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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

Washington, Harvard, Northeastern, and Colorado Researchers Find 3 Million Americans Carry Loaded Handguns Daily

An estimated 3 million adult American handgun owners carry a firearm loaded and on their person on a daily basis, and 9 million do so on a monthly basis, new research indicates. The vast majority cited protection as their primary reason for carrying a firearm.

Researchers from the University of Washington School of Public Health, the University of Colorado, the Harvard School of Public Health and Northeastern University produced the study, published October 19 in the American Journal of Public Health. It is the first study in more than 20 years to scrutinize why, how often and in what manner U.S. adults carry loaded handguns. It also examines how concealed handgun-carrying behavior differs across states, depending on their laws.

“Carrying firearms in public places can have significant implications for public health and public safety,” said lead author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health. “An important first step to examining the consequences of firearm carrying at the national level is an accurate measurement of the occurrence of this behavior and characterization of those who engage in it.”

Compared with handgun owners who did not carry, those who did report carrying handguns tended to be younger, and more often male, live in the southern United States, have grown up in firearm-owning households, self-identify as politically conservative, and own more than one type of firearm.

Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar and doctoral student Ms. Vivian Lyons collaborated with Dr. Matthew Miller of Northeastern, Dr. Deborah Azrael of Harvard, and Dr. Joseph Simonetti of Colorado. They reviewed the handgun-carrying behavior of 1,444 gun owners, using data from a 2015 nationally representative survey designed by Dr. Miller and Dr. Azrael.

Among the findings: 80 percent of surveyed handgun owners who carried their handgun had a concealed-carry permit, and 66 percent said they always carried their handguns concealed, compared with 10 percent who said they always carry their weapons openly.

When comparing handgun-carrying behavior with corresponding states’ laws, researchers found that proportionally fewer handgun owners carried a concealed handgun if they lived in a state whose laws afforded greater discretion to issuing agencies in the review of concealed-carry applications. Some owners nevertheless reported carrying a concealed handgun without a permit in states in which doing so was illegal.

Dr. Rowhani-Rahbar said more research is needed to comprehensively evaluate the impact of increasingly permissive firearm-carry laws. Future studies should focus on analyzing how different concealed-carry laws influence carrying, and characterizing illegal carrying behavior among those who have been denied permits.

The study was funded by the Fund for a Safer Future and the Joyce Foundation.

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