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. nate

    i see in there you have syria as a 'low' ownership rate. let's ask them how that's going...

    July 28, 2012 at 4:45 pm | Reply
    • Tim Hallbeck


      July 28, 2012 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  2. James

    Chicago banned hand guns and now has the highest rate of gun violence in the nation. End of discussion on gun control.

    July 28, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • michele

      How those people get the guns ? There should be a study not just this and that or here and there. Do they manufacture the guns themselves ? You will not drive a car if there is no car. It is a simple logic.

      July 28, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  3. Tatiana Covington

    The best gun control is a steady aim.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  4. bozo

    Corporate stooge?? What are you trying to do Zach.. get your membership in the Council of Foreign Relations approved.. your a foreigner who grew up in totalitarian states.. Your only experience of freedom is here.. You have no business criticizing the sacrifices or the rights that sustain the democracy you so enjoy.. go to iran and preach that crap.. gun control works real well over there..

    July 28, 2012 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  5. Dirtybird

    If the left wants to get rid of guns, then why don't they put an honest effort into repealing the second amendment? Answer: The left is too cowardly to attempt a frontal assault on the second amendment. They know they couldn't win a frontal assault, so instead they try to pick away at the second amendment in the hope that they can make it meaningless by obfuscation.

    I call it treason.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  6. sadath

    @zakaria- If you are a muslim please talk about Muslims killed in Burma.............................

    July 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
    • sadath

      Bring Justice to those muslims who are killed by their government.

      July 28, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Reply
  7. Davidw0909

    Yes Fareed, that evil gun pulled it's own trigger 150 times. My goodness how could I have been so silly. I guess James Holmes can walk out of jail tomorrow knowing it was that gun that killed all those people and even if it had not been available there is nothing else he could have used to commit mass murder. Why is it that whenever something like this happens that all you anti-gun fruits and nuts want to strip every person of their second ammendment rights that our founding fathers wanted? By calling gun owners nuts your calling the founding fathers nuts. Did Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, or Charles Manson use a gun to commit mass murder? NO! Were they able to do so easily? YES! ENOUGH!

    July 28, 2012 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  8. Need more facts

    This article lacks enough information to draw any conclusions. Here in Philadelphia, most of the gun-related homicides and shootings are tied to the drug trade. Perhaps we need to see if our drug laws and war on drugs is a connection. Are most gun deaths caused by legally purchased firearms or by either stolen or purchased from the black market. How do our mental health laws & system compare to other countries? Fareed gives short-thrift to severe mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. There is very little in the way of early intervention for schizophrenia. Usually only after a person either breaks the law or commits a violent act is something done. Funny how we cant force a schizophrenic to get treatment until they kill someone. Then they can be forced to take medications so that they are fit for trial. Doesn't make sense. So while usually enjoy Fareed's writings, this one gets a D as it is not objective and lazily jumps on the gun control bandwagon without any intellectual rigor.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  9. Tak

    You know Zakky, when Sgt Robert Bales murdered 17 civilians in Afghanistan, including 9 children, we did not have a knee-jerk reaction about gun control, but the mass media instead went after the tiniest details. Why? Because Robert Bales was in uniform and a government sponsored killer. Yet, what is the difference between Sgt Robert Bales and James Holmes in their acts of violence? Nothing.

    But when a civilian commits mass murder? Mass media screams gun control. So I wonder, when a soldier commits mass murder, what do we control?

    Can you guarantee the same act of tyranny by a uniformed 'professional' wouldn't happen at home? I doubt it. Hell, its happening all the time. What about the homeless man who was beaten to death by a group of officers? What was his crime?

    And I am being told I should give up my 2nd, the very amendment that is the last line of defense against tyranny of any sort? Not a chance in hell.

    – – – – – –

    In response to people claiming that having a CCW would not make a difference in the Aurora shooting. Well, yes and no. I won't claim that having a CCW would have made a difference, but who are you to claim that it won't? Self-defense is a risky business, but if I was forced into that situation, what choice do I have? Am I to stand up and run while making myself an obvious target? Or do I stand my ground, cling onto my dear life? Hell, if I was to die anyway, at least try to make a difference.

    I refuse to become a sheep to be herded into a slaughterhouse, I am a human being. Two basic instincts to a human being include freedom of thought and self-defense. Cherish them.

    July 28, 2012 at 5:55 pm | Reply
  10. gubgub


    July 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm | Reply
    • .


      July 28, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  11. thatbob

    As demonstrated, your incapability of reporting facts based on truths and not misconceived notions implies your immediate removal from a nationally published opinion column, be immediate and without prejudice.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:30 pm | Reply
    • Jeff880

      In fairness, this is an opinion piece, not a fact-reporting piece.

      July 28, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Reply
      • thatbob

        Whatever. When a nationally recognized columnist cannot get the facts straight, what is left for public consumption? Journalists are held in the highest esteem to report fairly and accurately. Mr. Zarakria misstated the facts. Bottom line is who can you believe in for timely accurate reporting and opinions. Or,will garbagebe left to abound. Enough said. Mr. Zarakria is forever tainted, period!

        July 28, 2012 at 7:29 pm |
      • JYTex

        FZ states: In the decade since the year 2000, gun homicide rates haven’t improved at all. They were at roughly the same levels in 2009 as they were in 2000.

        So even with more firearms being owned, Gun homicide rates have not increased or decreased in the last 10 years.
        Doesn't this disprove his own point?

        July 29, 2012 at 4:41 pm |
  12. John

    So we outlaw guns entirely. Does that mean they will be impossible to get like other things that we have outlawed like: cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, heroine, meth, etc. After all, ever since these other things are outlawed, we have not had any problems with them whatsoever, right?

    July 28, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Reply
    • Jeff

      We have had significantly less problems with these things outlawed.

      July 28, 2012 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  13. Terry Brookman

    The map is false, Africa and the Middle East should be black. I must say that the preferred weapon in Africa is a machete, they killed eight hundred thousand in two months there. Every time some crazy here shoots some people the politicians get involved, all trying to make a record for themselves. Human nature has not changed much in the last thousand years but here is the point, Adolf Hitler took away gun rights and not long after he killed eleven million people and today is not looking much deferent than nineteen thirty three. More and more the federal government is taking away our jobs and our rights and that is the reason for the second amendment, for the people of this country to protect their rights. Unfortunately there are now a lot of people on the street that think they can take your life if they want your shoes, I maintain the right to protect myself from them too.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:36 pm | Reply
    • faye62

      A lot of people killing for shoes..I think you'd better look again. Blacks aren't committing mass murders and what you're referring to is usually black on black crime similar to the Mafia murders. Mass murders and pedophiles are predominantly non-black.

      July 28, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  14. faye62

    We'd better find something to stop these madmen because neither life in prison or execution is....They've stop a copycat of Holmes thankfully. Realistically, what is going to stop them? I never thought I'd own a gun but it's so much madness in the world now I am now considering it. I don't want to go the mall, movie, park, etc and become a victim of a 100% senseless crime. They're not even robbing you for valuables anymore just killing as many as possible. It's sick. Killed those poor people including a 6 yr old baby girl and for what? Causing trauma and destruction. Put him in a prison like Dahmer and let someone beat him to death; Shoot him and let him bleed slowly to death while his family looks on.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  15. magneticink

    If you shoot a mime, do you use a silencer?

    July 28, 2012 at 6:43 pm | Reply
  16. discouragedinMI

    Did anyone else notice how many of those "so much better than the US" countries are also heavily controlled by their government ... "elected" or otherwise?

    July 28, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
  17. Marcy Harrigan

    Hmmm . . . I don't think it's true that the nutcases are equally spread out throughout the world. There ARE sociological facts, and they can't be ignored. You make that statement with nothing at all to back it up but an assumption. Based on what? Many cultures do not produce violent individuals the way America does. A combination of the rugged individualism and the easy access to guns along with the cowboy mentality that prevails is not present in every country. Nature/nurture. Nurture does a lot. In fact, these nutcases seem to all be WHITE men. That's sociological too. Cultural. This is not a well thought out argument.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
  18. John P. Tarver

    This failed out student dmonstrated the ability to make a bomb and had he been throwing bombs the audiance would have been trying to catch them. I am glad this mass murderer had a gus, as had he not here would have been bombs.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  19. Adam

    If he was not so serious.. I would be laghing my rear end off. I have never seen such a poor use of skewed statistics before in my life. Why look at the Swiss to make a point? Why not Mexico where they have severe gun laws and border our country? Why not look at the difference between states like VA and DC to see if your theory is based in fact? I love a good debate, but this a joke and has ZERO credibility. F-, Back to to school for you.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
  20. support 2nd amendment

    The purpose of the second amendment isn't to hunt or for sport its to PROTECT YOURSELF from both criminals and a corrupt government.

    The only thing banning guns will do is make it so LAW abiding people cant get them, but criminals always have and always will. (there is a such thing as a black market)

    If more citizens were armed maybe that madman in the theater couldve been stopped before he killed so many innocent people. (How does a wacko like that obtain military grade armor and expert bomb making know how by the way?)

    If you wait around for police to protect you, youll most likely end up a victim. Better ARMED than HARMED.

    Criminals and fascist dictators love a disarmed public, makes them easier to subjugate and exterminate. The Nazis were a big fan of disarming people, so has every other despotic regime been throughout history. Criminals of every sort want no one to have weapons but themselves.

    I am a law abiding citizen and I support the second amendment. The right to protect myself AND my family.

    The REAL issue you should be addressing is the use and misuse of Psychotropic drugs like antidepressants.

    July 28, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Reply
  21. Sfarmer

    I'd be interested in finding out what would happen if the US switched to Open Carry Laws instead of Concealed Carry. I've heard many criminals say they hate an armed population. Remember, gun control only disallows law abiding citizens from owning guns. Criminals are already criminals, what do they care.

    An Armed society is a polite society – R. Heinlein

    July 28, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Reply
  22. Terry Brookman

    I see a lucrative gun smuggling operation starting not to mention the old fashioned zip gun. With todays modern tools I could make a one shot gun with no trouble at all. At one hundred each I could make a grand a week. Gun powder and shot is not a problem either after all Colt got it's start with a cap and ball. With a couple of good double edged knives in a crowd a dozen could be killed without a sound. With fifteen hundred dollars I can build a forty watt Co2 laser that will burn a hole in a half inch of steel, you cannot see it so that would be a real crowd pleaser. Then there is poison and germs, anyone can make some pretty nasty stuff if they really want to. What are we to do? Are we going to have to have a federal permit to buy steak knives or buy tools at Home Depot or Lowe's?

    July 28, 2012 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  23. jlacke

    Let's look at some facts, Fareed; starting with gun homicides per 100,000 people (world rank in terms of gun ownership in parentheses):

    Bahamas: 15.37 (98)
    Belize: 21.82 (62)
    Brazil: 18.1 (75)
    Colombia: 27.09 (91)
    Dominican Republic: 16.3 (99)
    El Salvador: 39.9 (92)
    Guatemala: 34.87 (49)
    Guyana: 11.46 (45)
    Honduras: 68.43 (88)
    Jamaica: 39.4 (74)
    Mexico: 9.97 (42)
    Nicaragua: 5.92 (77)
    Panama: 16.18 (26)
    Puerto Rico: 18.3 (not given)
    South Africa: 17.03 (50)
    Trinidad and Tobago: 27.31 (129)
    Venezuela: 38.97 (59)
    Zimbabwe: 4.78 (106)
    Sudan: Not given, but known to be high
    Somalia: Not given, but known to be high
    Botswana: Not given, but high
    In fact, data for most African countries not available, but the UN has noted that Africa has extremely high gun homicide rates.

    United States: 2.97 (1)

    So the US has the highest rate of gun ownership, yet doesn't come close to the gun homicide rates of the other nations listed above, despite that they all have significantly lower levels of gun ownership; with some being near the bottom in that category. Globally, there is no correlation with gun ownership and gun violence. But I may have noticed another correlation, let's look at a few more countries and see:

    Australia: 0.14 (42)
    Austria: 0.22 (14)
    Czech Republic: 0.19 (38)
    Denmark: 0.27 (54)
    Finland: 0.45 (4)
    England and Wales: 0.07 (88)
    France: 0.06 (12)
    Germany: 0.19 (t-15)
    Iceland: 0.0 (t-15)
    New Zealand: 0.16 (22)
    Norway: 0.05 (11)
    Switzerland: 0.77 (3)

    Come to think of it, I may see a correlation between gun ownership and gun homicides – the more citizens have guns, the lower the gun homicide rate. But I see something else, too. I'll add one more set of data:

    White Americans: 1 gun homicide per 100,000
    Black Americans: 22 per 100,000
    Latino Americans: 12 per 100,000


    July 28, 2012 at 7:07 pm | Reply
    • sarge325

      You nailed it. Zakaria is clueless. Globally, the US has a low gun homicide rate and the countries with much higher gun homicide rates typically have stringent anti-gun laws and, as you point out, fairly low legal ownership of guns.

      There's more. Zakaria emphasizes the gun ownership rate of the US as a whole. If you look state-by-state you see that many states with very high gun ownership rates have gun homicide rates that are about the same as in Europe, while states with the highest crimes have the lowest gun ownership and the most stringent gun laws.

      July 28, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Reply
    • Dr Tom

      Your statistics show developed countries in the second set only – and the US. These have gun homicide rates of 0 to 0.77, except the US which has a rate of 2.97. To quote you "Hmmm..."

      July 28, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Reply
      • jlacke

        And you completely ignored the last set of statistics. The US has a higher gun homicide rate (compared to other industrialized countries) entirely because of blacks and Latinos. The white rate is in the range of European countries (at the high end, though). Worldwide, blacks and Latinos have high gun homicide rates, whites have low gun homicide rates.

        In fact, whites have low gun homicide rates regardless of gun control laws, and despite high levels of gun ownership. Blacks and Latinos have high gun homicide rates regardless of gun control laws and despite relatively low levels of gun ownership.

        The correlation isn't between gun control and gun homicide. Its between race and gun homicide.

        July 29, 2012 at 7:08 am |
      • muslim traitor

        Racial discrimination j. What color is holmes?

        July 29, 2012 at 7:27 am |
      • jlacke

        You're absolutely right. The massive difference in gun homicide rates is irrelevant because Holmes is white; since the difference in gun homicide rates isn't absolute (0 homicides by whites vs. all homicides by blacks), there is no meaningful difference in gun homicide rates between the races. Let's apply this to other areas:

        Since some countries with strict gun control have higher rates of gun violence than other countries with loose gun control, there is no meaningful effect of gun control

        Since not all smokers get lung cancer, and some non-smokers do get lung cancer, there is no link between smoking and lung cancer.

        Do I even need to go on?

        July 29, 2012 at 7:47 am |
    • Tacitus Talks

      Absolutely, Fareed Zakaria is a Pakistani exchange student that decided to stay in this wonderful country after living in a s***thole. So let's make it the s***hole that HE came from.

      July 28, 2012 at 10:09 pm | Reply
    • Hans Dorfwald

      Did you concider population in your ajenda along with the social and mental dynamics of the population?


      July 28, 2012 at 11:13 pm | Reply
      • jlacke

        Population is controlled for by using gun homicides per 100,000 people. So yes.

        No, I did not control for "mental dynamics" – but neither did Fareed. If "mental dynamics" can be shown to correlate to gun homicides, then we'd have to question if gun control has an effect wouldn't we?

        Did you question Fareed about his lack of accounting for "mental dynamics?"


        July 29, 2012 at 7:14 am |
    • Adam

      Very well put and very clear. Remember, statistics dont kill people.. only the people manipualting them do. The author should lose his job do to the manner he attempted to make his slanted point of view. Remove the emotions and the truth will survive. Thanks for the much needed counter point.

      July 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm | Reply
  24. jlacke

    The above data comes from the UN, and can be found here:

    The US racial breakdown in stats can be found through the FBI website. You'll have to do the math, and you'll have to factor the Latino rate out from the white rate (the FBI counts ALL Latinos as "white" when they commit crime).

    July 28, 2012 at 7:16 pm | Reply
  25. jklapper

    What happened to Switzerland? It's 100% gun possession and near ZERO gun crime rate somehow got missed in this hatchet job.
    Gun control is hitting your target AND not hitting anything that is not your target.
    Personally, considering how this kid had his apartment rigged I'm GLAD he chose to use a firearm to commit this atrocity. If he had had to put his mind to work to come up with another way to make his "point" I believe that the death toll and number of casualties would be considerably higher. If you don't think that is a realistic opinion, just ask someone from OKC.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  26. DPS

    CNN: Please take Zakaria off any of your programs and off the air.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
  27. Greg

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned the work of John Lott who has shown that more guns equals less crime in America. There have also been numerous peer reviewed studies that also show this. The author did very little work other than his off the cuff, emperical evidence that skews the answer to his question. Lets control for race, money, education, etc too and you will see the truth about gun control.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
    • JYTex

      That would not push the hidden agenda forward....

      July 29, 2012 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  28. Zaka-who

    So now this guy is an expert on gun control too? He wasn't even raised here and he claims to know our national psyche well enough to tell us no to handle the issue?

    Most people have already forgotten the LEGALLY ARMED private citizen who helped subdue the shooter in Tuscon at Gabrielle Gifford's event. More live would have been lost if he had not been carrying and chose to get involved.

    Cars kill more people than guns each year. I don't hear a call to bans "Car ownership".

    July 28, 2012 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  29. nautamilitis

    He conveniently leaves out Switzerland in his stats. There is a rifle in every single home in Switzerland, all Swiss citizens have firearms, all of them. So...what does that do to his theory?

    July 28, 2012 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  30. Drew

    This is idiotic, guns are here for a reason. To allow us to protect ourselves, period.
    In fact, our gun ownership levels relative to the amount of citizens we have is LOW.
    Look at Switzerland. EVERYONE is REQUIRED to own a gun, train with it, carry it, and is allowed to use it to defend themselves. Switzerland has the lowest crime rate in the world.
    Look at places n the U.S. with the highest levels of gun control. For example, Washington D.C. You are not allowed to own a handgun in DC, and all rifles and shotguns must be disassembled and locked in a safe. Ammo must be also locked up in another safe in another room. You may not carry a gun in D.C., period. D.C. has the highest amount of crime in the U.S., particularly in murders, assaults, and robberies. It also has the highest amount of gun crime with an overwhelming majority (some 80%) of all guns confiscated from those crimes being ILLEGAL firearms. 30% of those confiscated firearms are HOMEMADE.
    Similar stories are true for New York, Detroit (especially), and Chicago. Likewise, statistically, the highest areas of violence and gun crime in the U.S. occur in places with strict gun control.
    The Aurora shooting happened in a theater which BANNED the carrying of firearms, open or concealed.
    2.5 million Americans use guns to save their lives every year.
    Recently a man carrying a gun concealed in Salt Lake City stopped a stabbing spree:

    "What, Sir, is the use of a militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty.... Whenever Governments mean to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise an army upon their ruins." Rep. Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, spoken during floor debate over the Second Amendment

    Probably fewer than 2% of handguns and well under 1% of all guns will ever be involved in a violent crime. Thus, the problem of criminal gun violence is concentrated within a very small subset of gun owners, indicating that gun control aimed at the general population faces a serious needle-in-the-haystack problem.
    Gary Kleck, "Point Blank: Handgun Violence In America"

    The possession of arms by the people is the ultimate warrant that government governs only with the consent of the governed.
    Jeff Snyder

    "...to disarm the people – that was the best and most effectual way to enslave them." George Mason

    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.

    Likewise, what is more effective against a rapist? A cell phone to talk to a cop who is miles away, pepper spray that is effective for only a few seconds, or a gun?
    If African American slaves had access to, and owned firearms, do you REALLY think they would have been slaves for very long?
    Gun control doesn't work.

    July 28, 2012 at 7:44 pm | Reply
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