Public Opinion on Firearms In Public

Some state legislatures are working to loosen regulations around carrying firearms in public. The majority of Americans actually support limiting where and how guns should be carried.

Map of the United States showing incidents of gun violence in 2017

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As of October 2, there have been 46,695 incidents of gun violence in the United States this year. Over a quarter of those incidents have resulted in death, including an additional 59 more deaths and hundreds more injuries as of October 1, 2017, when a shooter in Las Vegas targeted civilians at a music festival.

According to the 2015 Small Arms Survey, the U.S. leads the world in gun ownership, with 88.8 guns per 100 people. Yemen, which has been in the midst of civil war since March 2015, holds the next highest rate of ownership at 54.8 guns per 100 people.

Despite the havoc guns wreak on individuals, families, communities, and our national sense of peace, the federal government and some state legislatures are working to loosen regulations around carrying firearms in public. Kansas, Maine, Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming have implemented “constitutional carry laws,” which allow the carrying of firearms regardless of whether or not the carrier has a permit or received training. Some states are also moving away from “may issue” permitting laws, in which law enforcement has discretion over who is given a permit, toward “shall issue” laws. With these more lenient regulations, anyone meeting minimum criteria must be granted a concealed carry permit.

“Only 3 states (California, Florida, and Illinois) and the District of Columbia prohibit openly carrying firearms in all public places,” Dr. Julia A. Wolfson and colleagues wrote in a recent article for the American Journal of Public Health. 

The researchers used an online survey to estimate how citizens feel about these increasingly lax measures related to carrying firearms in public places. Their results showed that the majority of Americans actually support limiting where and how guns should be carried.

Graph from AJPHA showing public opinion on locations for firearms in public

Photo via Julia A. Wolfson, Stephen P. Teret, Deborah Azrael, Matthew Miller, US Public Opinion on Carrying Firearms in Public Places. American Journal of Public Health (AJPH). 

Of the 3,949 adults surveyed, “support for carrying in public was consistently higher among gun owners than among non-gun owners.” Even conservative gun owners—about 78% of them—supported some restrictions.

Overall, support for carrying in public was lowest for schools (19%); bars (18%); and sports stadiums (17%). Public perception of the danger of carrying guns in settings where alcohol is consumed (like bars and sports stadiums) reflects the evidence that alcohol consumption is, in fact, a risk factor for gun violence.

Without any real evidence to back up the perception, about half of Americans believe that more people carrying concealed guns in public is a deterrent of crime. But as Wolfson and her colleagues point out, most also assume gun carriers would have passed a background check and received training. As lawmakers, mass shootings, and too many other incidents of gun violence have made heartbreakingly clear, this is not always the case.

In the following video, the panel discussion Gun Violence: Stories Behind the Numbers at the Boston University School of Health brought together filmmaker Carlos Javier Ortiz, Clementina Chéry of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute, Mark Barden of Sandy Hook Promise, Dr. Thea L. James of Boston University Medical Center,  and John Rosenthal of Stop Handgun Violence to discuss how gun violence had personally impacted each of their lives. 

Databyte via Gun Violence Archive