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

A new Rasmussen poll found that an overwhelming margin of Americans (68 to 22 percent) "feel safer in a neighborhood where guns are allowed." And a series of polls by Gallup, Pew Research Center, and ABC News/Washington Post show similar results.

But it isn't just what people say. They are clearly putting increased 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 have been issued in just the past year. This is a 15.4 percent increase.

While 5.2 percent of adults nationwide have a permit, in Pennsylvania it is almost 11 percent, ranking it fourth in the country. More than 1 million Pennsylvanians have permits.

In five states, more than 10 percent of adults now have concealed-carry permits. In some counties around the United States, including some in Pennsylvania, more than one in five adults is 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 full justice to the change that has taken place.

Recently, Maine became the tenth state to allow concealed carry without a permit in all or almost all the state. Kansas and Mississippi also made the change on July 1. In those 10 states, we no longer know how many people are legally carrying guns and thus the 12.8 million is clearly an underestimate.

Women increasingly carry guns and hold more than a quarter of concealed handgun permits. Since 2007, 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 for whites.

Poverty presents an obstacle, as permits can be very expensive. In Illinois, for instance, the total 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 disarming the people who are the most likely victims of violent crime, the ones who need the permits the most, poor minorities who live in high-crime urban areas.

Changing attitudes also explain the changing composition of permit holders. Since Pew Research Center started asking people in 2012 if they think that guns make them safer, there has been a 25 percent surge in the proportion of blacks who think that way. The increase was 11 percent among women — more than the increase among men.

These new permits seem to have worked well. Between 2007 and 2014, murder rates fell from 5.6 to 4.2 (preliminary estimates) deaths per 100,000. This 25 percent drop coincided with a 156 percent increase in the percentage of adults with permits. A similar drop occurred for violent crime.

The data have consistently shown that states with the biggest increases in permits also experienced the biggest reductions in murder rates. Dozens of academic papers have documented that allowing concealed carry leads to a reduction in violent crime, and the Crime Prevention Research Center report shows that 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.

A couple weeks ago, former CNN anchor Lynne Russell and her husband received national attention for using 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, the only thing unusual was that they received national publicity because Russell is so famous. Americans with concealed handguns save lives every day.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center (http://crimepreventionresearchcenter.org) and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime."  johnrlott@crimeresearch.org