Research Reports

U.S. opinion on carrying firearms in public places

U.S. opinion on carrying firearms in public places

Most Americans, including gun owners, support limits on gun possession in public places — particularly those places where alcohol may be served.

The research yielding these conclusions is based on data from the 2015 National Firearms Survey and is published in the American Journal of Public Health. Lead author of the study is Julia A. Wolfson, professor of health management and policy at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed 3 groups of respondents: those who own guns, those who do not own guns but have guns in their households, and those who neither own guns nor live with gun owners.

The survey asked whether guns should be allowed in these public settings: restaurants; schools; college campuses; bars; government buildings; sports stadiums; retail stores; service settings such as hair salons and barbershops; and places of worship. A majority of Americans (84%) oppose allowing guns to be carried in each of these locations. While liberals and non-gun owners were more likely to support limiting the public places legal gun owners can carry their firearms, most conservative gun owners also supported placing some restrictions on public carrying.

Two thirds of Americans do not support firearms being carried on college campuses, or in places of worship, government buildings, schools, bars, or sports stadiums and more than 60 percent of gun owners agree. Only 16 percent of gun owners feel that firearms should be permitted in all public places compared with 53 percent of those who neither own guns nor live with gun owners. Across all 3 groups of respondents there was strong support for prohibiting guns in bars and sports stadiums, likely because respondents felt that the presence of alcohol could increase the risk of unintentional shootings or confrontations that may end in firearm injury or death.

Policy implications

Every state and the District of Columbia allow the public carrying of concealed weapons in some form, despite research which finds that permissive concealed carry laws increase violent crime. While this survey and others demonstrate that the public does not support guns in public places, states across the country have dramatically weakened laws that regulate public carrying in places such as college campuses, and that require permits for those who want to carry concealed firearms.

For decades, most states either prohibited or severely limited concealed carrying through permitting systems that granted law enforcement the discretion to issue permits to persons who could demonstrate a legitimate need to carry a hidden gun in public. Now, many states have relaxed requirements for carrying concealed weapons. Today, twelve states do not require a permit to carry concealed. At the federal level, legislation has been introduced that would mandate that each state recognize concealed carry permits from every other state, allowing people with a concealed carry permit from one state to carry guns in any state even if they don’t meet the requirements. This legislation would endanger public safety and is opposed by major law enforcement groups.

For more coverage of this study, see:

Wolfson, JA, Teret, SP, Azrael, D, Miller, M. U.S. public opinion on carrying firearms in public places. Am J Public Health. 2017 Jun;107(6):929-937. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2017.303712. Epub 2017 Apr 20.

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