The survey asked handgun owners how often they carried a loaded handgun on their person when away from home.
The peer-reviewed study concluded that roughly 9 million people carried loaded handguns at least one a month, including 3 million who carried them every day. People who carry handguns at least once a month were disproportionately likely to be conservative men between the ages of 18 and 29 residing in Southern states.
Four out of 5 of them said that personal protection was the primary reason they carried a loaded handgun. Nearly 6 percent reported being threatened by another person with a firearm at least once in the past five years. And 1 out of 5 reported carrying a concealed handgun without a permit, even in states where such a permit is required.
The researchers who conducted the study did so in part because good data on concealed-carry practices has been lacking.
“In light of the increasingly permissive concealed carry laws in the United States that we have observed over the past thirty years, it’s important to first, not only document the scope of this particular behavior that we did, but also take the next step and think about how this particular behavior may impact public health and public safety,” Ali Rowhani-Rahbar of the University of Washington, the lead author of the study, said in a statement.
Today, it’s easier than ever to carry a gun on you at all times. Many states have broadened their concealed-carry policies in recent years. Before 2003, for instance, Vermont was the only state where a person could legally carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Since then, 11 other states have passed laws eliminating permit requirements for concealed carry. Many other states have passed laws making it easier to obtain concealed-carry permits.
A separate study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health, using more recent data, bolsters that finding. It specifically examined the difference between two types of concealed-carry laws — more permissive “shall-issue” laws, which require authorities to give permits to any individual meeting certain minimum requirements, such as age and residency; and more restrictive “may-issue” laws, which give authorities the discretion to decide whether to issue permits.
Examining crime data from 1991 to 2015, the study, conducted by a team of researchers from Boston University, Children’s Hospital Boston, and Duke University, found that “shall-issue concealed carry permitting laws were significantly associated with 6.5% higher total homicide rates, 8.6% higher firearm-related homicide rates, and 10.6% higher handgun-specific homicide rates compared with may-issue states.”
The study also offered an explanation for why earlier studies, using data primarily from the 1990s and earlier, showed different results. Demand for handgun permits was relatively modest in earlier decades. But during the concealed-carry boom of the 2000s, demand for handguns soared. Gun manufacturers' output increased dramatically.
“There has been a large increase, especially since 2005, in the share of firearms produced that are of higher caliber and therefore greater lethality,” according to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine this year. “In addition, the growing production of 0.380 pistols, which are generally compact, suggests a shift toward more-concealable weapons as well. Thus, firearm production has moved toward products designed to be more powerful and more concealable.”
In other words, the shift toward more lethal, more easily concealed firearms in recent years may be altering the relationship between concealed-carry laws and rates of crime even as states move to make concealed carry easier and more widespread.
Regardless, the 3 million individuals who carry loaded guns with them every day are a testament to recent efforts to make concealed carry easier and more widespread. The public health implications of that shift are only just now beginning to be understood.