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. Charlie

    I would be inclined to give more credence to Fareed Zakaria and his opinions if he were a citizen of the United States of America. Could be that he has become naturalized, but the last time I checked he was not.

    The same thing goes for the ignorant Englishmen that somehow became experts on how Americans should behave.
    The ones I speak of have been on the TV "talent shows". They are so freaking stupid I don't bother to remember their names!

    December 18, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  2. mark YOUNG

    And look at the weapons ban of 1996 in Australia, gun deaths down, as well as deaths by other means.

    December 26, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Reply
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    December 28, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
  4. mexican by birth

    Your saying the us has more murders maybe. But I bet most of them are criminals killed by law abidding people when the criminals try to assault them. More gun laws are crap chicago has some of the toughest gun restrictions and has one of the highest violent crime rates. Compared to texas that has looser restrictions.

    December 30, 2012 at 3:04 am | Reply
  5. Dan

    You will not touch my rights as an American! The 2nd amendment says so!

    January 26, 2013 at 5:22 pm | Reply
  6. Alana

    If the president gets an army then why cant we get one gun to protect ourselves. We are not going to be like the dumb chineese and use paint ball guns... :p

    February 3, 2013 at 6:01 pm | Reply
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    February 10, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  8. Kris

    Nice cherry picking of your data. Now let me do some of my own. How about Mexico? They have strict gun control. Or Brazil or Peru? Or basically all of western Africa? Strict gun control laws and low gun ownership and high murder rates all around. Let's look a little closer to home: Chicago, where they city has banned guns altogether (illegally banned them, I might add). There's not a single law abiding citizen in that city that owns a gun, yet it has the highest murder rate in the nation.

    Or, if statistics are too much for you, just have a look at this: http://emergentchaos.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/awr-hawkins-maps.png

    The nations you picked out are anomalies. Globally nations with low gun ownership usually have high murder rates. Compared to most of those nations our own 3% is VERY low.

    Funny how you can rip this kind of anti-gun garbage to shreds with just a little honesty.

    February 19, 2013 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  9. fran mcdowell

    Farreed is a Snopes.com believer. Here are some Facts Switzerland and England are much smaller in population so there is no comparison with his numbers
    Facts Australia was forced to give up its gun Murder up 3.2 60 minutes Kidnapping and home invasion UP! Victoria since last gun confiscation(HA) gun buy back UP 300%
    Switzerland voters rejected gun control legislation by 57% in 2011 45.7% of citizens of every 100 citizens own guns!
    You cannot make an automatic gun from semi Permits for Guns considered MILITARY is Class II and very hard to obtain and Federal and Local know where you are. The facts are in Farreed is a GLOBAL/UN GUN GRABBER Mentality guy

    May 19, 2013 at 7:19 pm | Reply
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  16. George Lowy

    Congratulations to Fareed Zakaria and to CNN for a superb program about gun violence. I hope that this program will influence people who have the means and the power to become active in the control of firearms in the US.

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  18. Gun deaths

    Gun deaths are totally irrelevant.

    Gun suicides are also.

    Gun violence is too, also irrelevant.

    Death, suicide, and violence are of paramount importance. Focusing on a narrowed aspect of a problem can and does yield different results.

    Gun death you say? Who pulled the trigger? Cops? Criminals? Citizens engaging in legal self defense? ALL OF THE ABOVE are considered gun deaths.

    Lives saved by guns? Not only are these ignored, but lives taken legally in order to save lives (cops, self defense) are added to the gun death category and ALL of these deaths are attributed to legal law abiding gun owners- including deaths caused by shooting spree types and crazies.

    Suicide by gun? Yeah, lets ban guns because people are too stupid to jump off a bridge, drive their car into another car, take 10 bottles of pills, or sit in their running car inside their closed garage.

    Gun violence, domestic violence, again knives and fists are used more than guns and legal gun owners are not the type to beat and shoot their wives- it is the illegal gun owners who are more apt to do this.

    "Gun control", sadly under ISANSA, aka Brady Campaign, Coalition for Gun control, Gun Free South Africa and all the other IANSA members, they rely on junk science coupled with blaming the good guys, aka victims, for the actions of the bad guys, aka criminals.

    did I mention that much of the time the "criminals" are police and soldiers killing their own citizens during peace time? IANSa will say this too, that "guns" kill people mostly during peace time....... true.... but they leave out the part where it is soldiers and cops killing their own citizens..... and then ask for rules and laws to keep cops and soldiers armed while disarming citizens. (source UN conference on the Programme of Action, New York, and also R J Rummel, "power kills" and "20th Century Democide".).

    Gun control is based on blaming potential victims of violence FOR the violence and then disarming them yet further in the name of preventing violence they had nothing to do with.

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