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 (3,247 Responses)
  1. Jack Bissette

    This Left Wing Political hack is puking lies..on top of lies. Just look at the map...... Alaska..... there's like 14(there's more) people that live there...but it's colored dark. China is lightly colored....WHAT......when your six years old... your in the military??? More Liberal lies and absolutely no fact's...none. They have my address info...I'll love to go on his show and debate him. Twenty.. ...plus years in law enforcement to back my fact's up. He isn't even using the Federal Government's own number's when it comes to gun's, violence, homicides...on and on.... Great Britain and Canad's violent crimes, homicides and property related crimes are massively on the rise. You Lib's don't want anybody else to own a gun...but let someone break in..... pull your cloth's off... and..... you'll be happy to see me and my old 1911(that's a large handgun for you Lib's). Why is it that you Lib'd are always interfering on how other people live their lives...always sticking you nose in other peoples business....why? You "people" are constantly passing laws, starting crap, trying to restrict my hobbies, pleasures....but Conservatives never force our ideals or laws onto the masses. NEVER! Give one ...just one case. You want to force Conservatives to except gay marriage, gun control, green energy, little cars, tofu, taxes, no borders (illegal's running everywhere), the U.N, destroying American traditions...... everything. We just ask that you Lib's educate your self before you talk about something and to leave us the HELL alone! Don't like gun's.. don't buy them.

    August 1, 2012 at 2:52 pm | Reply
  2. bamagrad03

    "I was totally going to commit that murder, but I realized that in addition to my life sentence, I'd also be facing an 'illegal possession of a fireamr' charge. So I didn't commit the murder" – Said no criminal, ever.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm | Reply
  3. Naresh

    You dont need guns to be a mad killer but if you have guns and unlimited ammunition any madman can kill a lot of people. And that really is the difference. Consider for a second if this guy didnt have guns- he probably would have tried cruder ways to kill people and may not have been this successful and would have been overpowered by the public easily. Consider that there are crazy people in all countries outside the US too- do you know what would happen if they all had guns- a lot more killings. Yes. Right now they just vent out their madness in fistfights or with knives- vastly limiting the damage they can do. Guns are ok if you need it for defending your home and family and that can be with a rifle I suppose but AR15 kind of guns definitely dont have a place in modern and civilized society by my opinion.

    August 1, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  4. jeff

    you shut your mouth about gun control im not even going t bother to read the article before commenting. you can go head an have "gun control" all that means is people will find different ways to get guns and if they can then they will start blowing stuff up

    August 1, 2012 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  5. Todd

    Problem is that this guy bought everything legally, followed all of the gun control laws, raised no flags because he wasn't a criminal or declared insane. What about all of the bombs in his apartment? Nobody seems to be talking about that. If he didn't have guns would he have built bombs and thrown them around the theater? Then who would we blame? What facts would we trundle out for debate? It's not guns, it's our culture. We allow ultraviolent video games, movies, and music and call it freedom of choice. Then we blame guns for the crime rate. You are missing the point if you lower this to just blaming guns.

    August 1, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  6. Todd

    I think it's also silly to call ourselves a civilized society. Go visit gang communities and poverty areas in the US and tell me we are civilized. Even inside our cities we have many areas that are run by criminals and other cultures, not the US government or local authorities. The facade of control or the rule of law is a joke in many places in this country. If you want real change you have to stop glorifying violence. Are you willing to take away the freedom of speech and expression to do this? When you start looking at the real problem the answers aren't so easy as to say "ban guns".

    August 1, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  7. Jeff Moran

    The information presented on GPS recently about the US gun violence statistics is misleading, bordering on dishonest. Fareed says gun violence hasn't gone down, but if you look at things over a longer period of time, you can see he was being selective in sampling his data. His major problem was he only looked at the data over the past 10 years of so. From 1993 (a peak year) to 2009 (the most recent year for which the US government has released data), homicides, suicides, and accidents by firearms have decreased by 44%, 19%, and 69% respectively.

    Here is a trend graph: http://tsmworldwide.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/FirearmsDeath_USA_1993-2009_All5.png

    Here is a data table. http://tsmworldwide.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/FirearmsDeath_USA_1993-2009_DataTable7.png

    August 1, 2012 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  8. TOMG


    August 1, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Reply
  9. TOMG


    August 1, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  10. TOMG


    August 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  11. TOMG


    August 1, 2012 at 7:51 pm | Reply
  12. TOMG


    August 1, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      Holy crap TOMG!! Take your meds and go to bed. Sheeshh!

      August 1, 2012 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  13. Stephanie

    Comparing US gun homicides to Switzerland is ridiculous as the number of arms is equivalent to the US. From the ex-Pats I know, I would guess more households there have a single gun where in America, more gun owners are fearful of people like you wanting to take their guns. Congrats on another slanted view/

    August 1, 2012 at 9:22 pm | Reply
  14. Jake

    Write an article on this incident.


    August 2, 2012 at 1:53 am | Reply
  15. rightospeak

    That is why you get paid to write these Leftist articles-you want to enslave people. Globalist Agenda-that is your Holy Writ.I think that you are wrong.

    August 2, 2012 at 1:58 am | Reply
  16. N8

    This article proves that when people in the United States choose to commit murder they tend to use guns more than any other weapon, NOT that an excess of guns creates an excess of murder. In fact, the article confirms that the violent crime rate per capita in the US is going DOWN, while the number of guns in the US goes UP every year. Taking away guns in the United States would not change the murder rate; it would just mean that people without access to guns would choose to kill by other means such as knives and bombs.
    Speaking of which, if the Colorado shooting suspect did not have access to firearms he would have resorted exclusively to his plan to blow up his apartment complex with homemade explosives and kill everyone inside anyway.
    What I find interesting is that people who do not own firearms seem to think they are the worst weapons out there and they are dead wrong. Timothy McVeigh could have used firearms in his attack on the innocent people in the Oklahoma bombing, but he chose to make explosives because although guns were readily available to him they are not nearly as destructive as non gun owners make them out to be.
    Al-Qaida does not send terrorists into public places mass-murdering citizens with firearms, they choose more destructive means such as explosives, crashing air-planes into buildings and it has been revealed recently that his last plan he was working on before he was killed involved de-railing a train to cause mass homicide in the US.
    There is no question that guns are readily available to terrorists, criminals or anyone who wants them, so the fact that terrorists choose other means of mass homicide should serve as a wakeup call that there are much worse things in this country than firearms.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:44 am | Reply
  17. Charlie

    The NWO is at work. Trying to disarm America. Our civil liberties are a hindrance.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:50 am | Reply
  18. Charlie

    The solution is not to disarm America – the solution is to not go to the movies anymore.

    August 2, 2012 at 6:51 am | Reply
  19. Mark Pinson

    The idea that stricter gun laws, and added controls will curb gun related violence is a specious argument at best. The logic being used in favor of this approach is flawed on so many levels that it difficult to find where I should start to address them. Let's look at history first. When the US had lax gun laws from about the 1980's and back there was simply less violence where a gun was used. As we began to layer and layer new laws somehow the violence increased. Ergo they have no effect. The other assumption is that all criminals obtain guns through legal channels. The problem you guys keep running into is trying to address the tool and not the crime. Would you go after forks in an effort to combat obesity? (Maybe in New York) but for the rest of us that would be crazy. In summary I think you will never have an effect on gun violence until redirect your attention from the gun and focus on the criminal.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:16 am | Reply
  20. jim

    This was probably mentioned before, but It is a good thing Colorado does not allow citizens to carry guns in movie theaters. Just think someone might have nailed the idiot before he shot so many.

    August 2, 2012 at 9:24 am | Reply
  21. ech110

    So I guess China should outlaw knives? A man with a knife just killed 9 people. I bet they have a lot of knives over there!

    August 2, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply
  22. N8

    Above is a link to an article about a Chinese man who killed 9 people and wounded 4 others with a knife in China TODAY. But an argument will still be made that China's strict gun control policies worked flawlessly to protect these people from gun violence, and ironically their deaths will only be used as statistics by those who favor gun control to prove that the US really does have more gun violence than countries with strict gun control laws, therefore we need more gun control so that more US citizens can be killed with knives and everyone can be happy.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Reply
  23. Caroling

    The tragedy in Colorado has re-ignited the debate about gun control and military-style assault rifles. One aspect of this issue that rarely gets enough attention is that the same type of gun used in the Aurora shooting is also fueling violence beyond our borders. Check out this powerful video. http://www.wola.org/video/us_guns_the_awful_shocking_truth

    August 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  24. Greg

    I was stationed in South Korea where gun ownership was banned and carried a major prison sentence. There the corrupt police would just enter your home at will. I have seen them give a hair cut to young man in the middle of the street.

    In the USA police don't raid your house without a swat team, because you could have guns.

    What is acceptable? Citizens with guns and acceptable numbers of useless violent deaths, or live in fear of the police. Do citizens need assault weapons? Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    August 2, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  25. Tim

    In reply to Flynn on 7 28, 2012
    "Would you feel more comfortable if you knew EVERYONE in the theater was carrying a pistol? " Yes, if they are all CCW holders trained to carry. Holmes would have lasted about 5 seconds before they took him out. Actually only needed 6 CCW holders carrying to achive that. There is a reason that Holmes didn't go to a police station or target range
    to carry out his dastardly deeds. He needed unarmed victims. I work at a nuclear power plant and all the guards have AR15's & 9M glocks. I feel plenty safe there.

    August 2, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  26. Bran

    Tom and the rest of you The M-16 has two selectable settings semi and 3 round burst.

    August 2, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Reply


    Oh and without guns they would use bombs, and those can be a lot worse.
    Why don't you google Oklahoma city.

    August 3, 2012 at 10:04 am | Reply
  28. kc

    I am going to state something that requires staying calm and thinking a bit.We live in a country where centuries after the revolution the electoral sytem decides the chief executive and trumps the popular vote.You now find local goverments working hard to cut governing with transperency.Your private information is constantly sold without your consent at no monitary gain to you.You could easily go to jail for countless technicalities but if your goverment uses the system to do something illegal to you,you will have to sue and have vast resources. By the way judges are part of the govermet and generaly now side with it.Large corprates with campaighn money controll who gets to run higher offices and write the nations laws, while steering gov after elections by lobbying.I wouldnt live in any other country do to its potential and the ability to publicy complain. All this said- this is happening in a country were the goverment (regardless of party) knows the populis is more armed than any other pr 100 citizens.Picture how this goverment will treat a disarmed America.The fear of the aftermath of such an attempt is why it doesn"t happen.Every goverment needs a little healthy fear of its populis because it holds all the power over citizens but big money can do big things for them .Our founders knew this and gave citizens the righ of bearing arms, so that you dont get rounded up like cattle,and mass detained.Surprise Im a liberal and a realist. I have watched rights shrink and goverment power grow ,stop giving up your rights because you feel the need to live in airconditioned,ul listed bubble wrap protection. Those who want safety over freedom deserve neither,because no goverment can be trusted with democracy, only the citizens are that source.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:13 pm | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      Kc, I am less surprised than you may think to hear that you are a liberal. I think if you ask specific questions of most true conservatives you would find that there are less differences than you may think. You are absolutley correct about our loss of freedom. To me the question is not so much one on Left or Right but rather one of a big government or a small one. I have heard it said that to solve Americas problems you would need do only one thing. Make a room with only two exits. Mark one door leading to a 1000 foot certain death fall "free stuff" and mark the other "safety". Sad but true.

      August 3, 2012 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  29. jim

    Fareed, You are usually less skewed in your reports. You say that states with at least one gun law have fewer gun problems. Then why do states like New York that has extreme gun control, still have so much gun violence and Colorado with little gun control have so little gun violence? For the same reason that California and other states with large metro areas have the biggest problems – gangs and drugs. More than half of all shootings are gang related, and drugs is one of the major sources of money for gangs. If Switzerland had the gang problems we do, there would be daily shootings in Bern.

    August 3, 2012 at 7:57 pm | Reply
  30. Nonsense

    This article is totally NONSENSE.

    You do not need to point out that stronger arms can kill people more efficiently, everybody knows that.
    You do not need to point out that nutcases are sprinkled throughout every society equally, everybody knows that.
    Everyone knows there are too many stakeholders in the gun related market and those stakeholders are the bar to gun control.
    Everyone knows we want to posses guns without regard to the high crime rate related to guns.

    We love guns. We do love guns no matter what it costs to our society.
    Everyone knows strict gun control significantly decreases number of people killed by gun related crimes and we do not like that strict control. Gun control discussion should be shut down because we want to have guns in our hands to protect our lives by killing criminals armed with guns and other arms.

    Look at the world, if you have stronger arms than other countries, it becomes more stable. So, every county want to have as many nuclear weapon as possible. It is the same, and everyone knows that. Nonsense!

    August 4, 2012 at 8:20 am | Reply
    • Ricardo J. DeForest

      Non, you have hit on an important but little known fact about the world we live in. Aside from dark matter, nonsense is the most prolific substance in the universe. You pointed out several obvious facts that as you correctly stated, people feel compelled to repeat. However, I did notice that you left one thing out. I presume that we agree that the Right, for the most part wants to support the second amendment and the Left wants to abolish it. Why in your humble opinion do you think the Left wants to take the guns away. Is it for safety? That would be nonsense! If it were about "safety" there would be many, many things that would have to be outlawed. So what do you think? Why does the Left want my guns that have never, ever, harmed another human being? I await to read your nonsensical answer with bated breath.

      August 4, 2012 at 3:07 pm | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57

Post a comment


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.