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Take Gun-Control Proposals Elsewhere

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“NH State House Unmoved by Newtown Shootings” is the headline of a Portsmouth Patch story about a recent gathering of “area gun violence prevention experts.” The meeting at the public library in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, was hosted by the Portsmouth Democratic Committee (of course) and included a representative of States United to Prevent Gun Violence.

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 antigun activists and politicians to pass items from their legislative wish-list, including “universal background checks.” This inability allegedly makes massacres like the one last December in Newtown, Connecticut, more likely here in New Hampshire.

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 an elementary school.

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 New Hampshire — where law-abiding citizens have easy access to firearms — that are home to the worst levels of crime and violence. Instead, the worst crime rates are in those places where even greater restrictions on guns than those being proposed have been the law for decades.

In New Hampshire, approximately one in every three households contains at least one firearm — typically it’s two or more firearms. Openly carrying a handgun is perfectly legal, and a license to carry concealed is easily obtained. Yet the homicide rate is just 1.1 per 100,000 residents, and the overall violent crime rate is 169.5 per 100,000. That’s lower than in England, where there are more than 1.3 homicides and approximately 800 violent crimes per 100,000 people. (England’s complete handgun ban, passed in 1997, also failed to stop a madman from killing 12 people with a handgun in 2010).

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 United States, the highest rates of violent crime are actually found where gun laws are the most restrictive.

The most startling example of this is Chicago, Illinois, which had over 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, Virginia — a megalopolis of over 1.1 million people — the homicide rate is less than 1 per 100,000. Supposedly, criminals purchase their guns in these more permissive regions, 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, “Live Free or Die.” Political pundits often refer to it as a blue state, but it’s really a purple state — a mixture of “red-state” fiscal responsibility and “blue-state” 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.

“New Hampshire has very weak [gun] laws,” complained Cathie Whittenburg, regional coordinator for States United to Prevent Gun Violence.

In other words, freedom is strong. The right to keep and bear arms is working just fine.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.