The number of Americans carrying loaded handguns doubled between 2015 and 2019, according to a nationwide study that surveyed adults living in homes with guns across the United States.
“Between the increase in the number of people who own handguns and the number of people who carry them every day, there has been a striking increase in the carrying of handguns in the United States,” said University of Washington epidemiologist Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, who led the study.
The United States has the most civilian-owned firearms of any country in the world. A multitude of epidemiological studies of gun violence in the United States have shown how guns cause immeasurable harm.
But only a handful of peer-reviewed national surveys of the carrying behaviors of gun owners have been conducted in the past 30 years, making this new data an important resource for monitoring gun ownership. changes in the country’s attitude towards firearms.
To understand how often gun owners carry a handgun and why, and the differences between states with more or less restrictive gun carrying laws, researchers surveyed nearly 2,400 American adults. living in households with guns.
Based on the study’s findings, the team estimates that 6 million handgun owners carried a handgun on their person every day in 2019, twice as many as the 3 million who carried one daily in 2015. , when the last national firearms survey was completed.
This was before the pandemic, when gun violence rose in the United States as psychological, economic and social stressors intensified, further straining an already overstretched healthcare system.
“We found that approximately 3 in 10 handgun owners had a loaded handgun on them in the past 30 days; of these, about 4 in 10 did so daily,” Rowhani-Rahbar and colleagues write in their paper, published in the American Journal of Public Health.
From representative national sample of Of 2,389 handgun owners, the majority who said they carried a firearm were white, male, and between the ages of 18 and 44.
Personal protection is now the top reason about three-quarters of gun owners said they carried a loaded handgun, the study found, up from 46% who cited it as the main reason in 1994.
While safety is a growing incentive, owning more guns does not actually make individuals safer, research shows. Previous studies conclude that the introduction of stricter gun control laws has saved lives in countries around the world. Despite this, the growing prevalence of handguns in the United States coincides with a marked relaxation of the law.
“These trends have been accompanied by a relaxation of state laws governing who can carry handguns in public places,” the researchers write. Whereas in 1990 only one state in the United States allowed people to carry a loaded handgun on their person without a permit, now 21 states do so.
At the same time, the proportion of gun owners in the United States who receive formal firearms training – most often in safe handling, safe storage, and accident prevention, but little about suicide prevention – has not changed significantly over the past two decades.
The latest study suggests that gun-carrying behavior might at least be somewhat sensitive to the types of laws governing the carrying of guns in public places.
Proportionally fewer gun owners carried handguns in states where issuing authorities had significant discretion to grant licenses: one-fifth of owners did so in those states in the previous month, against one-third of handgun owners residing in states where no license is required to carry. a loaded firearm.
However, the study also found a substantial increase between 2015 and 2019 in the number of handgun owners who carried handguns without a license despite being legally required to have one – a figure now hovering between 7.5 and 11.5% of handgun owners surveyed.
A number of respondents also admitted that they were unsure whether they were licensed or not. Some refused to answer questions about permits, the days they carried guns or the types of weapons they owned.
The findings come after a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down a 109-year-old law on carrying handguns in New York state, which has already seen state laws fall apart. ease in other parts of the country.
“In light of this decision, our study reinforces the importance of investigating the implications of carrying handguns for public health and public safety,” Rowhani-Rahbar said.
Gun violence and gun-related deaths are largely preventable, making it a public health issue that particularly robs young people of their right to health, life and security.
In 2020, gun-related injuries became the leading cause of death in the United States for adolescents and infants aged 1 to 19, surpassing motor vehicle accidents, cancerous tumors, overdoses and poisonings .
While mass shootings continue to haunt the United States, most gun-related deaths are caused by suicides, homicides, or unintentional fatal injuries.
About half of Americans want the gun laws in their country to be tougher. Previous global analyzes show, however, that nothing less than a major overhaul of legislation is needed to see meaningful change.
The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health.