In 2019, six million Americans carried guns daily, twice as many as in 2015

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An estimated 6 million American adults carried a loaded gun daily in 2019, double the number who said they carried a gun every day in 2015, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health.

The new estimates point to a decades-long shift in U.S. gun ownership, with more and more gun owners saying they own firearms for self-defense, not hunting or recreation, choosing to carry a gun when they go out in public, said Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, and the study’s lead author.

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A landmark Supreme Court case this summer overturned a New York law that placed strict restrictions on carrying guns in public, ruling for the first time that Americans have a constitutional right to carry a handgun for self-defense outdoors.

While recent surveys show that nearly a third of American adults say they personally own a gun, the percentage who choose to regularly carry a firearm in public is smaller: About a third of handgun owners, or an estimated 16 million adults , say they carry a loaded gun in public at least once a month, and an estimated 6 million say they do so daily, the study found.

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But the public carrying of guns seems to be on the rise in recent years. A 2015 study by the same researchers, using the same methodology, found that 3 million adults said they carried a loaded handgun daily, and 9 million did so once a month.

Today, the number of adults carrying a gun daily is likely even higher than the 2019 estimate, thanks to a record increase in gun sales during the pandemic, Rowhani-Rahbar said. “We have every reason to believe that this is a trend that is likely to continue,” he added.

The 2019 study is the most recent available peer-reviewed estimate of how many Americans regularly carry guns in public, he said, and an equivalent post-pandemic study has yet to be conducted.

While the effect of permissive gun-carrying laws on gun crime has been hotly debated within and outside research circles, the body of evidence tends to point to a link between those [permissive] policies and an increase in violence,” Rowhani-Rahbar said.

But he said more research is needed, including more research into how often “carrying results in self-defense or protection in a way that saves lives,” as many American gun owners believe.

Demographically, those who chose to carry a gun in public in 2019 were more likely to live in the South, the study found. Four in five armor bearers were men and three in four were white, Rowhani-Rahbar said. Other demographic factors, such as education and household income, made no difference whether gun owners chose to carry their guns in public or not, he said. About a quarter of the armor bearers had a household income of at least $125,000 a year, and nearly a third had graduated from college, the researchers found.

Only about 8% of handgun owners and carriers had the lowest income level and earned less than $25,000 a year.

The increase in handgun carrying comes as more U.S. states passed laws to make it easier to carry a gun in public, with dozens of states scrapping the requirement that residents have a “concealed carry permit” to carry a gun. to wear. concealed firearm on their person.

“The country as a whole has moved very clearly and dramatically over the past two or three decades towards relaxing gun-carrying laws,” said Rowhani-Rahbar.

The Rowhani-Rahbar study found that a lower percentage of gun owners chose to publicly carry in states with very strict carry laws, but there was no material difference between states where it was easy to get a license and states that did not require a permit. not allow at all.

But the handful of major states that had strict carry laws, including New Jersey and California, are now in the process of changing them, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v Bruen in June, said Adam Skaggs, the policy director of the the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which advocates for greater regulation of firearms.

“Bruen will only accelerate the number of people carrying guns in public,” Skaggs said, noting that, anecdotally, the number of gun-carrying permits issued in those states is already on the rise.

The 2019 gun-carrying study was based on the self-reported behavior of a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults living in households with firearms. Due to opposition from gun rights advocates, there are no official government statistics on the number or demographics of US gun owners, or even the exact number of annual consumer gun sales in the US, meaning that survey-based estimates are sometimes the best statistics available. .

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