Fareed on Guns

From CNN:

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.

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  • Jim

    I’m not making a pitch here but this is an interesting article to ‘enrich’ the debate that is about to happen.http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/310319/colorado-shooting-and-media-thomas-sowell

  • Pat Pope

    And when you combine the large number of guns with social and psychological problems, that to me, is a recipe for disaster. Look at road rage. Years ago, if we had it, we certainly didn’t have a name for it. But something happened and people now don’t hesitate to follow and threaten people for being cut off. Is it overcrowding in cities, untreated mental and emotional disorders, stress of the economy, an entitlement mentality, what??

  • scotmcknight

    Sowell’s numbers, Jim, are out of sync with Fareed’s, nor is he himself immune to his opening accusations about media folks making hay on events.

  • DRT

    Somewhat tangential…

    I have been watching gun ownership and selection videos for several weeks now since I bought a couple guns to try and learn about the culture. Many of the people illustrating responsible gun ownership are quite clear in their outlook, that is that someone should not change their behavior given they have a gun in their possession. If you would not walk down that street or yell at someone without a gun, then you should not do it when you have a gun.

    I believe that many people who carry guns take additional risks and put themselves in situations that they would not normally be in because they have a new sense of confidence when they are packing. Over the next couple of months I hope to get my concealed weapon permit and see how it makes me feel when I am armed with (as the gun salesman told me) “a gun that will make sure the other guy can’t get up”.

    Do we have too many guns and do they lead to more violence. Absolutely. What I fear is that it is even worse than I ever imagined.

  • RJS

    There are a number of problems with this article – first of which is that horribly misleading map graphic designed to convey an emotional point, but little to no information. A color plot graphic should (1) have a scale, and (2) should not use red for the top number (us) and then jump to shades of green for everything else.

    Second – anyone remember Norway last year? This makes Aurora look rather small in comparison. And we could go through a number of incidents of such violence in other countries as well as in the US. Norway is dark green (all of Scandinavia is for that matter) so on the higher end of gun ownership for Europe I expect.

    Third – the US may very well have more lonely, isolated people (we didn’t relate as the happiest I recall) this is a question to explore.

    … we could go on.

    Frankly I think stricter handgun control laws are a good thing – but I also think Aurora is irrelevant to the argument, the daily violence in many of our larger cities is a much better argument.

  • Jim

    @Scot: Fareed’s numbers are from 2007. Not sure where Sowell got his. I’m not making a pitch for guns by any stretch but I do think there is more at work at a cultural/historical level than sheer numbers of guns. Maybe Americans are just damn violent.

  • I saw Michael Moore’s movie “Bowling for Columbine” while visiting Canada back in 2004. At the same time I was reading Dallas Willard’s “Divine Conspiracy”. All I could think about was Willard’s analysis of “anger” vs. “contempt”.

    Willard says, “The Aramaic term ‘raca’ was current in Jesus’ day to express contempt for someone and to mark out him or her as contemptible. It may have originated from the sound one makes to collect spittle from the throat in order to spit. In anger I want to hurt you. In contempt, I don’t care whether you are hurt or not. Or at least so I say. You are not worth consideration one way or the other. We can be angry at someone without denying their worth. But contempt makes it easier for us to hurt them or see them further degraded.”

    Over the past few decades we have developed an f-u attitude.

    Watching The Sopranos is family entertainment in the US (Isn’t their theme song “woke up this morning and got myself a gun”?). I think our president when asked his favorite movie said “The Godfather”. Wow.

  • scotmcknight

    I’m trying to figure out how that map has little to no information: the “brown” (not red) is 70+, the greener shades are under that … mostly considerably under that. I don’t know the rules for making graphs and use of colors, but if it got as green as it could have it might have morphed into another color, no?

    Norway’s singular, horrible, horrific, sickening event doesn’t change the number of guns in the USA compared to other nations; nor does it change the number of handgun deaths in the USA. Isn’t that Fareed’s point?

    I agree that the psychological can’t be dismissed; nor should we dismiss the culture we have created that glorifies violence nor our history in which capturing the West was done at the expense of destroying the American Indian.

    Aurora illustrates our problem.

  • MWK

    Good points RJS. And I always love Thomas Sowell to bring some wisdom to the table.

  • Marshall

    So we have most of the guns, so naturally we have most of the gun fatalities. In the U.S. the overall assault death rate is about 3 per 100,000 vs. 1 or 2 for OECD countries … nothing to brag about, but it’s ain’t “20 times as many [in the U.S.] as Australia or England”. And our rate has been in precipitous decline since 1980 (when it was 10 per 100,000) despite increasing numbers of guns.

    Not to say that sensible people shouldn’t sensibly restrict guns. Nobody needs assault weapons or 50-round clips for hunting or home defense, and so on.

    Also, the assault death rate is dominated by Blacks, who are getting killed at a rate of nearly 20 per 100,000. Which is to back up RJS’ final point, that daily violence of our urban lives is much more consequential than the occasional madman (who perhaps was performing a ritualized version of that pervasive meme). Guns are a side issue; the real problems are racism, poverty, poor education, destruction of neighborhood community and family life; like that. Weak mental health services. Bad religion has a place in that list, too.

  • Holly

    It seems to me that he should quantify the statement that all countries have the same amount of psychologically disturbed people. That’s not just something we should “agree” on. He’s gotta give numbers in order to make analysis.

  • RJS


    The map has one outstanding color – ok, brown not red – and everything else is shades of green. All the map is designed to convey is that the US stands out, but it does so in a way that distorts. It is structured for emotional impact. And the lightest green is the area with enlightened gun laws – the area we should aspire to follow? Look at the countries in the lightest green, for the most part it tracks with poverty or totalitarianism.

    I am not in favor of loose gun laws, especially for handguns. Homicide rates (excluding war) in the US make us look quite bad in comparison to the rest of the world. But I would rather see better framed arguments. And, by the way, in one study I found (on the CDC site, but data from 1990 – so old) the highest homicide rates were in Sub-Saharan Africa (44.8 total, 78.5 male 12.7 female per 100000), Latin America (22.4 total, 40 male 5.2 female per 100000), then the US (10.0 total, 15.9 male 4.2 female per 100000), without going through the whole table – “Established Market Economies Excluding the US” were the lowest (1 total, 1.1 male 0.8 female per 100000). In these EME countries violence against males was roughly the same as violence against women!

    We have a culture of violence that needs changing. I am totally with you here. A mad man acting on a fantasy (and this is certainly what it looks like) isn’t really illustrative of the problem. The problem is a culture of greed and selfish interest rooted in violence for many – especially for young men.

  • Robin

    I think eventually the conversation needs to move from “do we need stricter gun laws” to “what would gun laws have to look like in order for them to work.” The key data point in that discussion would need to be Chicago, which despite leading the gun control crusade for 4 decades currently has the highest murder rate IN THE WORLD.

    Most references I have seen online name Illinois the strictest gun control state and Chicago the strictest city, and this type of state and local gun control has been 100% ineffective. If someone more familiar with Illinois/Chicago could list what laws they currently have on the books that have been ineffective that could be useful.

  • Robin

    Here is an article discussing Chicago’s murder rate. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/07/02/chicago-murder-rate-surges-as-new-york-s-drops-to-record-low.html

    I saw elsewhere the current rate is officially 19.4 per 100,000 (compared to 3 per 100,000 for the US).

    In order for the discussion to be honest we need to admit that state/local gun restrictions are almost useless. I would like to hear concrete proposals for national gun control laws moving forward and a plan for forcibly disarming the current populace, since we already have 250+ million firearms privately owned.

  • Robin

    Chicago’s problems aren’t limited to guns either. They have had as many homicides by stabbing in the first 7 months of 2012 as they had in all of 2011.


  • DRT

    RJS, I agree, the graphic is serving to augment the conclusion instead of displaying the information dispassionately.

  • Scot McKnight

    Robin, I agree that stricter laws are only a beginning… we need enforcement and the reduction — serious — of the number of guns. Chicago has not only strict laws but probably the highest number of guns. So all of this plea from my side is a plea to get this discussion onto the table, not a utopian dream if we could get it on the platform America will be safe again. Once we get this onto the table, we have a colossal undertaking.

  • Robin

    My point behind these three posts is that we cannot just say “we want gun control.” We have to honestly assess what we have done, and what results it has produced. Chicago and Illinois have tried “gun control” more than anyone, and it has failed miserably.

    So to me it is obvious that just advocating for “gun control” isn’t the answer, at least not as a blanket policy. It has to be specific. What kind of gun control? on what level (Federal/State/National)? What about existing guns, etc.

    Just saying “we’ll pass gun control and everything will be better” is akin to saying “if only we outlaw abortion, abortions will stop happening.”

    Jesus Creeders are always smart enough to respond to that argument with something along the lines of “unless you fix the system and remove the reasons that cause women to seek out abortions in the first place, banning the procedure will be ineffective.”

    We need to acknowledge that “unless you cause drastic shifts in the culture that makes young urban men stop wanting to kill each other at drastically high rates, passing gun control laws will largely be ineffective.”

  • DRT

    Robin, you are exactly right. But we seem to be stuck at the point that folks will not even allow the “what gun regulations make sense” discussion to happen. It is the third rail. (for those who do not know, the third rail is the one that is electrified and supplies power to a train…)

  • Jamieson


    That may be true so give us an example of a reasonable gun regulation.

  • It’s worth considering in the case of Chicago & Illinois — this has to be a federal discussion rather than leaving it to the individual states.

    If Indiana, or Missouri isn’t as strict as Illinois than its really nothing for someone from one of those states to run them in. Further — it’s not going to be a problem that magically disappears if gun laws go into place. They are just a starting point to get them off the street. It sounds like something needs to be done at a community level to address inherent violence in that system.

  • DRT


    I don’t know what a comprehensive solution would be, but I can tell you a small step that would help where I live, Virginia.

    1. Require guns to be registered. Currently only machine guns need to be registered.
    2. Change the private purchase/sale process so that it will require the transaction to be registered or at least that the person selling needs to report it to the police so a background check can be done on the purchaser. Right now anyone in the state can sell a gun to anyone else, no questions asked and no records kept.

    Clearly that will not do the whole job, but it is a start. It’s like the wild west around here.

  • DRT

    Just last week or the week before a 4 year old shot and killed himself when he went into a relative’s truck, found his gun, and pulled the trigger. There needs to be more care built into the law than that.

  • DRT

    and more…..

    What needs to get started is a change in attitude and admitting that there is a problem is the first step in solving it. Right now we have presidential candidates and political leaders acting like it is practically your duty to own a weapon. We should at least be adopting a national campaign that stresses the alternatives to having a weapon and stop glorifying it!

  • DRT

    on a roll….

    This reminds me of the campaign to get people to buckle up in their cars. My dad actually paid extra for a car ordered from the dealer to have seat belts installed. Now, my kids could not imagine driving around in a car without wearing their seat belt, and neither can I.

  • JHM

    I realize it’s hard for a city (like Chicago or New York, etc.) to clamp down on gun violence when surrounding areas don’t have the same laws but I really do think we have to consider that a national-level solution is probably impractical and very invasive.

    This is a very complicated issue. I know quite a people who own “assault rifles” like the AR-15 that use them hunting. I go to shooting competitions where people bring along Tommy guns or old WWII automatic weapons to let people play with. I’d hate to see all of that just go away because some people in some city 1,000+ miles away are either irresponsible or plain evil. I don’t know how you make a one-size-fits-all solution that doesn’t trample on rural folks who’ve been fairly responsibly using firearms for centuries.

    It’s just a very complicated issue for me. 🙁

  • Robin


    I am kind of with you when you talk about registration, but then you tell a story about a 4 year old who accidentally found a gun and used it. I don’t see how registering weapons could possibly prevent accidents. Are you suggesting additional legislation requiring all guns to be kept in locked, childproof safes, or were you just throwing in an illustration that wasn’t connected to your preferred policies.

    One problem I continue to have is that none of the proposed laws would have stopped the Aurora shooting, the impetus for the discussion. Trying to craft a law that prohibits a Ph.D. student who was awarded fellowships from the Federal Government from getting weapons and using them with ill intents, without putting a blanket prohibition of all fire-arms is very difficult.

    It seems the most we could hope for is a law that gets him handguns and shotguns but not larger capacity weapons.

  • DRT

    Robin, you are right, most laws would not have helped the 4 year old.

    I believe the laws are only part of what needs to happen. We need a change in attitude about guns and the laws are only part of that. Instituting those laws will not in and of themselves change that scenario, or perhaps it would have, it would start the messaging process of getting people to think about guns differently. There needs to be a large effort consisting of legislation, education, and changes in perception. I can easily see that if someone were to believe, as I do, that guns are incredibly dangerous things and we all don’t really need to be packing them in our vehicles, even if it is legal, then it may have been avoided.

    It is going to take a couple of generations for the attitude to change, but just because the road is long and hard does not mean we should not start down it. Likewise, just because laws don’t solve the whole problem does not mean we should not institute them.

  • Jamieson


    Do we need a change in attitude toward guns, or a change in attitude toward our fellow human beings?

    I’m curious, is self-defense ever a good reason for carrying a firearm? (Anyone can answer this one).

  • Robin


    I would say that if you are unable to remove yourself from contexts where such self-defense was necessary, then yes, it is a good reason to carry a firearm. Living in Kentucky, I don’t have to be in any place where such protection is necessary, so I shouldn’t choose to go to those places where it might be. However, if I lived in some parts of Chicago, and had no prospects for escaping anytime soon, I might feel differently.

  • DRT


    I don’t see that as an either/or. We need both and I consider those to be separate. Perhaps one day we can improve on the violence with just learning to love our fellow man….

    There once was a day when I carried a heavy blunt instrument in my car, but that was when I was hanging out in inner city Pittsburgh in my youth. I actually felt that was practical since that is the way it was. And I have to admit, that I did pull it out in anger once when the opponent did not brandish any sort of similar threat. I think about that episode quite regularly….. I grew up in a culture where getting into fights, real fights, was part of the status quo.

    The medical profession has a fairly good analogy to how I perceive we should treat guns. Many times they will not give out medicine or choose a certain health strategy because the amount of abuse is so high, even if it would help the person in particular. Its a difficult trade off, but I fall down on the side that the abuse and accidents associated with weapons does not warrant carrying them.

    Right now, with adequate psychological and tactical training I feel it would be warranted to have a gun handy. But there are generally much safer and ways to handle most situations. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. [it seems quite odd for me to refer to a gun as a cure..]

  • DRT

    I have an acquaintance who is also an occasional commenter here that works with people in one of the worst areas of Richmond VA. You may not know that Richmond was the murder capital of the US for some time, and they have not totally licked that habit. I can’t seem to find her email address, but it would be good to have her chime into this conversation http://wendymccaig.com/

    One of the most interesting comments I heard her make was when she was talking about bringing some of the church folks from the ‘burbs into the hood and they asked her if it was safe for them to go there with her. She said , no, its not safe. But they still went and I don’t think she was packing.

  • DRT

    Spoke too soon, I dropped her a line and hope she can comment.

  • DRT
  • kierkegaard71

    Why is there no discussion of the role that the drug war in the United States and in Central and South America has played in increasing the number of guns in the country and in exploding the rate of violent crime? I believe the telling statistic should be the number of homicides in America that are drug related and the percentage of the total number of guns that are used to carry out drug crimes. Through the criminalization of drugs and the resultant black market for them, we have turned many of our streets (and Latin America’s) into war zones. I would rather look at facts like these than to engage in speculating on the psychology of how gun possession might be making people marginally less stable in their behavior.

  • DRT


    I think that the current environment for controlling guns is a, well, target rich environment.

  • TJJ

    The US is a very affluent society with a huge drug and gang problem, my guess is that such accounts for upwards of 80% to 90% of gun fatalities in this country.

  • Camassia

    The reason why Fareed’s and Sowell’s numbers seem out of sync is that they’re talking about two different things. Fareed is talking about the rate of gun homicides, while Sowell is talking about the overall murder rate. Evidently, where guns are hard to get, people find other ways to kill each other.

  • Fish


    I live in a Southern city with a far higher murder and violent crime rate than Chicago, and everyone is armed to the teeth with concealed weapons. My odds of being shot are much higher than if I lived in Chicago. To use Chicago in the gun control debate is to pick and choose data to support one’s position. IMHO.