Two-thirds of Americans believe that guns should be restricted in many public places, according to a study published Thursday.
The study, by a group of leading public health researchers, found that at least 64 percent of those surveyed do not support carrying guns at college campuses, in places of worship, government buildings, schools, bars, or sports stadiums. Even among gun owners, a majority did not approve of guns in bars or in schools. The survey, published in the American Journal of Public Health, comes as a number of states have passed laws to expand where guns can be carried in public.
“That’s an important finding because it goes against the general trend of what lawmakers are doing,” said Julia Wolfson, a professor of public health at the University of Michigan and one of the study’s co-authors.
Already in 2017, Arkansas has passed a bill allowing guns on college campuses, in government buildings, and in bars. Governor Nathan Deal of Georgia is weighing a proposal that would allow concealed weapons at colleges. And state legislators in New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Iowa passed so-called Constitutional carry bills, eliminating the requirement of permits to carry concealed weapons.
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The new findings by researchers at Harvard, Northeastern, and Johns Hopkins universities, along with Michigan, are the latest in a set of studies that are painting the most definitive portrait of American attitudes toward gun policy and ownership in two decades.
The authors asked nearly 4,000 respondents whether they thought people should be allowed to bring firearms into nine public places: restaurants, schools, college campuses, bars, government buildings, sports stadiums, retail stores, service settings like barber shops, and places of worship.
Only 9.4 percent of respondents said they supported allowing guns in all nine public places.
Restaurants, service settings, and retail stores were the only locations in which more than 30 percent of respondents said that people should be allowed to carry firearms.
The survey was conducted online in 2015 on behalf of the scholars by GfK, a market research company, as part of a larger inquiry into the attitudes of Americans toward guns. The survey, which oversampled for veterans and gun owners, asked respondents to specify if they owned a firearm or lived in a household with one.
Support for carrying guns in public was higher among gun owners than those who did not own firearms.
A majority of gun owners surveyed supported carrying guns in restaurants, service settings, and retail establishments. But three out of four gun owners said they did not approve of carrying guns in bars, and two thirds said they did not feel firearms should be allowed in schools.
The survey found that support for guns in public places did not vary by region of the country. Controlled for gun ownership, respondents who live in the South, where many states freely permit carrying guns in public, were no more supportive of the practice than respondents in the Northeast, where gun laws are generally stricter.
Two of the study’s co-authors, Deborah Azrael of Harvard and Matthew Miller of Northeastern, conducted a similar survey on attitudes about guns in public in 1999. Generally, Americans have become more accepting of guns in public places over the last 18 years, they found. While in 1999 just 4 percent of respondents said they supported guns on college campuses, 22.5 percent now approve of campus carry.
But the authors point out that the different language used in the survey could account for that change. The earlier questionnaire asked how respondents would feel about “people in your community” carrying guns in select public places. The new survey asked about attitudes towards “people who are authorized to carry firearms in your community,” which in some states states requires training and approval from law enforcement.
It’s difficult to account for the growing acceptance of guns in public, the authors said.
“It’s the $64,000 question,” said Azrael. “What’s happened in the past 15 years? Many more laws have made it possible to carry guns anywhere. More people own handguns than did in the past. It wouldn’t surprise me if they also wanted to carry them more places.”
In the nearly two decades between the surveys, many states have made laws around carrying guns in public more permissive. In 2000, seven states had an outright ban on carrying concealed weapons in public, and only Vermont allowed its residents to carry a gun without a permit. Now, all 50 states allow some form of concealed carry, and a dozen states have scrapped their permitting requirements for carrying firearms.
And in Congress, lawmakers could soon consider a proposal that would dramatically alter where concealed weapons are allowed across the country. Under legislation filed by Representative Richard Hudson, a North Carolina Republican, states that set high bars for concealed-carry licenses would be compelled to welcome armed visitors from “any state that recognizes its residents’ right to concealed carry.” As written, the bill would allow someone who lives in a state like Kansas, with no permitting requirement, to carry a gun in a state like New York, which has very strict standards.
The proposal is the leading legislative priority of the National Rifle Association, a top donor to President Donald Trump’s campaign.
“The political conversation around guns has been dominated by the gun lobby,” Wolfson said. Despite that fact, Wolfson added that she and her colleagues “were surprised that there was such low support for carrying guns in public places.”