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 (4,938 Responses)
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    September 1, 2012 at 3:29 am |
  2. Ricardo J. DeForest

    I just wanted to get the last word in on this thread...... Word.

    September 7, 2012 at 10:15 am |
  3. Joelisa

    This whole story is BS!! Get your facts straight...if you're going to talk about Switzerland, at least tell the truth...Switzerland's government issues a firearm to every citizen and trains them how to use it...and guess what? Switzerland has one of the lowest crime rates in the world! http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/1566715.stm

    September 12, 2012 at 1:24 pm |
  4. Texsoroban

    Sniff...Sniff... Ahhh! the acrid smell of Racism and Propaganda! Man you sure have to admire the media's ability to suggest genocide and mass murder and make it look... reasonable. How? I'll tell you.

    In the last 110 years the #1 non-disease vector of human death is not the gun, the car, airplanes or even natural disasters. The thing that has killed the most people is simply this: When a polity decides that one portion of it's population is a nuisance and needs to be..cleansed. That is genocide my friends, and it is not possible without gun control. Allow me to site a few examples.

    The Ottoman Empire vs Armenians (mostly Christians) Death toll: 1-1.5 Million
    The Soviet Union vs Farmers Death Toll: Estimates of 20 Million or more
    Nazi Germany vs Jews, Gypsies, critics, and Political opponents Death toll: 20 Million.
    Nationalist China vs Political opponents, Conscripts others Death toll: 10 Million.
    Red China vs Political opponents Rural Populations, enemies of the state. Death toll 20 Million.
    Guatemala vs Mayans, political opponents and others Death Toll 100,000 to 200,000
    Uganda vs Christians and Political enemies Death Toll 300,000
    Cambodia (Khmer Rouge) vs Educated persons and political enemies. Death toll: 2 Million
    Rwanda vs the Tutsi people. Death toll: 800,000

    I don't have any numbers on how many Black folk were killed in south because of the Jim Crow laws. But that extended past the 110 year dead line I specified any way. What enabled all of these Horrors to occur, what set the stage for innocent men, women and children to be slaughtered like..like..well there is no word, for even a hunter kills his prey for a reason, these people were treated far worse...living garbage to be tortured and killed? Gun Control laws. It's harder to drag a man from his bed and put him in a concentration camp/ hang him/ starve him/ if he has a gun. the shooting wakes up the neighbors and they soon come out with their guns. So when a guy like Mr. Zakaria stars talking "Gun Control" I have to wonder what his real reason for doing so is. Could it be a new wrapping for the racism of old?

    September 16, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
  5. Texsoroban

    So give up your guns if you wish. Then watch in amazement as you lose the few freedoms we have left disappear. Then one day when the men in jack boots drag you from your house and your neighbors watch helpless and horrified as they take you away, you will look back and know that when you gave up your basic human right to defend yourself, you also gave up your life.

    September 18, 2012 at 12:54 am |
  6. Kevin

    Someone claimed that semi auto firearms are "easy to convert" to full auto. That is not true because the BATFE own standard is 8 hours in a fully equipped machine shop. That means that if a particular firearm can be converted in 8 hours in a fully equipped machine shop it is considered a machine gun for all legal purposes requiring the stringent laws on ownership. Any firearm that is classified as a machine gun not registered with the BATFE before May of 1986 is forbidden to be owned by a private person. Regardless the less than 200k legal machine guns in civilian hands have an almost unblemished record with only two used in a murder by their owners.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Vee Sphere

    The issue here is too many guns for too many stupid people. We all know that americans are really, really stupid. So, you give a gun to retards and inbreds you get crime. I say we not only take the guns away, yes ban them, then send in the police and military to take them. But we try to educate the morons. I am not from the usa, but am working to get rid of the guns. The dumb yank is too stupid to do it themselves.

    September 24, 2012 at 3:13 pm |
  8. Patricia Teel

    Mcvey didn't need a gun just some fertilizer , Al Qaeda didn't need guns, just some airplanes. I think I will keep my guns.

    September 28, 2012 at 10:49 am |
  9. shaneAC

    time to face facts, the only way to stop someone with a gun is show or shoot him with your own. whether guns are legal or not criminals will get there hands on them, but if they are illegal will you.

    P.S suciders are gunna kill themselves whether they have guns or not, and if they have a gun it is less gruesome

    October 7, 2012 at 8:27 pm |
  10. henryknox

    Not a coincidence that America is the most heavily armed citizenry and the most free. Freedom is directly related to the ability of the citizens to defend themselves. Oppressive gov'ts must first disarm their citizens and they always make some excuse, such as violence from criminals, to do so.

    November 8, 2012 at 7:27 pm |
    • Douglas

      True enough Henry!

      November 14, 2012 at 10:32 am |
  11. Reba

    If guns had never been introduced to America, then banning them would be an option. But now that guns are everywhere there is no way to outlaw them. Not allowing people to buy guns legally, or ammuntion is allowing the criminals that don't buy them legally the peace of mind that they can run all over citizens in their home, in their workplace, or in any public place. Let's face it; the old saying is 100% correct: "If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them. Banning legal sales of weapons, and ammuntion is only preventing people from protecting their homes, and families.

    November 14, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  12. bob

    people who talk like this are cowards, just leave gun owners alone. if you don't like guns don't buy one.
    by the way, every man in Switzerland owns a fully automatic assault rifle.

    November 16, 2012 at 1:33 am |
  13. Jan

    I live in Sweden, one of the safest countrys in the world. Also one of the countrys in the world with tha highest amount of weapons. So it's wrong to blame the violence on privat gun ownersip by itself. However regarding USA i think it's strange that assault guns like the AK-47 is something you can purshase and own, tha same for semi-automatic pistols like glock-17.

    November 27, 2012 at 1:28 pm |
  14. Matt

    People, you can't blame laws, law makers, or weapons for the safety, or lack of safety in your communities. It's time for all of us to take responsibility for the learning and teaching required for the state of community you wish to live in.

    (Example: Many people blame unemployment in their area on the president, or on the law makers. People think a magic formula will fix their problems. - No. It's YOUR fault. How many of you buy online from some warehouse out of state for a "cheaper" price, instead of paying a little more at a local shop?? You make one person rich instead of supporting a local business that creates jobs in YOUR OWN AREA. The result is stores close. Jobs leave. Your property value goes down. It's up to YOU to support local business! YOU can create jobs because you, and all your neighbors have BUYING POWER...)

    A person's core values are what determine their actions, more so than laws. and the largest contribution to a person's core values is what a person learns, and most importantly what they learn while developing. It starts with parents. Parenting carries with it great reward, and great responsibility. Laying a groundwork for a child's positive moral decision making is paramount.

    Next is parents teaching a child how to filter the outside would. Making a child aware of the dangers, and how to avoid them. It's all in education by the family. Nothing else has as much power as this.

    The next important step is leading by example. It's up to us to teach AND SHOW our young how to live. We all have improvements to make. We have to stop telling ourselves we are fine the way we are. You can always be a better parent, employee, family member, community member, husband or wife, student or teacher.

    Be humble so that you may improve, and your improvements will improve the world.

    November 28, 2012 at 3:30 am |
  15. Andrew Ligon

    The facts in this article are disturbing. I think most people should be able to agree that a gun in the hands of the criminal is a problem. I think we can also all agree that guns are easily available. Assault rifle or pistol, it does not matter when one shot will kill or main a person just as easily. I believe I will start by saying that personally I don't care much for guns. (a little ironic considering I'm in the Army) I do however collect swords and I can sympathize with gun hobbyist in that regard. They are cool, fun to acquire, and if you are that type of person guns are fun to shoot. The hobby cannot be condemned nor should we judge the hobbyist themselves. As I understand collectors, red necks, and re-enactors are not the culprits we seek. The culprits of the crime it self must be condemned not private citizens who are indulging their right to enjoy themselves. This is where I build my argument. The questions we need to ask is what causes the crime in the first place. In some cases, like the colorado shooting, it is mental disorders. Often crimes are propagated as a part of organized crime. If I recall correctly much gun violence began its ascent around the time of prohibition and the rise of the Mobs. The solution to the gun violence problem must address the cause not the utility. It is also very important that we remain realistic. I believe america has passed the point of no return in controlling guns. I would applaud the ambition of anyone thinks gun control is a feasible goal. Even if the population is willing to consent to such policy.
    There are tough problems the need to be solved. How will the guns be controlled? How drastic ought the measures be? If we confiscate the weapons where will they go and will we compensate the owners? Will it infringe on citizen's second amendment rights and if so should we amend the second amendment out of the bill of rights? Also for the economically minded the gun industry employes nearly a hundred thousand americans and is a 31 billion dollar industry. (http://nssf.org/impact/) Would limiting the industry cause more problems than it solves, especially in a time when the economy seems to be struggling.

    I would also like to say in good humor. It sounds like a lot of people on both side of the argument are about ready to come to blows. I wonder, who will be bringing the gun to the fight and who will be bringing the knife?

    December 3, 2012 at 6:34 pm |
  16. Seth

    America is a spoiled country, thats why there are more deaths here. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. If it wasn't guns it would be something else.

    December 4, 2012 at 12:25 am |
  17. ThinkN_Do

    "If we confiscate the weapons. . ." Comment similar to that are what worries many gun owners, of all ages and walks of life. Comments such as that are why the Second Amendment was written.

    This article is such a distorted propaganda piece it's sickening. The USA is less than 5% of the world population, so what, what does that have to do with anything? There are only two countries with a higher %; India & China, which account for 36%+. Adding the USA, we have over 40% of the world population in 3 countries. 18 countries hold over 65% of the world population, but there are 242 countries listed. The USA is the 3rd largest by landmass only surpassed by Russia and Canada, which between the two, they only have 2.5% of the world population but 7.5% of the landmass. Very low population per square mile. So I am reading a chart from a U.K. source and it lists a higher murder rate (than the USA) per 100,000 people in 28 countries! Among them, Brazil, Mexico, Phillipines, Argentina, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Bahamas, etc.. Brazil has 8 guns per 100 people, the USA 88.8; but Brazil has a higher murder rate18.1 per 100,000 by guns. Mexico has 15 guns per 100 people, their murder rate is 9.97 per 100,000, in the USA it is 2.97 per 100,000. In addition, the firearm crime rate in the USA has dropped from 5.9 per 1000 in 1993, to 1.4 per 1000 in 2009; per the USA Bureau of Justice. As I like to point out when I research facts, one can paint a picture of their choosing, by selecting the facts they choose to share. I like to share the truth, a visual comparative truth that does not intend to induce Fear, but Honest Truth that blasts the lies to pieces.

    Guns are not a issue in the USA. The real issue is our society, the ills that plague it and the inability to put Fear into the criminal element, that might make a lot of them think twice before doing something stupid. The overwhelming majority of gun owners both legal and illegal, do not intend to harm anyone intentionally with a firearm. That is the Real Truth that the Anti-Gun faction does not want you the average person to understand.

    Have a Wonderful Holiday everyone and remember: the Freedom(s) you have today, are preserved by men & women who are armed with firearms and have been since the day this country was born.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:15 pm |
    • Leif Petterson

      You make very little sense, we have 12,000 gun deaths per year, most countries does not add up to 100, We come up with excuses why we don't have a problem, but we do have a huge problem. We have not spent anything on increasing gun safety since 9-11, yet have spent 700 Billion on the Department on Home security to prevent terorism. less than 3,000 people died on 9-11, few since. 150,000 people have been killed by guns.

      No matter hoe you look at it, it is not propaganda it is facts. You sir is simply ignorant of the problem.

      August 3, 2015 at 7:03 pm |
  18. Glenn

    Mexico has the highest gun murders in this hemisphere and they have very strong gun control. The people without guns are the ones that get MURDERED. Laws have no effect on law breakers. Quit being so stupid.

    December 14, 2012 at 11:19 pm |
  19. nate

    at the end of the article he says we cannot change the mad man but we can change the laws howcome we havent outlawed the machette it killed over a million people in rwanda a few years back one could by one of those anywhere

    December 15, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  20. gun owner

    how come he didnt mention mexico, its ilegal to own guns there and ask them how they are doing.

    December 16, 2012 at 12:18 am |
  21. RAH

    I can't believe you actually get paid for publishing half truth, one sided stories.....amazing.

    December 16, 2012 at 2:29 am |
  22. Canadian

    I really hope you guys do not make your opinions based on this short almost fact-devoid biased article. Almost all the facts in this fly directly in the face of less cherry-picked stats can ban be easily countered with basic research. The media as with this guy offer little in the way of fact and much in the way of emotion and a one sided opinion followed by a question to you.... but you already know the answer because he gave it to you- more guns more death is the typical message and you will think that because you were told think that, repeatedly over and over again in the media.

    Do research, and I mean a LOT of research, and you will find the truth.

    December 17, 2012 at 1:09 am |
  23. Ethan

    Change gun laws? So that all the bad guys could come to police stations with big happy smiles on their faces to hand them over? God this is daft. Why do people overrate laws so much? The law prohibits drugs but still every bloody teenager carries them.

    December 17, 2012 at 12:32 pm |
  24. Kathy

    I would REALLY like to see a commission to dissect the problems related to the shootings in Connecticut, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona, the Sikh Temple and the Amish School, and Columbine (and so many others)

    The Commission should include experts from Law Enforcement, Psychiatry, Security Consultants, and as well as representatives from countries that also have this problem and those that do not.
    Also include parents who have lost children to violence.

    The Commission should be held outside of glare of the media and politics but have the power of the President behind it during the fact finding.

    The Commission should thoroughly dissect the problem from the top to the bottom and give recommendations to the Congress and President.

    December 17, 2012 at 10:46 pm |
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