "Colombia has one of the highest homicide rates in the world. In 2005, 70% of over 17,000 homicides registered were committed with firearms. Cities registering the highest numbers of legal firearms were also those showing the lowest homicide rates. Conversely, cities with the highest murder rates were those with the lowest number of legal arms. Most homicides in Colombia are connected with the illegal ownership, manufacture and trade of firearms."

    As I stated previously, it is not the presence of guns in a FREE Country like America that is the problem. It is illegal firearms and guns in the wrong hands.

    July 28, 2012 at 8:02 am | Reply
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