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A whole lot of people in America might be packing pistols. A group of researchers including academics from Harvard and Northeastern universities has estimated that 3 million adult handgun owners carry a loaded gun every day, with the vast majority saying they do it for protection.

Handgun owners who carry tended to be younger, to be more often male, to live in the South, to have grown up in a gun-owning household, to own more than one type of gun, and to identify as politically conservative, according to a study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Carrying firearms in public places can have significant implications for public health and public safety,” said the lead author, Dr. Ali Rowhani-Rahbar, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington School of Public Health.

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“An important first step to examining the consequences of firearm carrying at the national level is an accurate measurement of the occurrence of this behavior and characterization of those who engage in it,” he said in a statement from the school.

In addition to the 3 million who carried a gun every day, another 6 million people carried a gun at least once a month, researchers estimated.

The study was the first in more than 20 years to look at why, how often, and in what way adults carry loaded handguns, the university said.

Researchers reviewed the handgun-carrying behavior of 1,444 gun owners, using data from a 2015 nationally representative survey designed by Mathew Miller of Northeastern and Deborah Azrael of Harvard. The University of Colorado also participated in the research.

The research also found that 9 million people carry a loaded gun on a monthly basis.

“It was important to study handgun carrying because about 90 percent of all firearm homicides and nonfatal firearm crimes for which the type of firearm is known are committed with a handgun,” Rowhani-Rahbar said.

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The researchers also found that proportionally fewer handgun owners carried a concealed gun in states where laws gave greater discretion to permit-issuing authorities, though the researchers also reported that some owners said they illegally carried a concealed gun without a permit.

The researchers said state laws on carrying handguns have been loosened over the past 30 years. Rowhani-Rahbar said more research is needed to evaluate the effect of the loosening.