Some of the153 guns seized in Brooklyn between May and...

Some of the153 guns seized in Brooklyn between May and December 2014 are put on display as the NYPD announce results of a firearms trafficking investigation on Tuesday, Dec 23, 2014 Credit: Uli Seit

Americans are increasingly convinced that owning a gun makes them safer.

A new Rasmussen poll found that an overwhelming majority of Americans (68 percent) "feel safer in a neighborhood where guns are allowed." And a series of polls by Gallup, the Pew Research Center, and ABC News and The Washington Post show similar results.

But it isn't just what people say. They are clearly putting more stock in self-defense. Since 2007, the number of concealed-handgun permits has soared from 4.6 million to 12.8 million. A new study by the Crime Prevention Research Center finds that a record 1.7 million permits were issued in the past year, a 15.4 percent increase.

Nationwide, 5.2 percent of adults have a permit.

But in five states, more than 10 percent of adults have concealed-carry permits. In some counties around the United States, more than 1 in 5 adults are licensed to carry. In much of the country, someone among theatergoers or restaurant customers is likely to be legally carrying a permitted, concealed handgun.

But even these numbers don't do justice to the change that has taken place.

Recently, Maine became the 10th state to allow concealed carrying without a permit. Kansas and Mississippi also made the change on July 1. In these states, we no longer know how many people are legally carrying guns, and thus the 12.8 million figure is clearly an estimate.

Women increasingly carry guns and hold more than a quarter of concealed-handgun permits. Since 2007, the number of permits among men has grown by 156 percent, and among women by 270 percent.

There is also evidence that minorities are catching on to the benefits of concealed carry. Blacks now make up 7 to 8 percent of permit holders, but their rate of increase is double that of whites.

Poverty presents an obstacle, as permits can be very expensive. In Illinois, for instance, the cost of getting a permit, including fees and mandated training costs, is about $450. In neighboring Indiana, it is just $45.

With Democrats typically pushing for higher costs to reduce the number of people with permits, the biggest impact is to disarm the people who are the most likely victims of violent crime, the ones who need the permits the most: poor minorities who live in urban high-crime areas.

Changing attitudes explain the changing composition of permit holders. Since 2012, when the Pew Research Center started asking people if they think guns make them safer, there has been a 25 percent surge in the proportion of blacks who think so.

The data have consistently shown that states with the biggest increases in permits also experienced the biggest reductions in homicide rates. Dozens of academic papers have documented that allowing concealed carrying leads to a reduction in violent crime, and the Crime Prevention Research Center report shows this pattern has continued over the last few years.

Permit holders are extremely law-abiding -- even more law-abiding than the police, who are rarely convicted of crimes. The latest data from Texas and Florida continue to show that permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at less than a sixth the rate that police officers are.

Recently, former CNN anchor Lynne Russell and her husband used their permitted concealed handgun to save their lives. Only after the robber started shooting did Russell's wounded husband pull out his gun and return fire.

With more than 12.8 million people legally able to carry handguns, the couple's experience is hardly unique. As dramatic as their story was, it was unusual mainly in that it received national publicity because Russell is well known. Americans with concealed handguns save lives every day.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime." He wrote this for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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