To estimate US public opinion, overall and by gun ownership status, about the public places where legal gun owners should be allowed to carry firearms.
We fielded an online survey among 3949 adults, including an oversample of gun owners and veterans, in April 2015. We used cross-tabulations with survey weights to generate nationally representative estimates.
Fewer than 1 in 3 US adults supported gun carrying in any of the specified venues. Support for carrying in public was consistently higher among gun owners than among non–gun owners. Overall, support for carrying in public was lowest for schools (19%; 95% confidence interval [CI] = 16.7, 21.1), bars (18%; 95% CI = 15.9, 20.6), and sports stadiums (17%; 95% CI = 15.0, 19.5).
Most Americans, including most gun owners, support restricting public places legal gun owners can carry firearms. These views contrast sharply with the current trend in state legislatures of expanding where, how, and by whom guns can be carried in public. Recent state laws and proposed federal legislation that would force states to honor out-of-state concealed carry permits are out of step with American public opinion.
Recent high-profile mass shootings in schools, movie theaters, nightclubs, government buildings, and on college campuses as well as high rates of urban gun violence1–3 have focused national attention on the threat of gun violence in public places and the need to address the high toll4,5 of gun violence in the United States. In addition, urban gun violence, distressingly common in many US cities, is frequently covered in the news media. In the United States, guns are a perennial leading cause of death and injury. In 2015 there were 36 252 gun-related deaths,4 and homicides and suicides involving guns were among the leading causes of death in most age groups.6 Though efforts to strengthen federal gun laws have, recently, failed in Congress, some states have succeeded in passing new laws that strengthen background checks and limit the sale of firearms to prohibited persons.7 However, in a concurrent trend, many states have also expanded laws allowing members of the public to carry guns in public places.7 As a result, in most states, people may legally carry guns in public places openly or, with a permit, concealed on their person.
Federal law does not regulate gun carrying, but does prohibit bringing guns (carried or otherwise) on some federal property (e.g., courts, post offices, correctional facilities).7 In addition, most states place some restrictions on where (i.e., what locations) and how (loaded or unloaded) guns may be carried.7,8 However, several states have recently expanded the public places in which it is legal to carry a gun, including bars and college campuses.9 State laws regarding carrying guns in public have shifted in 2 main ways: (1) states have moved toward “shall issue” permitting laws, which mandate that a person who meets minimum criteria must be issued a concealed carry permit, and away from “may issue” standards, which allow local law enforcement to exercise discretion over who is granted a permit, and (2) states have expanded the types of public places where carrying guns (either concealed or openly) is permitted (or not explicitly prohibited). A handful of states (including Kansas, Maine, Alaska, Arizona, Vermont, and Wyoming) have passed (and others have introduced) so-called “constitutional carry” laws, which allow firearms to be carried without any permit or training required.10 Only 3 states (California, Florida, and Illinois) and the District of Columbia prohibit openly carrying firearms in all public places.7
One rationale for such laws is that more people carrying guns in public spaces will increase public safety and deter crime, though evidence to support this claim is weak.11–16 Surveys from the 1990s suggest that the general public has not historically viewed gun carrying in public as making them safer17–19; did not think regular citizens should be able to bring guns into restaurants, colleges, sports stadiums, bars, hospitals, and government buildings17; and have favored placing restrictions on gun carrying and gun ownership.20 More recent survey data, however, suggest that approximately half of Americans (56% or 49% depending on the survey) view concealed carrying of firearms as making the United States safer (assuming those carrying have passed a criminal background check and taken a training course).10 A majority of college students, on the other hand, do not view guns on campus as a benefit to their safety.21–23
Despite significant changes in gun-carrying policy, little is known about contemporary public views about the specific places where, if gun carrying is allowed, it should be permissible. State laws often specify the public places where guns are (or are not) allowed to be carried, yet contemporary public opinion about carrying guns in specific locations is unknown. Furthermore, recent mass shootings in public places may have shifted the public’s perceptions of risk in some types of places over others, which may, in turn, influence opinion about the risks or benefits of having more people legally carrying guns in those places. The current survey fills this research gap by assessing public opinion in 2015 about where carrying firearms should be permitted. To do so, we fielded an online survey among a nationally representative sample of US adults to examine views about specific public places where guns should be allowed to be legally carried.