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Americans support regulation of civilians carrying firearms in public

A new national public opinion study led by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found broad public support for policies that regulate civilian gun carrying—including carrying firearms in public–in the U.S.

The study is based on two surveys, one fielded in 2019 ahead of the pandemic and the second well into the pandemic in 2021.

The 2021 survey found significant declines in support for allowing civilians to carry guns on school grounds in the U.S. Public support for carrying concealed firearms on K-12 school grounds decreased by approximately eight percentage points, from about one-third (31 percent) in 2019 to less than a quarter (23 percent) in 2021.

Public support also decreased approximately nine percentage points, from 36 percent in 2019 to 27 percent in 2021, for allowing civilians to carry concealed firearms on college and university campuses.

Over the last four decades, there have been substantial changes to the ways states regulate civilian gun carrying. These changes have resulted in many states lowering or eliminating standards for carrying concealed weapons and research has found such deregulation tends to increase rates of violent crime.

Among gun owners, support for allowing concealed firearms on K-12 school grounds decreased 10 percentage points in 2021 to 37 percent from 47 percent in 2019.

Support among gun owners for allowing concealed carry on university campuses also fell, dropping 10 percentage points, from 55 percent in 2019 to 45 percent in 2021.

Public support for requiring individuals to pass a test demonstrating safe and lawful use of firearms before obtaining a concealed carry permit remains high.

However, support fell seven percentage points in 2021, dropping to 74 percent from 81 percent in 2019. Among gun owners, more than two-thirds support the policy. The researchers note the overall decline was driven by lower support among non-gun owners in 2021.

“Overall, the study found broad public support to ensure standards are in place for regulating both the process for civilian concealed carry and where it can take place,” says lead author Cassandra Crifasi, PhD, MPH, associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management and deputy director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Bloomberg School. “However, these findings are also in direct contrast to some state-level shifts which are eliminating concealed gun carrying regulations and efforts to expand where civilians can carry firearms,” says Crifasi.

Carrying a concealed firearm in public has the potential to threaten public safety. Concealed carry laws regulate who can carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public spaces. Over the last four decades, states across the country have relaxed their laws making concealed and open carry laws much more permissive.

Currently, twenty-five states do not require civilians to have a permit to carry a concealed firearm, up from only three states in 2010.

Another seventeen states require local law enforcement to issue a permit to civilians to carry a firearm if they meet a set of criteria on criminal history or training requirements.

The remaining eight states leave permitting discretion up to local authorities as to whom is eligible to receive a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

In June 2022, the Supreme Court struck down an important part of New York’s concealed carry laws. Permits will still be required, but applicants will no longer need to demonstrate a particular need to carry a firearm for self-defense to get a permit.

Laws in other states, such as California, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, could be subject to change based on this decision, ultimately weakening their permitting laws.

The study, published online April 20 in Preventive Medicine, analyzed 4,458 survey responses (2,778 in 2021 and 1,680 in 2019) from the Johns Hopkins National Survey of Gun Policy, a survey fielded every two years since 2013.

The researchers used the NORC AmeriSpeak nationally representative sample of U.S. adults to field the 2019 and 2021 surveys.

For the first time, the 2021 survey examined support for carrying guns at demonstrations or rallies and government buildings.

Overall, the majority of U.S. adults (54 percent) support prohibiting open carry at demonstrations and rallies, and more than two-thirds of U.S. adults (69 percent) support policies that prohibit the carry of guns into government buildings.

The 2021 survey found significant differences in support among gun owners and non-gun owners for policies regulating open carry at demonstrations.

Among gun owners, roughly two out of five, (39 percent) support prohibiting the open carry of firearms at a public demonstration or rally. The majority of gun owners (57 percent) also support prohibiting the open carry of firearms into government buildings.

Among non-gun owners, 61 percent support regulating open carry at demonstrations, and 76 percent support prohibiting open carry of firearms into government buildings.

“The shifts in how we think about where guns are carried in public are largely due to gun owners,” says Crifasi. “The trends may suggest a shift in the way they think about guns in potentially sensitive spaces.”

Public Opinion on Laws Regulating Public Gun Carrying” was written by Cassandra Crifasi, Julie Ward, Beth McGinty, Colleen Barry, and Daniel Webster.

Support for the data collection in this study came from the Smart Family Foundation and the Bloomberg American Health Initiative.

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