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. William Stallings

    Come at me, Fareed.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
  2. clarinet

    Zakaria is one reason why many viewers see CNN as a bunch of left wing whackos.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:50 am | Reply
  3. UtahProf

    Molon Labe, Fareed. You people have been beating this dead horse for how long now? I for one am tired of "talking" about it – go ahead, pass the law to take our guns – any of them. Talk is cheap.

    "The tree of Liberty must periodically be watered with the blood of Patriots and tyrants." – Jefferson

    July 28, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
  4. NorCalMojo

    Zakaria must want Romney to win. Only a fool would start a gun grabber campaign 3 months before a presidential election.

    July 28, 2012 at 10:57 am | Reply
  5. clearick

    Owning guns is a right for Americans and there are both good and bad aspects to that, the problem is not everyone can be responsible with a gun, and it has nothing to do with intelligence, but proper perspective. What is disturbing is that Holmes was seeing a Psychiatrist at the same time that he was acquiring weapons. People who want to buy guns should have to undergo some testing to make sure they will be responsible gun owners.

    This man acted without any fear of the consequences. He planned it carefully, strategized and managed to kill a bunch of innocent people. We need a more efficient way to weed out people like this to prevent them from buying 4 guns in the space of a month.

    How does someone under psychiatric care get a gun anyway?

    July 28, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
  6. cheekyindian

    10 times the gun related violence in India?? Wow that is bad....since our numbers are high the number of crimes are proportionately higher(though percentages will be lower). These numbers should be argument enough for gun bans. To all advocating legal gun sales, they just sold guns to a madman (saw an article on CNN which said he was an ongoing patient). How do you prevent this from happening? Background checks??(If yes how can this be done reliably??) Simple solution..ban gun sales to civilians and civilian gun ownership.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • UtahProf

      And something even simpler, you be the first one to go door-to-door and take them.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
      • Raymond

        Cheeky...need my address?

        July 28, 2012 at 11:17 am |
    • Nevadarebel

      Or better option is you can move out of the US and live in a place that dose not allow guns ownership. But that is not going to be in American, Sorry it our founding rights. Another option is you give up our rights in the 1st amendment then we can talk about the Second amendment.NO, O'll yea the bases of the 1st amendment and all you main rights today was forged on the men's lives that used the there weapons to made sure we would have these rights today. They ensured this by creating the Second amendment as a check and balances and never repeat lessons of the past.. Trust me you can just move, we will not miss people that what to change our rights to feel a false sense of security No Sir!!

      July 28, 2012 at 12:22 pm | Reply
      • cheekyindian

        Hahaha...i do not intend on staying at all....I am here for the time being....good universities here are easier to get into (since you guys dont bother trying to get in at all even with all the money on offer )....Once I complete my degree and get a few years of experience on my resume I am out of here.....founding rights??? Are you bracketing your founding fathers with gun crazy guys like you??

        July 29, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  7. Nevadarebel

    More laws are not going to fix the problem of mad men or stopping these terrible acts. They are only a reaction of false security or illusion of thinking your feeling safer but there is no such thing of being always safe.( Can you say Norway Massacre) and this is country with tough gun position laws Still happened) Sorry but this is the real facts..

    July 28, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
  8. geckopelli

    Spin much?
    Most other countries the people are either forbidden to own guns by their gun-totting overlords, or they are to busy spending their last cent trying not to starve to death to buy a gun.

    He goes on to argue that everybody– except him– has a press inspired misconception of violence in America.
    What a pompous, clueless a s s.

    Clueless liberals V. Know it all conservatives.
    T u r d sandwich V. a giant d o u c h e!..

    July 28, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
  9. guy

    Unbelievable...the USA is soooooooo far behind other countries in a lot of social ways.......so sad...and too bad!

    July 28, 2012 at 11:22 am | Reply
    • nina

      Can you provide aaaaaaaaaaaaaaany example to back your statement?

      July 28, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  10. SoundFuture

    I'm willing to talk gun control and make informed concessions. I just know the nature of politics. The anti-gun crowd will ask for too much, and the non anti-gun crowd will allow too little.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • older seer

      Which is the only real flaw in MY plan...(see above)

      July 28, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  11. wgadair

    People tend to forget that this Country started with an armed rebellon. Yes times have changed in new technolgoy, but the world and this Country is the same – evil and good. Look around the world. The UN wants a treaty to ban all small arms. Why? Because they can maintain their dictatorships over the people longing for freedom.

    Remember –

    The most foolish mistake we could possibly make would be to permit the conquered Eastern peoples to have arms. History teaches that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.
    - Adolph Hitler, April 11 1942.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:36 am | Reply
  12. MK54

    In the US, the frontier mentality of the 19th century west still grips the imaginations of most people, even though the rational reasons for such thinking became obsolete more than a century ago.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:38 am | Reply
    • wgadair

      Freedom, regardless of the century is still valid.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Reply
  13. averagejoe

    In an averagr year. almost 5,000 pedestrians are killed by automobiles I guess we should outlaw autos or maybe ban pedestrians.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
    • SoundFuture

      In the U.S. it's about 30,000 deaths/year due to automobiles. Not sure about the pedestrian deaths to be completely honest.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:49 am | Reply
  14. G2

    I agree with you saying "The USA is a country like no other, on many levels and to make the simple comparison he makes is just not accurate. We have more cars, more single family homes, more of everything than almost every other nation because we have been blessed with wealth." We also seem to be a nation with the most gun murders and that is happening for the reason stated in the article.

    July 28, 2012 at 11:53 am | Reply
  15. umadbro?

    ( I dont own a gun but, I am a big 2nd amendment supporter)

    First there is a gun law which prohibits a person from purchasing a 100 round magazine, and guess what. HE HAD ONE!

    Soo all your talk about "oooh we need stricter gun laws" they're already in place and it failed.

    Now you want to punish those who did nothing WoW!

    July 28, 2012 at 11:57 am | Reply
  16. Nevadarebel

    "Those that give up their freedoms for safety deserves nether" – Benjamin Franklin

    July 28, 2012 at 11:59 am | Reply
  17. WashDC Concerned

    Unfortunately this opinion column only goes to prove that if you pick and choose the statistics then you can use them to prove your point. Take Mexico, for example. A much lower gun ownership rate than the US, but in 2011 they had 11.4 gun deaths per 100,000 people (based on CNN data). That is almost 4 times the gun death rate of the US. So there is not a direct relationship between gun ownership and gun death rate.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Reply
  18. AR15

    Gun laws would prevent shooting sprees? Please tell me more about how criminals follow laws....

    July 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
    • Don

      I can tell you thousands of criminal who follows the law and still is classified the ones whom are sent to prison for not paying taxes. There are no laws on the books saying Americans have to pay taxes. The IRS and Federal Reserve that controls the money in the US that are own by private bankers are using the government to unlawfully detain and jail these Americans. Our 16 Amendment state we do not have to pay taxes US Supreme court in 1914 up held that ruling.

      July 29, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  19. kiss

    With such a culture as US, this is not a gun problem this is your rap and gang bang culture among black community, because I am sure there is the highest rates. Believe me if you ban guns, you will see not only among black community increased crimes rate but in every other community too. Criminals don't abide to law, only law abide citizens do it. But any ways. I think you have to have 70 percent of IQ to see what really behind gun law. The reason is because in the next few years US economic situation will deteriorate very badly if the guns will be taken away. Otherwise, politicians will be still full of S and they will be afraid of population which outnumbers every soldier and police officer to 1 to 100,000. I am telling you, US will collapse, and pretty soon, and the only thing still stop them from collapsing and why politicians and bankers still hold on low gold price and food and gas price, is because of one thing: GUNS.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Reply
    • Don

      Spoken like a true American.. Amen

      July 29, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  20. BigO

    The NRA loves to use the slippery slope argument that if we enact any law then the next step is total gun control or some other abrogation of our 2nd Amendment rights. Has anyone considered the possibility that we may be on the other side of the slope, slipping inexorably into a situation where there is no gun control?

    July 28, 2012 at 12:24 pm | Reply
    • carbon dioxide

      Good. No gun control is the best. What gun control does the government or the military have?

      July 28, 2012 at 12:34 pm | Reply
  21. AndrewG

    Doesn't the 2nd Amendment read "a well-regulated militia"? That means there can be some regulation. High capacity magazines, trigger locks, background checks, law enforcement notification for heavy weapons (as Bill O'Rielly advocates), regulating gun shows, are reasonable steps that the majority of NRA members support. My granny has to show photo ID to buy Sudafed to prove she's not a meth dealer, but she can buy as much guns and ammo from a dealer as she wants without any ID. Doesn't make sense to me.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  22. George

    I think American men want to be able to own assault weapons because it's a phallic thing. Sorry if I offend, but when you look at the guys demanding the right to own AK 47s they all look like they're not smooth with the ladies so they need to make up for it with a gun that shoots 100 bullets per minute. We need some analysis on these guys. Just saying. Maybe if we got them all makeovers we could tackle this problem!

    July 28, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • nina

      You mean like when Muslims give their sons Kalashnikovs as birthday presents.

      July 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
      • nina

        Just saying!

        July 28, 2012 at 12:31 pm |
  23. BldrRepublican

    Paraphrasing a page from the Liberal handbook:

    "If you don't like assault weapons, don't buy one".

    July 28, 2012 at 12:29 pm | Reply
  24. Zorg

    Fareed, spend a moment and look up "illusory correlation". Then rethink your position.

    Wikipedia describes the phenomenon of illusory correlation. A small minority in a large group commit an offense. What they have in common is membership in the larger group. Therefore their membership in the larger group is responsible for the offense, which is a fallacy. Which group you pick depends on your agenda.

    Some make the mistake of illusory correlation when they decide that owning a gun makes a person a risk for commiting a gun-related violent crime. Others make the same mistake when they decide that the easy availability of guns is the cause of violent crime. But upon examination, both are fallacies.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
  25. beautruth

    the arguement is one of simple correlation, number of guns per capita and the homicide rate in america. Conclusion very high correlation ergo a problem.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply
    • Zorg

      Nope. You've never looked at the data – you've fallen into the trap as well – sad.

      July 28, 2012 at 11:35 pm | Reply
  26. Carioline

    With so many gun controls already passed it is time to admit that gun controls, control nothing..try something else.Drunk drivers kill lots more, time for alchohol controls.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  27. JohnnySeven

    Yeah the war on drugs has been a HUGE success. I expect it to be the same with gun violence even if you take them all.
    Nice map; I'm like "Ooooh look, we're not like the rest of the world." I say good!
    I'm not doing any soul searching for the reason that I still have a better chance of getting struck by lightning or hit by a car than I have getting shot in a movie theater. Unfortunately bad news sells and shoving this bad news in people's faces by the mass media brings the neurotics out of the woodwork.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
  28. Fareedsnuts

    Let's take the guns out of the hands of sane people so that only criminals and nut jobs can have them. Then the chances of the next nut job not being stopped in the act will cease all together. Hell, maybe we should just surrender the country to Iran to avoid that conflict too.

    July 28, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Reply
  29. Dimitar Bojantchev

    Mr. Zakaria,

    We have chosen to live in the United States of America. We ran away from those other lands in green!! Some of us, like me, risked significant suffering in this pursuit of reaching freedom. Please do not sell us the model of those other countries. We are in the Unites States and want to have it the American way. And that includes our firearms too. If life in the USA does not appeal to you, you have a choice too.


    July 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
  30. OneOfTheSheep


    You could come up with the same lovely red chart colors with vehicle deaths. Would you then argue to get vehicles out of the hands of citizens?

    In the U.S. today there are an ever-increasing number of psychopaths that are "civil" only because the civil population can (and will) blow them away when they travel out of their ghettos "to Mayberry" and kick in someone's door. So you would have the U.S. civil population be at the mercy of these thugs? Ridiculous!

    July 28, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Reply
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