Granite State Guns

With the national gun control debate heating up, New Hampshire offers compelling local arguments on both sides
Politics May 23 Final 1 Enhanced

Illustration by Peter Noonan

The most controversial cultural issue in New Hampshire isn’t abortion. (Sixty percent of residents opposed Roe v. Wade being overturned.) It isn’t same sex marriage. (Seventy-six percent back it.) It isn’t even whether marijuana should be legal. (Seventy-four percent think it should.)

It’s guns. 

Indeed, it’s important to zoom in on the gun debate locally: Here in the Granite State it’s played out so uniquely New Hampshire, grounded in the “Live Free or Die” mindset and the push-and-pull between the state’s competing rural and suburban lifestyles. New Hampshire has also never had a headline-grabbing mass shooting — a tragedy that forces a community to really grapple with the issue.

Generally, New Hampshire holds varying firearm opinions throughout time. In 1994, conventional wisdom told us that Democratic Rep. Dick Swett lost reelection because he supported a federal assault weapon ban. Today, the woman holding the same seat, fellow Democrat Annie Kuster, voted for essentially the same assault weapons ban last year and coasted to reelection four months later. 

Today, 55% of New Hampshire residents say they want stricter gun laws in the state, according to a University of New Hampshire poll. Eight years earlier, only 45%. It’s likely that news coverage around our country’s frequent mass shootings influenced some minds. But complications of the gun debate become clearer when asking people how big of a problem it is here. 

Consider a chart recently released by Everytown, a leading pro-gun-control organization, that indicates a pretty clear correlation: States that have the strictest gun laws also have a lower level of gun violence per capita (though, in fairness, anti-gun-control groups insist those findings are based on misleading data sets). And then there’s the curious case of New Hampshire: The Granite State is quite lax on gun laws, with levels of gun violence remaining low.

To those who support fewer gun laws, New Hampshire offers a good argument — but it’s an argument that works best here. Meanwhile, those in the state who want more gun laws don’t have much of a local argument nor a motivated public behind them. Instead, many just say they don’t understand why someone would own a gun in the first place — which is beside the point for whether government should regulate guns more heavily. Instead of resulting in a stalemate, with political leaders throwing up their hands on the issue, the local data actually indicates something bipartisan that could be addressed on the topic. 

In New Hampshire, 89% of gun deaths are suicide — wildly out of line with the national average of 59%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means New Hampshire can table the discussion on whether the only way to stop a bad person with a gun is to have a good person with a gun. New Hampshire’s problem with guns, 90% of the time, concerns an individual in crisis with access to a firearm. 

This fact might change how gun-control-minded New Hampshire citizens and politicians address the topic, shifting away from challenging the Second Amendment to implementing policies like Red Flag laws — that temporarily remove guns from a person at risk of harming themselves or others — and considering whether an expanded waiting period to purchase a gun makes sense. 

Categories: Politics