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Your Turn, NH: Gun control gets little traction in NH for good reason

April 28. 2013 3:18PM

"The more a person dislikes the strange and thinks his own ways superior, the more he regards it as his mission to civilize others."

- Friedrich A. Hayek

"NH State House Unmoved by Newtown Shootings" was the headline of a story about a recent gathering of "area gun violence experts," hosted by the Portsmouth Democratic Party (of course) and including a representative of States United to Prevent Gun Violence, at the Portsmouth Public Library.

A more accurate headline would have read, "Portsmouth Gun Control Panel Unmoved by Reality."

According to the story, the "gun lobby" is so strong in New Hampshire that it will be next to impossible for anti-gun politicians to pass "universal background checks," allegedly making massacres like the Newtown tragedy more likely in this state.

Never mind that universal background checks would have done nothing to stop Adam Lanza, who stole the guns he used to kill 26 people at a Connecticut elementary school last December.

What happened in Newtown was horrible, everyone can agree on that. But an honest look around the United States shows that it's not states like ours, where law-abiding citizens have easy access to firearms, but those places where greater restrictions on guns have been the law for decades that are home to the worst levels of crime and violence.

In New Hampshire, approximately one in every three households contains at least one firearm, and typically two or more. Openly carrying a handgun is perfectly legal, and a license to carry concealed is easily obtained. Yet our homicide rate is just 1.1 per 100,000 residents, and our overall violent crime rate is 169.5 per 100,000. That's lower than in England, where there are 1.4 homicides and approximately 800 (!) violent crimes per 100,000 people - and a complete handgun ban passed in 1997 failed to stop a madman from killing 12 people in 2010 with a handgun.

New Hampshire is not unique in having high gun-ownership and low crime. Forty-two percent of Vermonters own guns, and their homicide rate is just 1.3 per 100,000. Vermont law respects the right not just of residents but of any U.S. citizen to carry a firearm openly or concealed in the state - no license required. Forty percent of Mainers own guns, but their homicide rate is lower than Scotland's.

This trend is consistent nationwide. The states where legal gun ownership is high (Wyoming is highest, at 60 percent) have crime and violence levels comparable to those found in the western European countries that serve as "models" of gun control for groups like the Portsmouth Democratic Committee. John Lott's extensive research found, among other things, that in county-by-county comparisons in the U.S. the highest rates of violent crime are actually found where gun laws are the most restrictive.

The most startling example of this is Chicago, which had more than 500 homicides in 2012. Nearby Aurora, the state's second-largest city, had zero. Unlike Chicagoans, Aurora's citizens are not subject to a ban on handguns.

Washington, D.C., competes for the nation's highest rate of homicides (17 per 100,000) and its most draconian gun laws. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in gun-friendly Fairfax County, Va., the homicide rate is less than 1 per 100,000 people. Supposedly criminals purchase their guns in these more permissive states and localities, but this myth fails to explain why crime rates are lower where the guns are legal.

New Hampshire's libertarian tradition is captured by its motto of "Live Free or Die." Political pundits can refer to ours as a blue state, but it's really a purple state - a mixture of fiscal responsibility and social tolerance. That's why so many people here oppose income and sales taxes, but support marijuana reform, gay marriage and the right to own guns. While bigots can and do find seats in our large representative assembly, they are easily marginalized by the overwhelming numbers from both sides of the aisle who want people's rights and dignity to be respected.

"New Hampshire has very weak (gun) laws," complained Cathie Whittenburg, regional coordinator for States United to Prevent Gun Violence.

Put another way, freedom is strong in this state. We ought to keep it that way.

Scott McPherson of Portsmouth is a policy advisor to the Future of Freedom Foundation, a libertarian educational foundation in Fairfax, Va.

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