Amid a historic decline in crime, more Americans are buying guns to protect themselves against attacks from other people. That’s according to a Harvard University/Northeastern University study of gun ownership, the first of its kind since 1994.

According to Deborah Azrael, the study’s lead author and director of research at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, gun owners are purchasing weapons out of fear, now more than ever. “In 1994 ... people owned guns primarily for hunting, that was their characterization of reasons for gun ownership,” Azrael said in an interview with Boston Public Radio. “What we find now is that the primary reason for gun ownership is protection against people, protection against ‘bad guys.’”

The researchers surveyed about 4,000 American adults, including over 2,000 gun owners, in the form of an online questionnaire. “We asked them ... whether or not they own guns, how many guns they owned, why they owned them, whether they had ever had guns stolen from them, how they stored them, and the like,” Azrael said.

Since 1994, 70 million guns have been added to the U.S. gun stock, and 70 percent of those are semiautomatic handguns.

“They own them for protection, they think their houses are safer with them,” Azrael said. “We have the evidence of more and more people carrying guns, yet  the actual risk of being a victim of crime has gone down over the past 20 years, the past decade in particular.”

The study found that gun ownership is more concentrated than it was in 1994, in fact ownership fell from 25 percent of Americans in 1994 to 22 percent in 2015. According to the study, gun owners tend to be “white, male, conservative, and live in rural areas.” Of those owners, 3 percent own half of the nation’s guns.

The study saw an increase in women who personally own a gun, up 3 percent from 1994, in a jump from 9 to 12 percent. According to Azrael, it’s a misconception that these weapons provide protection. “Exposure and access to guns is a risk factor. It’s particularly a risk factor for women, when it comes to homicide, but it’s a risk factor for all gun owners and their families and their children,” Azrael said. “We find that about one-third of U.S. children live in a household with a gun, and two-thirds of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides.”

Azrael said this data seems to reflect a national feeling about safety, even in a time with historically low crime rates. “[People said] they own guns for protection against people,” she said. “there’s just kind of this amorphous danger out there that seems to be part of a certain dominant ethos.”

Deborah Azrael is the director of research at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center. To hear her full interview with Boston Public Radio, click on the audio link above.