SEATTLE — It can be dangerous business walking out your front door in many areas of the United States today, according to researchers from the University of Washington. Their study finds that the number of U.S. adults carrying a loaded handgun on their person doubled between 2015 and 2019.
Researchers used a dataset encompassing close to 2,400 handgun owners provided by the 2019 National Firearms Survey (NFS), an online survey of U.S. adults living in households with firearms. In comparison to estimates from prior UW-led research, this latest work indicates that by 2019 roughly 16 million adult handgun owners had carried a loaded handgun on their person over the prior month — a significant increase over the nine million who had done so in 2015. Similarly, six million carried their handgun every day in 2019, which is twice as many compared to 2015.
It’s also important to note that more handgun owners living in states with lenient carrying regulations carried their guns around with them. For instance, in these states, roughly one-third of handgun owners reported carrying in the past month. On the other hand, in states with more restrictive regulations, only a fifth said the same.
“Between increases in the number of people who own handguns and the number of people who carry every day, there has been a striking increase in handgun carrying in the U.S.,” says lead study author Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, a professor of epidemiology and Bartley Dobb Professor for the Study and Prevention of Violence at UW, in a university release.
Study authors also report:
- Roughly seven in 10 handgun owners report carrying a loaded handgun as protection against another person. Notably, that figure far exceeds the number who reported carrying a gun as protection against an animal, for example, or for work.
- Four in five handgun owners who reported carrying were men, three in four were white, and most were between the ages of 18 and 44.
Study authors admit this project was limited in some aspects. For example, the team asked participants if they carried and how often — but not where. It’s possible that someone living in a state with one set of permitting restrictions (or none) could have carried their handgun into another state with different laws. Researchers also did not ask if gun owners concealed their firearms or not.
Despite this data dating back to 2019, the research team is confident their findings are relevant today — especially following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in June that struck down a New York state handgun-carrying law.
Generally speaking, U.S. states have become much less restrictive in recent years when it comes to carrying a handgun. As of today, over 20 states do not require permits to carry. That’s a drastic difference considering only one state allowed the same as recently as 1990.
“The Supreme Court ruling has already resulted in some states’ loosening of laws related to handgun carrying,” Prof. Rowhani-Rahbar concludes. “In light of that ruling, our study reinforces the importance of studying the implications of handgun carrying for public health and public safety.”
The study is published in the American Journal of Public Health.