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. Chip

    OK – gun control is a nonstarter in the USA.
    But there are things we can do weather you are for or against gun control.
    1. Take responsibility for the weapon we own. Safety and control from theft and reporting when they are stolen so police can try and find the 11 year old theft before they us it.
    2. Start gun safety and responsibility education in school and home schooling, requiring 40 hours a year for K-12. This training should teach all aspects of gun safety to include the bloody results of using a gun on your neighbor, friend, or family. Going to a local gun range and actually using a weapon under the direction of an NRA/Etc. certified trainer would provide a real life experience and an opportunity for all points of view to be presented.
    3. Have public service ads, in game reminders, church programs, walkathons, and lots of continued public education on American’s don’t and should not shoot American’s.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • Incredulus

      Another unfunded requirement on schools that can't get all of their mandated teaching done. Will you raise your taxes to pay for this and will you force your kids to spend another week in school each year?

      July 31, 2012 at 8:40 am | Reply
  2. Uniquitous

    Fareed, Sir, I normally follow your logic, but in this instance I believe you are overlooking one very fundamental difference between the US and other countries when it comes to madmen with guns. We are the most liberal with our freedoms and our history of citizens that have become dependent and believe that everyone else owes them something and therefore when they do not get it, they think they can just take it. IF our country were ruled like preliberation Iraq, you would see far less of the death you speak about. Keep in mind, guns to not always equate to the senseless death. Remember all the Palestinian suicide bombers, no guns there, but lots dead. Remember Timothy McVee, no gun there, but plenty dead. Remember 911, no guns but plenty dead. There is much more to the psychology here and our need to seem civilized and not extinguish the disease or demons within these individuals that do these terrible acts.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:47 am | Reply
    • Lee

      Very true. There is no limit to what evil a man will do. No gun required.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  3. drowlord

    Racial demographics accurately reflect the rates of gun violence in any country. In fact it very strongly predicts gun violence in individual cities and states in the USA. Diversity is bad, in general, and specific races show a gross disproportion of violent behavior.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:28 am | Reply
  4. Raab

    5% of the world's population ( USA ) owns 50% of the guns. REALLY. Where did you get that "Fact" ? That is a most stupid comment ever made. Then there is 1 in 3 Americans know someone who has been shot....REALLY. Where do you get this data from ? You fail.

    July 31, 2012 at 9:35 am | Reply
  5. youbefooled

    80/20 rule. Most firearms are owned by a minority of owners. i.e. 80% of all firearms are most likely owned by 20% of all owners. So, what's the big deal? You only have 2 hands, right?

    July 31, 2012 at 9:39 am | Reply
  6. sweetchinmusic21

    Pro-gun nuts' argument that the answer to crime is weaponizing is so ludicrous. By the same logic lets supply nukes to every country so that we stop wars. Shall we??

    July 31, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
  7. DoTheMath

    The data presented here has been intentionally manipulated to support a specific agenda. For a more objective report go to the following url...


    July 31, 2012 at 9:59 am | Reply
  8. DoTheMath

    The data presented here has been intentionally manipulated to support a specific agenda. For a more objective report go to the following url...


    July 31, 2012 at 10:02 am | Reply
  9. Barry G.

    I can think of at least a few reasons why there will be no change in gun control in the U.S.:

    1. The U.S. is the number one producer of arms, and gun manufacturers and marketers are making too much money to give up that gravy train.

    2. Gun manufacturers are armed with large sums of money, which they can use to lobby our politicians.

    3. Our politicians love taking lobby money; and, once you take money, you have compromised yourself.

    4. Gun control presents an ideal hot-button subject–like abortion and other hot button issues–and these topics enable politicians to distract the public, by throwing red meat before them, thus distracting the public from what’s really going on in Washington.

    Remember: While our country is in dire economic condition, our politicians (both parties) are getting very, very rich.
    Now how do you suppose that happens?

    July 31, 2012 at 10:11 am | Reply
  10. ArtHarry

    Selective statistics! Mr Zakaria did not bother to also cite the rest of the top 10: Switzerland, Cyprus, Finland, Uruguay & Sweden

    July 31, 2012 at 10:49 am | Reply
  11. Mel

    I suggest reading
    Battleground America
    One nation, under the gun.
    by Jill Lepore April 23, 2012

    The NRA stays quiet when we suffer mass slaughters because they know their minions will do their work for them. The notion that we would have fewer shootings if there were more people armed, that someone bent on mayhem could easily use a knife or a baseball bat, is insane. Knives are made for cutting more than just human flesh, baseball bats for playing a game, but only guns are manufactured specifically to kill. We tax cigarettes because they are bad for us. I would bet that bullets have killed more people than second hand smoke. I think we ought to tax bullets. Make each one cost $50.00. Maybe it might make just one nut (and here I'm describing all gun owners) think twice before shooting anything.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply
    • Pumaman

      Maybe we should tax every stupid thing liberals say...say 50 bucks. Then maybe they will just shut up and go away.

      July 31, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
  12. Pumaman

    Freak Zakaria doesn't get it. We want guns so we can say NO. We want guns because liberal politicians and media want to shut down free speech and rights....Chick-Fil-A !!! We will not comply. We do not want a one world order. NEVER.
    PUMAMAN ... MST3K !!!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:55 am | Reply
  13. Crow T Robot

    I love it when the liberals bring out the statistics from Switzerland. Too funny. What's next Naru ? or Svaalbard ? How about the Leeward Islands ?

    July 31, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
  14. Joshua

    Mr. Zakaria,

    I understand that you are a globalist who wants to erode the freedoms we have here in america. However, the cost of personal freedom is that we must be vigilant. The simple truth is I would gladly face the small fractional possibility of danger if it means continuing to enjoy the freedoms I have.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
  15. Authur S.

    Here is some more facts: The richest, freeist and most powerful country on the planet has the most guns. Go figure.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:34 am | Reply
  16. Jeremy Spoke

    Fareed Zakaria is a CFR (Council on Foreign Reliations) puppet...look it up (you'll be surprised who else is on the list!). That said, his reporting is merely a means to push CFR's agenda. CFR is not so much concerned about gun-related crime, but moreso worried about how much more difficult it is to control a legally armed citizenry by a strongly centralized police-state, as this one of the major unstated objectives.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
    • Authur S.

      A very pro-Obama, very socialist and anti gun organization. It's a who's who in the liberal elitist world. They defend "Fast and Furious" and blame the NRA. Imagine that. B. Clinton and daughter are members.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Reply
  17. Joe

    Why do we teach our children traffic safety, water safety, fire safety but continue to avoid any discussion on gun safety? When will our elitists leaders demand water be stored away from lakes, rivers, oceans, and pools so that our children can be safe from drowning?

    July 31, 2012 at 12:33 pm | Reply
  18. Bob

    Now one thing that stands out is your saying that gun fatalities have stayed roughtly the same.... Now thats neither a good thing nor a bad things as during that same time gun ownership has skyrocketed... we have seen a nearly 60% jump in the number of Concealed pistol holders in the nation, yet they arent the ones killing people, the criminals are if the average citizen were the issue then as the number of them carring guns went up then so would the homicides but they stayed the same... that is just one fact of many to show how gun control doesnt work, what does work is enforcement of current laes already on the book, if a feon is casught with a gun then he/she should face a stiff punishment for it, also you cant buy an automatic weapon anymore, (well a legal transferable class 3 one), you have to get it transfered from some person who owned it before and had it registered, its a long an expensive proccess... people need to understand firearms and their uses before they go on a rant that bends the facts to fit their needs... what I have said may not be the most accurate but a little research will show that its almost spot on...

    July 31, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  19. Bob B

    Zakaria enough is enough, next article please. Maybe how India has massive power problems and the US is going to be next or soon. There are more important things going on in this country and around the world then gun control. Our country is falling apart and our goverment is falling apart. Please move on.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  20. Gonzalo

    I was in the military for 13 years and I love guns of any kind but I have to admit that I get nervous and really anxious when I see people that I wouldn't trust with a water gun buy ak-47s, ar-15s, .50 cal sniper rifles, and all the ammo they can afford virtually unchecked just passing a simple background check. You all know people that you think sometimes what a waste of oxyene they are!!!, and now imagine they can buy all the firepower they can afford..... and move in next door.

    July 31, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
    • Authur S.

      Good point. College drop outs and "honor" students make me nervous. They seem to have cornered the market on crazy.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Reply
  21. Paul42

    Why don't you compare all murder and violent crime in this country to all murder and violent crime in other countries? Because if someone is intent on robbery or murder, they wil find a way regardless of whether a gun is available. Then you can accurately determine if America is more violent than other countries. Only then, if America is significantly more violent, could you have some weight to your argument that gun possession causes enables violent crime and murder.
    What make you think that a gun control, aka war on guns, would have any better success than the war on drugs, or Prohibition? That being said, a war on guns would only take the guns out of the hands of honest citizens, not criminals. Do you think a criminal is more likely to rob or murder if he thinks there are no guns in the house or the victim has no guns versus if he thinks the victim or house might have a gun?
    One more thing. America is not Europe. We built this country be taming the wildernes. We used guns to fight off bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, native americans, and the british. We may have the most guns, but we are also one of the freest societies in the world.
    Colorado had strict gun conrol laws and had Columbine and Aurora. Norway has gun conrol laws. Timothy McVeigh didn't need guns for a mass-killig. You argument gun control is flawed.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • Paul42

      sorry for the bad grammar and the disjointed sentences. I was distracted when I typed it and didn't take the time to proofread it before clicking post.

      July 31, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Reply
    • jack hall

      maybe the gun control liberals would be happier if all shooting victims were pushed out of windows instead. yeah, we have more murders committed with guns than india and china combined. but i bet both india and china both have a higher murder rate than the U.S. if you look at all methods of killing. in india they use knives. the chineese are esp fond of poison.

      July 31, 2012 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  22. Jack Bissette

    Zarka-fart-tee... what ever the hell his name is.......wouldn't know a fact if it bit him on the "bleep"- "bleep". How many camel's kill people every year? I love my country, I love my gun's and I love going to the range every Saturday to shoot and volunteering my time to train other's. That's great quality time spent meeting people and having great conversation. I don't think Liberals are aware of some additional fact's...but..... 10% of the purchase price of gun's, ammo and some component's go toward the funding of Federal land and wet lands. Yeah.... we fund a lot of peoples out door activities. Without gun's, ammo, component's and licences what would you hippy freaks do???? Raise more taxes or sell the land's to the Chinese? Grow up. That gunman picked that theater do to it's anti-gun stance. He knew no one would be armed. That's why I only go to pro-gun places to spend my hard earned money(Lib's don't know about that)....armed to the teeth.

    July 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Reply
  23. jon

    I own two ar-15s and a couple of hand guns. I believe we should have the right to own weapons but maybe they shouldn't be so easy to acquire.
    Also, so called "assault rifles" are rarely involved in gun violence. It's the concealable handguns we should be worried about the most.

    July 31, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  24. James bennett

    Fareed"s opinion is the typical facts within a myth presentation. If the other countries had weapons there would be more violence with guns. Fact: The either donot have access or weapons are difficult to obtain. This is a speculative argument with no basis in reality. The proveability of the level and amount of violence can for any other country cannot be ascertained and compared without first giving the allegedly comparative countries weapons. Violence in some of this countries considered less prone has probability of possibility through actions that do and have taken place in their realm., Switzerland,is a wondercful example and perhaps the swiss' culture aids in this bu at there is definitely no lack of guns. The rise in criminal use of guns in D.C. and Chicago after a gun ban for any citizens was enacted in these cities. It is not possible to eliminate guns entirely from any nation. Though through stress and duress the law abiding citizen cooperates, the unlawful and potentially unlawful do, will and can obtain weapons. America has so much gun violence is due to several things. But a prime is the lax laws for illegal use of guns and gun owership. One who seeks comparisons between this country and that country similar to flying a kite without a tail. We are in an age when the safety of the law abiding citizen is paramount and because of the unlawful element gun owership is not just a personal choice but a necessaryone. Africa is a prime proving gound for this statement but there are others. Citzens trying to live peaceful and being subjagated and slaughtered by those outlaw segments. Justice for illegal ownership and use of weapons should be swift and comparative. Yes, just like in the present system, some innocent will be hurt. But is this not the case on a grand scale when our "Innocent" young men and women have to combat the same type of people on a battle field. The liberal son sisters do not have the foggiest notions of human nature, be gone ye demons of stupidity.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:04 pm | Reply
  25. mkuske

    Once again Fareed shows his inability to think critically and look past the talking points of his employer, the Obama administration. Were he to do that he would know that when looking for a trend connecting the differing states' Brady scores with gun violence rates for those states, there is absolutely NO correlation.

    In comparing differing nations, Fareed completely ignores the cultural differences that intrinsically influence behavior. Yet he would rather use that fatally flawed comparison instead of the obviously superior one (between the much more culturally common states). It doesn't take a genius to figure out why. It's obvious that he ignores the superior comparison because it directly contradicts whatever drivel he is passing off as "thought".

    So let's be honest Fareed. In the US there is absolutely no correlation between the strength of gun laws and the misuse of guns, no matter what you or the Obama administration would like people to think.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  26. Michelle

    I find it fascinating that everyone objecting to the thesis of the essay does so based on two or three things: the details of what a semi-automatic weapon and an automatic weapon are (who cares!), how it really IS hard to get an automatic weapon (GOOD!), and how very hard it is to understand anything at all about sociological data unless you have a gun. I don't need a gun, or an understanding of how to load and shoot one to see clearly that the correlation IS STAGGERING between murder / injury rates and per-capita gun ownership. Is this thinking too complex for you people?

    July 31, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
    • John

      Maybe you just don't get it. The data FZ provides us is ridiculous. ie. NOT Believable. Secondly, the main argument is we do not want to be held hostage to the socialist liberty stealing liberals...like yourself. We enjoy our ability to say NO. Clear things up for you non-complex person ?

      July 31, 2012 at 3:18 pm | Reply
  27. Michelle

    Simply saying his data "is ridiculous" and that it's being presented by Obamatrons or "socialist liberty stealing liberals" (if that means I don't want to live in the Wild West, I'm guilty as charged) isn't really an argument. Saying "nuh-uh" and calling me names doesn't make it any less true that we own the most guns here and we have the highest rates of violence here. Period.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Reply
    • John

      Maybe insulting us first with generalization that we can't handle complex "complex" issues was a mistake. Furthermore stop just believing data the people like FZ throw out there. Prove it. 1 in 3 Americans know of someone who has been shot ??? REALLY.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  28. dan

    "One out of every three Americans knows someone who has been shot."... And one out of every seven Americans knows someone who knows Kevin Bacon...

    July 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  29. lee moore

    Here's a sane approach: individuals may keep a non-lethal weapon, such as a taser in their homes; hunting rifles (shotgun, deer rifle e.g.) are kept locked up at the police station and may be checked out for a specific time for a hunting trip.
    Otherwise, anyone found with a gun other than a police officer is automatically given 10 years in jail and given a $5,000 fine.
    All captured guns are melted down and made into artwork for public parks.
    I would love to live in a society that sane!
    The most recent Colorado shooting is another fine achievement by the NRA.

    July 31, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply
    • Lee

      Could you please make sure the criminals follow the same rules.You know, just so its fair for the rest of us.

      July 31, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  30. ERH

    Like most in the argument you are not only stupid and ignorant but a liar as well. Every male between the age of 18 and 65 in Switzerland is required to posses a firearm by law. The military rifle is issued to them by the government and is kept with a full load out of ammo in their home.

    When you have no facts you obviously just invent them, typical CNN news making, not news reporting.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:10 pm | Reply
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