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 (3,248 Responses)
  1. Lee

    News flash! Every able bodied male in Switzerland is issued a rifle and is trained (by their Government) how to use it. They are required to serve x number of years in the Army and then are number more in their version of the National Guard.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  2. Lee

    I guess the gun walked into that movie theater all by itself? It aimed itself and pulled it's own trigger. No HUMAN intervention required?

    July 31, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  3. EngrScott

    Here is a fact to face: in Canada, where gun ownership is highly restricted (particularly handguns)the overall violent crime rate is at least 250% higher than in the US.

    July 31, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • nina

      Read and learn and do your own research next time.
      A comparison of police-reported crime rates between Canada and the United States for 2000
      shows that the U.S. has much higher rates of violent crime, while Canada generally has higher
      rates of property crime. Despite differences in rates, trends in crime between the two countries
      have been quite similar over the past twenty years.
      • In Canada, there were 542 homicides in 2000 resulting in a national rate of 1.8 homicides per
      100,000 population. By comparison, there were 15,517 homicides in the U.S., resulting in a rate
      (5.5) three times higher than Canada’s.

      July 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  4. UncleJohn

    Don't know you, haven't read your stuff before, so I don't know if you generally misrepresent things, but...

    Automatic weapons are restricted to the police and the military. The public only has access to semi-automatic weapons. I suspect that you know this, being a reporter and all, but if not, I thought you might want to know and use the correct terminology.

    Unless that's no longer a job requirement for reporters, in which case, tally ho!

    July 31, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  5. TrainedbyUncleSam

    OK, here we go again.....
    The author shows a map of gun ownership density, and wow...we are full of them!! No mistake, its because we are the last free country on earth, and folks like the author wish it not so....so take away our ability to revolt if necessary? I think not.
    How many of us would you see murdered to attain your lofty goal of being just like other countries? If you like other countries laws better, move there. I for one will continue to honor my oath. Dont use mind altering drugs people.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:17 pm | Reply
    • Lee

      Smoking dope is for dopes. That stuff WILL make you stupid.

      July 31, 2012 at 5:22 pm | Reply
    • rick

      you are the pinnacle of american ignorance. other countries like canada and britan have freedoms comprable to ours and in some cases more liberating. being able to buy guns and own enough to out gun the average police officer should be revoked because it invites in situations that happen all the time in oakland and la ect ect.... the cops cant win and the gangs got thier guns from that guy who sells them dirt cheap, but legally mind you, and doles out the firearms to the thugs who may have a "permit" but the permit doesnt go far enough to ensure that the gun never goes into the losers hands in the first place

      July 31, 2012 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  6. Wilben Dahl

    Zakaria – you need to take your message to Syria and see how itis received.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  7. rick

    guns are easy to get, here in VA you can just walk into a walmart and buy something comprable to a Dragavnov sniper rifle. There should be a permit required to buy any gun, the permitting process should include mandatory training and a psychic evaluation as well as a deep background check. Assault rifles are easily converted into an automatic weapon by gangs and should be banned. People going to a psycharitrist should be reported as a gun threat and have all gun permits revoked, all guns taken away until their problem is well behind them. It should be illegal to purchase more than 100 rounds at a time on the internet and in stores, also people buying at or close to this limit should be tracked. Plus elongated clips of ammo should be banned to the public as well.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  8. Kyle

    The "Assault Weapons" Ban was IN PLACE when Columbine happened. Criminals and lunatics tend not to care about gun laws.

    July 31, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  9. dwightmccauley

    I grew up a minority in a small town rural environment and was regularly beat up and harrassed by groups of other boys up through 8th grade. Living out in the country, we learned to shoot and care for weapons of all kinds. Our dad owned hunting rifles, revolvers and automatic handguns, all of which we had regular access to along with the ammunition for each weapon in our house. Funny thing is, now matter how many times I got he crap kicked out of me, it never once occurred to me to load one of our weapons and take it to school, the park, or anywhere else and shoot someone. I just wasn't raised that way. Mr Zakaria suggests that guns are the problem. I would suggest that raising better children, showing them love and how to respect and treat others right is a bigger problem. People's upbringing and environment are what shape some of them into the monsters they become. Taking guns away is not an answer. If someone wants to kill someone else bad enough, they will find a way. I do think checks and waiting periods are excellent ideas as long as they are done correctly and help filter out some who do not need to be "armed and dangerous". Many will disagree, but being an engineer by trade, I know first hand that statistics only tell part of the story. Love your children and raise them right, save some lives.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:10 pm | Reply
    • Matthew

      Times have changed. It is the day of instant gratification we live in. I do agree to the fact that with most citizens who posses guns are responsible. But we are talking about the urge and need. Guns for self protections in shops, public places, are important, but making it so easy to buy is like giving spreading mines. You never know which one will explode and who will get killed. Gun must be controlled. People who gets killed in Colombine, VA TECh and recent Denver, would not have died otherwise..

      July 31, 2012 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  10. Jim B - Indianapolis

    Everyone has pretty much said it all.............CNN has been practicing this kind of "Journalism" for decades..............Zararia is telling the world the "facts" about gun control...........yet he does not know what he is talking about........so it is incompetence................or he does know and it is malicious........shame on those who regurgitate false information as "Facts".......once again, shame on CNN for disseminating false information as "Thruths"

    July 31, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  11. terry Moore

    Fareed, you are right. There should be nothing more needed to say.

    July 31, 2012 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  12. Chucksteak

    Perhaps we should check the HOMICIDE rate vs. the gun death rate. Fareed likes to twist the truth about gun violence for his anti-America agenda. Homicide in America is around 5.2 per 100,000. Despite (or because of) having so many firearms, our HOMICIDE rate is lower than most of the world. Funny how that doesn't get mentioned by those suffering from anti-gun hysteria.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  13. MylesJ


    Fareed may have a point on the availability question.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  14. SeattleAl

    Preach it! Just think how much safer we'd all be if our gun ownership rate was as low as, say, Somalia? Oops, maybe that's not the best example.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  15. Grady

    Because non-semi-automatic weapons are o.k. and are safe in comparison to automatic weapons. Really how much damage could a simple semi-automatic assault rifle do? The rationale of some of these comments are beyond stupid.

    July 31, 2012 at 7:49 pm | Reply
  16. Pumaman

    Pumaman want to know the gun related incidences in Togo. I'm sure FZ knows but is waiting to spring it on us when we are most vulnerable. He also went to Harvard and slept with Bill Clinton.

    July 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm | Reply
  17. Bob Flynn

    Too damn many people anyhow

    July 31, 2012 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  18. Tyler

    It's your turn to shoot back..! See the James Holmes shooting target on eBay right now..!

    July 31, 2012 at 10:18 pm | Reply
    • Matthew

      Archie, By throwing Fareed and alike from America you will not be able to keep your house in order. Fareed is like our Rug doctor, goes under the carpet and shows us dirt. It is our duty to identify the source of dirt and keep the house clean. We should thank that we live in a country where we have rugs and rug doctors like Fareed. You would say brownies like Fareed didn't build America. But check with Fareed, he might have stats to prove you wrong. Remember numbers don't lie. It is our collective responsibility to look at it and address.. Otherwise, as you would know, dust allergies have no medications.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:35 am | Reply
  19. Jimmy Hildebrand

    Unfortunately, the author of this article should have taken a statistics course before posting this. Correlation does not always prove causation. In this case, there was a global Harvard study done comparing the rates of gun ownership and murder/suicide (http://www.law.harvard.edu/students/orgs/jlpp/Vol30_No2_KatesMauseronline.pdf). They found that the rate of gun ownership was a statistically insignificant factor in determining the crime rates of a nation. Crime rates fluctuated greatly among both nations that had high gun ownership and low gun ownership. I have my own views on gun ownership, however, crime rates are not a valid argument for any position in this discussion. I also think CNN should do the honorable thing and take down this article.

    July 31, 2012 at 10:34 pm | Reply
    • Kelley

      I was going to say something entirely similar. I have a high opinion of Zakaria and I was dissapointed by his "facts" in this case. So....you've correlated gun ownership to murder with guns, great. That proves pretty much nothing. Of course there will be a higher rate of murders with guns with higher gun ownership, its the easiest way to kill somebody. The question really is: Do we see higher rates of murder and violent crime overall correlate with gun ownership. The question is not; are more people killed with guns, but what are the overall murder rates?

      This is the question that is always left unanswered by gun control zealots. And here's the thing, the answer is complicated. What the study the Zakaria cites in this segment actually found, is that murder rates correlate mostly with income inequality, lack of development and drug trafficking. So, these factors have to be controlled in order to answer the question of whether increased gun ownership actually increases murder rates. The problem is that the united states also has high rates of drug trafficking and social inequality as well as a largely non-existent and underfunded mental health system, so in order to blame actual rates of loony's killing a bunch of people with gun ownership rates, a lot of other factors have to be controlled for, and for this Zakaria gets my vote for lazy journalist of the week.

      Do the work, before you present your "facts" GPS.

      August 1, 2012 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  20. Matthew

    Fareed, You should run a statistics of gun ownership after Obama have taken over. I bet you would see a substantial spike, particularly in the state of VA,NC, SC,TN,LA GA, AL.... You know what I meant. Urge to buy gun is not always driven by the sadistic pleasure of killing a duck or geese.

    July 31, 2012 at 11:00 pm | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      On this point you happen to be right Matthew. Buying gun not always to for eating tasty sadistic duck or goose. Sometimes man see threat on horizon and then man buy gun to keep sadistic Marxist that just got elected from putting man in concentration camp. You know what I mean......idiot. Where did you learn English. Moscow spy school?

      August 2, 2012 at 6:39 am | Reply
  21. Archie Prater

    Fareed You are some piece of work .It's people like You who are mounting a charge,Too end the 2 amendment.It's not going too happen. So get over it .We have a right too defend ourselves and if You don't like it . Get out of the U.S.A,

    July 31, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
    • Matthew

      Archie, By throwing Fareed and alike from America you will not be able to keep your house in order. Fareed is like our Rug doctor, goes under the carpet and shows us dirt. It is our duty to identify the source of dirt and keep the house clean. We should thank that we live in a country where we have rugs and rug doctors like Fareed. You would say brownies like Fareed didn't build America. But check with Fareed, he might have stats to prove you wrong. Remember numbers don't lie. It is our collective responsibility to look at it and address.. Otherwise, as you would know, dust allergies have no medications.

      August 1, 2012 at 12:37 am | Reply
      • Ricardo J. DeForest

        Sounds like the solution is simple in you mind then, right Matthew. I have no right to own a rifle because, because, because.....you say so! Well all you have to do is come take mine "with immediate effect". But you'll have to grow a set of balls first sparky!! Molon Labe.

        August 1, 2012 at 11:02 pm |
  22. tahonta

    Hey Fareed, check out Chicago, where I live, gun control is working very, very, well here.....
    While you are at it, google Happy Land fire. Guy killed 87 people, with 1 gallon of gas......

    August 1, 2012 at 1:40 am | Reply
  23. Rex

    "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."

    What a BS statement. Typical media misuse of statistics. Is it true? Probably but then again what state in the US has NO laws restricting guns? They all do. So that statement while true is like saying "All people who swallow their own saliva will die".

    Take a look at California restriction. It is the most restrictive state when it comes to guns. So is California the safest state as far as gun related deaths?

    And here's another stat no one likes to talk about but ultimately ended the federal ban on assault weapons…Assault weapons are used in less than 1% of gun violence.

    Of course most people who are anti-gun and pro-gun control do not think or look at facts they only "feel" that gun control is a good idea.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:34 am | Reply
  24. Tpaguy80

    What this article fails to mention is other homicide rates, just guns. Those countries have more stabbings, beatings and explosives. Go check the data for yourself. If someone wants to commit murder they will use whatever instrument is available to them. Prison is a good example, they still find a way to commit murder in prison. Even when all eyes are on them.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:54 am | Reply
  25. Vijay

    One simple stat is enough: The US has more guns per 100 people than any other country by several orders of magnitude. To rank at the top with Yemen, Iraq and Serbia the only countries within striking distance – no pun intended – is beyond primitive. Why do civilized adult human beings need guns? And yes I have used guns in service so to all those gun toting posters – please hold your fire

    August 1, 2012 at 6:39 am | Reply
  26. andrewmoijar

    I think there are definitely good points here. However, the whole article seems to be in response to a claim that the issue is psychological or sociological. In the end his final point is that we can't change this behavior. This honestly seems like giving up to me. Why can't we change this behavior? Why can't that be our focus? Why can't we focus more on education and helping develop young minds in healthy ways? To me this seems like the natural evolution of humanity (understanding, calm, unity).

    Gun laws become a mute point when we address the underlying issues that we don't truly take good enough care of our people on this planet that are unable to help themselves (mentally and emotionally). We're naturally self centered and worried about how to take care of ourselves versus others.

    At the same time, claiming there is less gun violence without also offering up facts about other forms of violence leading to death (stabbings, beatings, etc) is irresponsible reporting. While most author intent is not to exclude facts, they still neglect to incorporate ALL facts to help people generate intelligent and well thought out conclusions. This is an issue about violence more than it is about guns. The goal should be to solve violence itself versus specific acts of violence.

    Which brings me to my final conclusion. If an honest and responsible gun owner (or more than one) was to have been in that theater and carrying his/her own weapon, the effects could have been much less. But then again... The answer isn't for everyone to carry guns or to ban them all together. The answer is to have better systems in place that help look for individuals with potential for this sort of destruction and try to help them. While I don't know if this is factual but I remember hearing a report that the mother wasn't very shocked to begin with once she heard. And while we could berate her for not doing something, how many people out there would have actually and TRULY done something to preemptively help this person? Hardly anyone because you know why? Because others don't see themselves doing such an act and claiming someone else has that potential is a big claim. Imagine if we actually rehabilitated this person. I don't know if this is possible really since I don't know this man. But what if we did rehabilitate this guy fully and put him back into society. Would he not be the best candidate to potentially help others? Would others that have this potential possibly listen to him more than anyone else because he's made that mistake?

    Do people not learn best from those passionate about what they have experienced?

    Regarding my previous mention of putting processes in place to find and help these people... Just to play devils advocate here... Someone else could easily bring up an argument that putting processes in place to look for people with these issues and potentially infringe upon their rights by requiring them to be subjected to a testing process is unethical. Until we solve these other issues, you can bet I will continue to carry as often as I can in order to protect myself from this type of senseless behavior. Also to protect myself from individuals with an intent to do sever bodily harm to me or my friends and family. Whether it is an individual with a gun trying to kill masses of people or an individual with a knife trying to rob me, guns do not kill people, people kill people.

    Sidebar: Since reading text sometimes makes it difficult to interpret tone of voice, I'd like to add that I say all these things with a calm and respectful tone as well as an aim at simply challenging beliefs and opinions to the fullest to truly understand the cause(s) versus the effect

    August 1, 2012 at 8:33 am | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      Andrewmoijar, I am trully impressed that you took the time to reason out and weigh the merits of the arguments posed on this thread. You my friend are truly an innocent. Let me clue you in so that you can save your mental machinations for a problems that does not have only one violent, bloody solution. People like Mr. Zakaria don't really give a damn the finer points of the shootings in CO. His sole agenda is a Leftist one whose sole intent is to disarm the American public so that he and his fellow Socialist / Marxist / Maoist or whatever ad nauseum can impose their concept of utopia on this once free society. My sole purpose in all of this is for me and my fellow citizens can keep our AR-15 rifles along with thousands of rounds of ammunition to give these Leftist pause in their never ending quest to take my freedom. It is as simple as that. So for my side I will end this dissertation with the olny real response to Fareed and his kind. You want my weapon? Come take it from me. I dare you.

      August 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm | Reply
      • Matthew

        Freedom to keep a gun is no freedom. It is an abuse of Freedom. Safety was provided to people when state was not able to provide. These laws are ridiculously old and people who demand such freedom are no different that those radicals in the east who want to blow themselves up in the name of religion. This freedom to kill another human being, in the name of protection and freedom to kill innocent animal in the name of hunting should be taken away with immediate effect.

        August 1, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
  27. Old Soldier

    "You can get a gun in the D.C. quicker than you can get a sandwich." Marion Barry, Former Mayor and D.C. Council Member, Ward 8, quoted in the Washington Post, August 1, 2012.

    The District of Columbia has the most restrictive gun laws in the country. Gun laws do not work.

    August 1, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
  28. Mark Knight

    "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."

    Your thought process is flawed here. By your line of thinking deaths from malaria should occur in every region where mesquites exist equally? However, that is not the case. It never has and never will be, as there are external factors that effect the total numbers. Such as, in 3rd world countries, malaria death rates are higher because people are "exposed" to mesquites more than in industrialized worlds, thus industrialized worlds have few cases of malaria.

    Your flaw is that you have excluded the external factors that can erode a sane persons ability to be mentally sound from your equation because those same factors do no exist in third world countries. For example, you mention Yemen with 54 guns per citizen, however they do not have an eroded citizen base who sit and watch mindless TV hour after hour or play video games from dusk til dawn until they no longer can tell reality from fantasy. Examples of this would be kids who play World of Warcraft until they snap and kill themselves because their character did not achieve some quest goal. External factors from society factor in greatly!

    In short, your reasoning that because the U.S. has so many guns and so few people is why we have so many deaths is flawed. From its very foundation forward everything from that sentence on is wrong. Please do your more research before you try and write a new article that you put your name on.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  29. BeingHuman

    Either ALL own guns or NO one own guns, Some own guns will continue to show the same results.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:15 pm | Reply
  30. Adam R

    Its always frustrating to read or listen about pro gun control. It comes up every few years when one of these terrible events takes place. It doesn't matter how tightly you control the sale and acquisition of firearms when you are dealing with a maniac. Remember Timothy McVeigh? Killed more than 10 times the recent murders in Colorado. Never fired a shot. You cant stop crazy with more laws.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Reply
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