US: The number of US adults carrying a loaded handgun every day doubled to an estimated 6 million in just 4 years

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A convention attendee looks at a handgun at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2018. Getty Images/Ethan Miller © Provided by Business Insider A convention attendee looks at a handgun at the National Shooting Sports Foundation's Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2018. Getty Images/Ethan Miller
  • US adults carrying loaded handguns on a daily basis nearly doubled from 2015 to 2019, a new study found.
  • Most handgun owners said they carried their weapons for protection from other people.
  • Gun purchases and deaths also surged during the pandemic.

US adults carrying a loaded handgun on a daily basis nearly doubled between 2015 and 2019.

Nearly 6 million Americans were toting loaded handguns on a daily basis in 2019, up from about 3 million just four years prior, according to estimates in a new study from researchers at the University of Washington and Harvard's TH Chan School of Public Health.

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"The next step is to ask what is the impact on public health and public safety when guns are easier to carry," Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, a UW epidemiologist who led the new study, told Axios. "In a situation where you have a fight, do they contribute to the escalation and make it more lethal?"

The paper was published November 16 in the American Journal of Public Health, just days before a gunman entered a Colorado Springs nightclub, opened fire, and killed five people before unarmed club patrons subdued him. While the gunman primarily used a long rifle, he was also carrying a handgun.

Handgun carriers say they want protection from other people

A man with a firearm listens to Pastor Ken Pagano during an © Ed Reinke/Reuters A man with a firearm listens to Pastor Ken Pagano during an "Open Carry Celebration" at New Bethel Church in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2009. Ed Reinke/Reuters

Rowhani-Rahbar and his co-authors assessed the results of the National Firearms Survey, which asked more than 2,000 handgun owners about their carrying habits. They applied that nationally representative data to the estimated 53 million US adults who owned handguns in 2019, concluding that about 16 million adults carried a loaded handgun at least once a month, and 6 million did so daily.

About seven in 10 of survey respondents who carried loaded handguns said they did so for protection from other people, rather than for work, recreation, or protection against animals. Four in five handgun owners were male, and three in four were white. The study did not ask respondents whether they concealed their guns or carried them openly.

This data is from three years ago, before the major social upheaval of COVID-19, the protests following George Floyd's death, the 2020 election, and the January 6 insurrection. But other research suggests the pandemic only bolstered the proliferation of guns across the US.

Firearm purchases and deaths surged during the pandemic

An employee at Metro Shooting Supplies speaks to a customer about the purchase of a 9mm handgun in Bridgeton, Missouri, in 2014. Jim Young/Reuters © Jim Young/Reuters An employee at Metro Shooting Supplies speaks to a customer about the purchase of a 9mm handgun in Bridgeton, Missouri, in 2014. Jim Young/Reuters

Americans made a record number of gun purchases during the last two years. They bought about 18.9 million guns in 2021, a record year surpassed only by 2020, according to estimates by The Trace, a publication dedicated to investigating gun violence.

Federal firearm background checks, which are a rough proxy for gun purchases, topped 1 million in a week for the first time ever in 2020. The top nine highest weeks for background checks — seven of them breaching 1 million — occurred in 2020 and 2021.

Firearms deaths also surged during the pandemic, hitting an all-time high in 2021, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

"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 US," Rowhani-Rahbar said in a press release.

The new study found a connection between handgun-carrying habits and states' policies. A larger proportion of handgun owners reported carrying regularly who resided in states with less restrictive regulations. More states may loosen their carrying laws in coming years, due to a Supreme Court decision which struck down a New York law limiting public guns in June.

"In light of that ruling, our study reinforces the importance of studying the implications of handgun carrying for public health and public safety," Rowhani-Rahbar said.

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