You wouldn’t know it from the reaction of political leaders in states affected by the decision, but the Supreme Court’s holding in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen is very popular among the American public. That’s because a decades-long cultural shift towards concealed carry had already succeeded well before the justices ever took up the case.
A Marquette University law school poll released this week found 64 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of the Supreme Court’s holding that the “Second Amendment protects the right to possess a gun outside the home.” By contrast, 35 percent say they oppose the decision, with only 16 percent saying they’re strongly opposed.
That such a substantial majority gave a warm reception to the concept of public concealed carry rights should not come as a shock. For nearly all of the country, the Court did little more than affirm the status quo.
When the decision was handed down, three-quarters of the population lived in a state where law-abiding adults faced only limited barriers to carrying a concealed firearm for self-defense. They could do so in 25 of those states without even needing to obtain a government-issued permit.
A tandem of shifting cultural practices and state legislation made that possible. Beginning in 1987 with Florida’s adoption of “shall-issue” concealed carry permitting, where state officials can’t subjectively deny permit applications, a revolution in liberalized gun carry laws began to sweep the country.
At the same time, the cultural practices surrounding gun ownership began to shift. Older gun owners primarily concerned with using long guns for hunting and other sporting pursuits gave way to a new generation interested in handguns and mainly motivated by personal protection. Scores of publicly available data show that as the culture shifted, gun owners began to take advantage of the permissive changes to state carry laws.
A new peer-reviewed study released last month in the American Journal of Public Health found that the number of Americans who report carrying a firearm every day doubled from the mid-to-late 2010s.
“In 2019, about 16 million or roughly 3 in 10 (30.3 %) of U.S. handgun owners carried handguns in the past month (up from 9 million or 23.5% in 2015), and approximately 6 million did so daily (twice the 3 million who did so in 2015),” the study’s authors wrote.
Similarly, Georgetown University Professor William English’s 2021 National Firearms Survey found that 56.2 percent of gun owners, around 45.8 million adults, say there are certain circumstances in which they carry a handgun for self-defense. The survey found that approximately 20.7 million individuals report carrying a gun in public with some level of regularity.
These data points are just a few examples of how ubiquitous public gun carry had become for vast swaths of the country before the Supreme Court ever agreed to hear a case on the matter. Just eight states, representing about a quarter of the country’s population, made carrying firearms for self-defense a foreign concept reserved for the wealthy and politically connected by allowing officials to deny permit applications subjectively using “may-issue” laws.
Shortly after the Supreme Court struck down those subjective “may-issue” standards in June, Marquette found that only 56 percent agreed with the ruling. The eight-point boost in favorability between now and then could be the result of people in those states recognizing that living under a shall-issue carry regime is not an apocalyptic scenario but, rather, business as usual as it had been in most of the country that had made the shift years earlier. In time, as states that had “may-issue” standards are forced to comply with the Court’s summer ruling, and average residents of those states begin receiving permits for the first time, the ruling’s popularity may increase further.
The evolution of public opinion over the Supreme Court’s handling of carry rights mirrors the public’s response to Heller. A Gallup poll conducted just after that landmark decision also found that it was overwhelmingly popular with the American people.
“The Supreme Court’s ruling on Thursday that a District of Columbia ban on handgun ownership is unconstitutional appears to be solidly in step with public opinion,” Gallup wrote at the time. “A clear majority of the U.S. public — 73% — believes the Second Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the rights of Americans to own guns.”
By contrast, only 20 percent of respondents to that poll agreed with the so-called collective rights interpretation of the Second Amendment the Court explicitly rejected in Heller. It also found that “almost 7 out of 10 Americans are opposed to a law that would make the possession of a handgun illegal, except by the police.”
In the aftermath of that ruling, handgun bans have only grown less popular among the American public. Handguns have now become the country’s most commonly owned type of firearm, owned by nearly three out of every four gun owners.
In both instances, the Supreme Court’s decision was a lagging indicator of a broader cultural shift that had already taken place and been ratified in the court of public opinion. The American people, through their state representatives and their decisions to make handgun ownership and concealed carry widespread, already demonstrated their agreement with the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. The new polling data is just further confirmation of that fact.