Article published Thursday, April 29, 2004, at Union Leader (New Hampshire).

Change to concealed carry law will make NH safer

By John R. Lott Jr.

DEBATES OVER whether citizens should be allowed to carry concealed handguns always seems to end up with fearful stories about what might happen. We hear horror stories about how permit holders might endanger the lives of others and of shootouts in the streets. But within a year, all the fuss dies away. No state that has adopted a right-to-carry law has rescinded it, and for good reason.

New Hampshire, whose original right-to-carry law was adopted in 1923, is an old hand at dealing with these fears. Yet, in seeking to further liberalize its law, many of the old concerns are being revisited. In February, the state Senate passed a bill, 13-10, to let law-abiding citizens carry concealed handguns without requiring them to get a license or pay fees. The state House votes on the bill today.

While no longer requiring a license, the bill really does not change who can legally carry a concealed handgun. Federal law still forbids felons, anyone charged with domestic violence, someone who has been dishonorably discharged from the service or anyone who’s been involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital from even owning or possessing a gun.

The only important change will be how quickly law-abiding citizens can obtain a gun for self defense. Right now it takes up to 14 days to get a permit. People who are threatened and who wouldn’t otherwise have carried because they didn’t want to break the law by carrying without a permit will be able to carry a gun without having to wait.

New Hampshire’s citizens do not have to look very far to see what happens if you liberalize the requirements. Since 1903 Vermont has had the same rules being proposed for New Hampshire.

While some have painted Vermont as a dangerous place, violent crime is as low or lower than in New Hampshire. Over the last ten years, both states have averaged two murders per 100,000 people. Yet, Vermont’s robbery rate was half of New Hampshire’s. Vermont’s rape rate is also lower. Indeed, whether one looks at the last 10, 20, 30 or 40 years, the pattern has been quite similar. Calls to police chiefs in Vermont from Burlington to Middlebury to Waterbury also indicate no problems with their rules.

Vermont is not the only example. Alaska and virtually all of Montana have rules similar to Vermont’s. After originally passing a right-to-carry law in 1994, Alaska eliminated permit requirements last July. As Fairbanks Police Director Paul Harris put it this week: “I can tell you very simply, it has not created any problems.” Since1991, Montanans have also been quite happy with their rules, seeing violent crime rates fall faster than other Rocky Mountain states.

One particular fear raised during New Hampshire’s legislative hearings is that the law would make police officers’ jobs more dangerous. As Rep. John Tholl said, “Driving up, if I see a gun between the seats, as an officer, all I can do is protect myself, not inquire if this is a qualified person.” This complaint is not new. This argument has constantly been raised whenever right-to-carry laws have been proposed. But instead of worrying about what might happen, note that there exists not one single case where a police officer has been killed by a permit holder at a traffic stop. Virtually none of the right-to-carry states even bothers to computerize permit holders’ names so that police are alerted to the possibility that the driver they pull over has a permit. Nor has any permit holder ever killed a police officer.

Research has shown that letting law-abiding citizens carry concealed handguns makes police safer. Professor David Mustard at the University of Georgia found that right-to-carry laws reduce the rate that officers were killed by about two percent per year for each year the laws were in effect. Several studies find that as law-abiding citizens are allowed to defend themselves, criminals are much less likely to carry guns. Having fewer criminals carrying guns makes the jobs of police less dangerous.

Unfortunately, too much of the debate has been played in the media as a battle between individual rights and public safety. This is not a question of individual rights versus public safety. It is a case where more freedom increases safety.

John Lott Jr, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, is author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2000) and "The Bias Against Guns" (Regnery, 2003).

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