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. whatsup

    Wow...Fareed simply proves his ignorance concerning weapons. Getting automatic weapons is not easy at all. It actually requires a special Federal permit to even obtain an automatic weapon. And the comments referring to the conversion of semi-auto weapons to full auto are also a bunch of bunk. Even trying to do that is illegal and most of the time ends up in fialure of the weapon, sometimes the failure is fatal to the operator. But hell, when do criminals follow the law anyway??

    July 28, 2012 at 8:07 am | Reply
  2. Claude Slagenhop

    The only reason the US is free is because of the God-given right to bear arms and overthrow an oppressive government. if you want to look at countries with gun control: Nazi Germany and Mexico come to mind. Oppressive governments always try to control the guns because they are the last defense against despots. If you exclude the suicides and the police shootings, there are far more instances of people using firearms for self-defence than there are for murder. America has a problem, but it isn't guns. Liberals, with their namby pamby approach to locking up the mentally ill and their desire to create dependence, poverty and illegitimacy in the US are to blame for our current state of lunacy. People are buying guns like hotcakes because we know that your current road leads us to totalitarianism or anarchy. Both conditions require lots of guns and ammo.

    July 28, 2012 at 8:34 am | Reply
  3. KIRK

    "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms...disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes...Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." -Thomas Jefferson, quoting Cesare Beccaria.

    July 28, 2012 at 8:36 am | Reply
  4. Martin

    What this piece fails to mention is that the guns available illegally in countries with strict gun control laws often come from--the USA!! They are acquired from folks who buy them legally here and then sell them to folks who smuggle them into those countries. So there would be fewer armed criminals and nut-jobs in those countries if guns were't so easy to come by here.

    July 28, 2012 at 8:39 am | Reply
    • Dennis

      Yep, and if our government would quit selling guns to narcotraficantes and allowing them to walk across the border there would be fewer armed criminals shooting our border agents.

      July 28, 2012 at 8:49 am | Reply
  5. Name*Yahya

    I donot think that gun control is the solution. What is important is why there are so many psychs and why are they not getting enough treatment . We have to find the root cause of increase in psychs. Yes we can change the psychology of Holmes.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:15 am | Reply
  6. Raymond

    OK a few stupid things to ponder...someone sitting there was carrying a 45 cal and fires a few shots and hits the shooter. Vest or no vest it will knock him down to the ground and at the very least it will disrupt what he doing. now with that said I don't see much use in the civilian world for 100 roung magazines except wasting ammo. as far as taking away my guns...good luck. When you have no criminals on the streets with guns you stand a small chance of getting mine...I said small..OK now go look under your kitchen sink and see what chemicals are there. Yep you could build some nasty bombs that ould have been just as destructive if not worse for causing injuries. This nut case showed us what he could do when he rigged his apartment for an explosion when the door opened, we got lucky there. You will never be able to stop every person that is intent on harming someone else. Did we miss the boat and not catch this guys warning signs? Maybe. Will we miss them the next time around? Probably. The guns did nothing, the person did.If someone is without a gun and wants to cause comotion they will find a way. Yes Europe has gun laws restricting ownership so what do they do... build bombs for mass causualities. Still it was a person behind it all. The police did their job in Colorado except for one small detail....this nut bag is still walking. I feel for his parents and their grief for the families involved. Gun laws are NOT the answer..never will be either.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:17 am | Reply
  7. Sylar75

    Whooo hooo!!!! U.S.A. #1!!!!!! We are the most violent country in the world. Since guns don't kill people, people kill people we are #1!!!! Lets remove all restrictions on fire arms so we can ensure we will always be #1!!!!! /endsarcasm.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:19 am | Reply
  8. Gun owner

    There are no dangerous guns. There are dangerous people, who will use whatever means that they want to carry out their sick plots. If they think that a bomb will get them the attention that they want, they will build a bomb (look at the "Unibomber" among others). If they think that a car will get them what they want, they will use a car. If they think a knife will get them what they want, etc., dtc., etc. Let us keep the focus on the sick person, not the tool(s) that they use.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:20 am | Reply
  9. Jeb

    Let's practice gun control in Syria Fareed. Wouldn't that be best for the government and society there?

    July 28, 2012 at 9:21 am | Reply
  10. Frank

    I found this article to be missing the larger picture of violence. Mr. Zakaria links gun ownership with gun violence. His conclusion is that stronger gun control will decrease gun violence. This may be true, but a decrease in gun violence is not the desired outcome. The desired outcome is a decrease in violence.
    One could compare it to illegal drug activity. In State A there are more $20 bills in circulation than State B. More $20 bills are used to buy drugs in State A than State B. Does the availability of $20 bills result in an increase in drug activity? Maybe, but it is not a conclusion which can be drawn from the above comparison.
    If the argument is to be made that a decrease in guns will result in a desired outcome, then the comparison needs to be between gun ownership/ availability and overall violence, not just gun violence.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
  11. Founders

    Is nobody even questioning his statistics? Where did he come up with the numbers? Do you really think Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Guatemala & Honduras track and report gun ownership as well as the US? Read the UN reports, Honduras has the highest homicide rate by far!

    July 28, 2012 at 9:22 am | Reply
    • Claire

      Your point being that we should compare ourselves with states that are so unstable? I think FZ's point is to compare us to first-world, stable and democratic nations – company amongst which we generally feel we belong. But if your argument includes the need to compare us to failed states to look better... what can I say?

      July 28, 2012 at 9:31 am | Reply
  12. Thomas Jefferson

    "Laws that forbid the carrying of arms disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes." – Thomas Jefferson

    July 28, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
    • Claire

      Yet another reason for Texas to have removed Thomas Jefferson from the state's textbooks.

      July 28, 2012 at 10:07 am | Reply
  13. Brad

    What a load of crap this article is that cites statistics that include "Asia" which includes 1.5B Chinese who live under a repressive dictatorship that bans gun ownership. Add another 1B Indian and the statistics go out the window. And one can't view crime in a fishbowl. Chine has low crime because they will execute a politician for graft while the good old USA lets rapist and murderers free after a few years in prison. What about Mexico which is a country with strict gun controls? How does Fareed reconcile that with the fact that nearly 10,000 people ahave been shot to death annually for the past few year?

    July 28, 2012 at 9:34 am | Reply
    • Claire

      And how do we, as Americans, reconcile the fact that the majority of firearms used in Mexico to such terrible effect are produced in America, and that our government protects and promotes their sale and exportation?

      July 28, 2012 at 10:11 am | Reply
  14. GLsword

    In World War II government nut jobs with guns killed 1 in 4 Germans including a few million Jews that daGubamint first there was gun control then came a Holocost. Not to be outdone Stalin and his red commie friends of the Bolshevik Ilk massacred at many more millions persons including Germans, Russians, Croats, Hungarians AFTER the war ... all unarmed people and unable to defend themselves from state sponsored terror. Then there was Moa in China and many tens of millions more. Cambodia ... Libya, Sudan ...

    So here is the deal if Citizens own guns a few dozen people die each year because of them while thousands of law abiding one save the day just like in Ocala FL just a few weeks ago. Two armed robbers with 30+ hostages saved by an 80 year old with a six shooter. Not a scratch on anyone except the thugs and their injuries were NOT life threatening but the trail of blood made apprehension a few minutes later real easy. As Bill Mayer would say to Right Wing Fanatics, you (ie liberal CNN/Zacharia) just can square this circle. Popular gun ownership is good for Peace, Justice and it IS the American way. For once FOX gets it straight – now that is what I call News!

    More people would have died in a fire or if an 18 wheeler had been rammed into the theater or an airplane engine dropped through the roof. People live and die. Deal with it and as you folks say, Move On!

    July 28, 2012 at 9:42 am | Reply
  15. Bob Knippel

    Here is a basic fact about gun ownership in the United States: there are a lot of firearms in the U. S. because a lot of Americans WANT to own them.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:47 am | Reply
  16. Claire

    Why is it that the second amendment has been split to mean unilateral, unfettered civilian gun freedoms? The text is only one sentence: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Taken as a whole, the founders extended that right to a "well regulated militia." I would have no problem at all with gun ownership in this country if there were at lease a mandatory Federal registry of firearms owners and the ammunition they purchase (currently against the law), as well as membership in a well regulated militia – much the same as the Swedish model. Honestly, of all of the NRA's – and it's supporters – positions, the refusal to allow a gun owner's/ammo registry is the most transparent. There is no reason to oppose a registry that would expose hoarders and impulse-large purchasers, and frankly, this puts us all at risk. Case in point: a guy arrested last week in Vermont with 540 firearms in his house – one of his guns was used in a homicide in Boston. Our police – those we rely on to protect us – need to know who's stockpiling guns and ammunition. Would a registry stop gun crime in the US? No, but it wouldn't increase it now, would it? The founder's model of a well-regulated militia has another huge benefit for our society: in the time of tragedy and chaos, such as 9/11, part of the immediately nearby populace would be able to fall into rank and file to help, avoiding some of the confusion of disorganized concerned citizens and volunteers.

    July 28, 2012 at 9:54 am | Reply
    • Ed Teller

      Nobody cares what you think.

      July 28, 2012 at 10:08 am | Reply
    • older seer

      I agree with almost everything you said Claire. I'm not crazy about requiring membership in a militia. I believe that mandatory training, done right, could create a de facto militia, as opposed to the 'wild west' scenario we have now where almost anyone can buy a gun and use it without really understanding the implications of actually pulling the trigger.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:07 am | Reply
    • carbon dioxide

      Everyone on society is a member of the militia. It is not necessarily an organized people. That is why in the 2nd Amendment it makes clear who the militia is by saying "the rights of the people" Who are the people? The same people as "we the people" It is US not the police, military, or the government but your neighbor and yourself.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  17. dave in dc

    Another reaction from a CNN pundit based on feeling, but hiding behind so called "facts". I bet the rebels in Syria wish they were better armed. Let's get back to the "facts' though. The weapons used in Colorado were not automatics, they were semi-automatic. Fact, the guy could have brought in 5 handguns in holsters and caused the same amount of damage. Fact, the guy could have stolen a truck full of gasoline and caused a even more damage. The weapons are irrelevant but our right to own them isn't. Especially when we have the winds blowing the way they are today with government wanting to put their hands in every aspect of our lives.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:02 am | Reply
  18. gager

    Oh please, that map is so severely distorted that no truth can be drawn. Imposing restrictive gun laws always causes an increase in gun crime. The theater shooting is a statistical anomaly and the result is the liberal knee jerk reaction.
    Do not allow yourself to be disarmed and defenseless.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:03 am | Reply
  19. gager

    The biggest cause of the gun violence in the US is the drug culture. Remove that first and then the liberals will have no complaint about guns. Leave the drug culture as it is and no amount of laws will reduce the violence.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:06 am | Reply
  20. Ed Teller

    Crawl back to whatever tird-world shize hole your two moms shat you out in, Mr. Zacharea!

    July 28, 2012 at 10:06 am | Reply
    • Chris


      July 28, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  21. Sarcastro

    How DARE you take my guns away!

    My guns are the only thing that's preventing the liberals form kicking down my door and forcefully aborting my wife's pregnancy since our baby isn't a Kenyan Muslim Communist.

    My cousin's boyfriend knows someone who had that happen to 'em- Nancy Pelosi herserf administered the abortion.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:13 am | Reply
  22. Andrew

    So gun control laws will do what to stop criminals who don't really care about laws? You can pass all the laws you want, but unless you do something about the issues that cause people to turn to drugs and violence all you're really doing is putting a band-aid over, well, a gunshot wound.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:16 am | Reply
  23. marc

    Many of the countries on your chart with "low gun deaths" also have poor to horrible human rights records. I would be interested to seeing the same map showing how many people per 100,000 died as political prisoners. I think that you will find an interesting correlation there as well. Freedom is dangerous. "Give me liberty or give me death." is not a battlefield idea. It means everyday life in a free society is not always about safety.

    Further, if countries like China regularly under report the effects of internal tragedy, like the recent flooding, do you really think that you have accurate gun death numbers?

    July 28, 2012 at 10:21 am | Reply
  24. HenryMiller

    I used to have a great deal of respect for Mr Zakaria.

    No more.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:22 am | Reply
    • older seer

      I agree. He was a much more reliable voice before Jon Meacham destroyed Newsweek and he had to slum it here.

      July 28, 2012 at 10:51 am | Reply
  25. g$$n

    Facts are facts indeed.
    Its all about money folks – gun production and sells supports lots of families, and hence...
    And when money is involved, lots of advert/etc happens to fool the masses, and some fall for it, thinking that they need one
    Most folks i know have guns b/c they know a bunch other crazy ppl have it, and they are afraid of them, not b/c they want to have a gun

    July 28, 2012 at 10:29 am | Reply
  26. James

    Good luck with changing the mentality of people. Have you read the logic behind some of the arguments of the gun supporters?

    July 28, 2012 at 10:31 am | Reply
  27. Eric

    1. Legal "Automatic" weapons are regulated under the National Firearms Act, are very expensive and difficult to get, and the use of legally registered automatic weapons in crime is statistically negligent.

    2. Most of the data cited does not directly compare; to compare effectiveness of gun laws, we need at minimum the following information:
    (a) Total deaths, total homicides, total suicides, total accidental deaths
    (b) Total gun deaths, gun homicides, gun suicides, gun accidents
    (c) Each category of gun death broken down by category of gun, particularly differentiating between firearms subject to different gun laws.
    (d) Homicides broken down by type of crime: i.e. drug related, gang related, domestic violence, etc.
    (d) All the above information broken down by jurisdiction, allowing a comparison between different gun control regimes.

    A detailed analysis of the data would probably reveal some interesting relationships and demonstrate that gun-control laws are an either-or proposition that can only block some deaths.

    I imagine, for example; fewer guns mean fewer suicides and accidents, but more power to gangs and organized crime; banning assault rifles makes it no harder for an abusive husband to beat/stab his wife to death; and street criminals tend to kill each other with small caliber weapons that are also frequently less-regulated.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:33 am | Reply
  28. C Long

    Zakaria, how many of those "gun homicides" were actual gun owners using them to protect their life and property?

    July 28, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
  29. realoldguy

    "Face the facts on guns?" Facts? We're Americans! We don't need no stinking facts!

    July 28, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
  30. older seer

    I am in full support of the 2nd Amendment. I enjoy target shooting and though I've never been a hunter, I know that if it came down to it, I wouldn't starve.
    That said, I don't believe 'gun control' is necessarily a bad thing: Mandatory firearm safety course, 15-30 hours, AND a THOROUGH background check before your first permit is issued. The permitting process would require a mandatory 30 day waiting period for ALL firearms, during which the background check is re-run and updated. This would be followed by 6 hours of training and testing for each new weapon. The permit process would have to be completed before any other permit application could be started. The 30 day waiting period would apply also to sales of ammunition and those sales would be tracked, both by individual and region. Indications of stockpiling would trigger an investigation. This would apply to any sale of firearm or ammunition, including gun shows.
    More severe punishment is needed for those who commit crimes with guns: possession of a firearm while committing a crime would require a mandatory 15 year prison sentence; discharge of a firearm while committing a crime would require a mandatory life sentence. Anyone who sells firearms or ammunition outside of these regulations would suffer a mandatory minimum 15 year prison sentence.
    Bottom line is that there is nothing wrong with the regulation of firearms. In fact, the 2nd Amendment demands it.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:40 am | Reply
    • Raymond

      Why a life sentence. I do not want to support them. If you have a gun during a crime you get 2 bullets and the gun back..keep reading... if you discharge the gun during a crime you get 1 bullet and the gun. Take the offender, the gun and the bullet(s) and place them in a rattlesnake den. end of story. done. Until the fear of the punishment is greater they criminal swill continue to mennace society.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:15 am | Reply
      • older seer

        True. Punishment for gun crime can not be sever enough.

        July 28, 2012 at 6:05 pm |
    • Chris

      A background check?? What if they change the requirements of the background check? What if they just arbitrarily put you on a no-fly type list like the TSA does...no crime just the opinion of a bunch of Bolshevik government operatives? The devil is always in the details.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:18 am | Reply
    • OregonTom

      Six hours to train a person on a new firearm? You don't catch on quick do you?

      July 28, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
      • older seer

        It's not for me. I have enough guns! 🙂

        July 28, 2012 at 6:03 pm |
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