In New Hampshire, lots of firearms are bought but not necessarily used in violent crimes

  • Shooter's Outpost in Hooksett is a lot more than a gun store. The shop also has a 20-student safety classroom, a firearms and war memorabilia museum and even a cafe with its own entrance on the side of the sprawling shop. JON BODELL / Insider staff

Monitor staff
Published: 10/16/2019 5:40:05 PM

Lots of firearms were bought in New Hampshire last year, putting the state in the top 10 in terms of per-capita sales. Yet the state’s use of guns during violent crimes was relatively low and the overall murder rate was the lowest in the country.

These conclusions come from two reports issued this week by firms that sell private security services, both based on federal crime statistics.

They come as the state is seeing surge in homicides this year and the Department of Justice is adding four more prosecutors to handle the growing caseload.

One analysis, done with data from the FBI and other sources by Security.org, found that in 2018, New Hampshire had 100.1 gun sales per 1,000 adults, which was the seventh-highest rate of any state. It was almost twice the rate of the Northeast as a whole. The state’s per-capita sales soared in the decade after 2009, rising 72% over that period, more than any state but Utah.

However, the report said, firearms don’t seem to be showing up in the state’s crime statistics. Guns were involved in 50% of murders in New Hampshire in 2017, the sixth-lowest rate in the country, the report said, and were involved in just 20% of robberies, the third-lowest rate in the country. New Hampshire was about average in the rate that guns were used in aggravated assault.

According to a separate report issued by SafeWise, a home security firm, New Hampshire had the lowest murder rate in the country in 2017: just 1.2 per 100,000 residents.

That figure will be much higher in 2019, however. As of last week the state had seen 28 homicides, compared to 21 the year before. It was the most in three decades and, with three months to go in the year, the state is brushing against the modern-day peak of 34 murders in 1991.

For 2017 and 2018, however, both of our Northern New England neighbors showed similar data patterns.

Maine had a relatively high rate of firearm purchases in 2018 of 93.2 per 1,000 adults, compared to the rate for the 12-state Northeast region of 51.3. But it has quite low rates of gun usages in crimes – well below regional and national averages for murder, robbery and aggravated assault. And it had the second-lowest rate of murders in the country – 1.7 per 100,000 people.

Vermont was also fairly high in firearms purchases at 79.4 per 1,000 adults, but was below average in gun usage for all three types of violent crimes and had the third-lowest rate of murders: 1.8 per 100,000 people.

The correlation could show that legal gun purchases have a deterrent effect on the use of guns in violent crime in some circumstances, which advocates of gun ownership have long argued. But Security.org cautioned against reading too much into the connection.

“It’s notable that some of the states with the highest population-adjusted rates of gun purchases (Montana, South Dakota and others) are among the states where guns are used the least in violent crimes,” Security.org in its report. It offered further explanation of the data: “That’s because guns used in the commission of a crime often are purchased illegally or stolen outright.”

In other words, it’s possible that New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have fewer illegal guns in circulation that can be used in crimes.

Massachusetts had one of the lowest firearm-purchasing rates in the country, just 16.6 per 1,000 adults, and was also among the 10 lowest states in gun usage during robbery and aggravated assault. Rhode Island (25.5) and Connecticut (41.4) were also well below national averages in firearm purchases, but were about average in use of guns in crimes.

Another possible factor is that the states with high firearm purchases but low firearm usage in crime are relatively rural, reflecting long-established differences in crime statistics between rural and urban areas.

Finally, the  number of violent crimes in Northern New England states is statistically low – New Hampshire had just 21 murders in 2018, for example – which means that a few crimes can swing percentages by a large amount. 

The always controversial topic of firearm sales and ownership is likely to arise again in the Legislature. At least six bills regarding firearm purchases have been proposed so far in Legislative Service Requests, which are draft ideas that can later be turned into bills. They include a proposed “waiting period between purchase and delivery of a firearm” and background checks for “commercial firearms sales.”

This is the first time Security.org has compiled such a study.

“Security.org specializes in home safety and this is their first study to add facts about gun ownership and crimes to the national debate on this critical issue,” wrote company spokesperson Haley Helms in an email response to a Monitor query.

The company wrote that gathering the information can be difficult: “That’s because a patchwork of state and federal laws makes it so that some but not all gun purchases are done through licensed retailers who are required to run background checks on customers, but these dealers don’t report if those customers ended up purchasing a gun and, if so, how many and what kind. There’s also the matter of gun purchases made from sources other than licensed retailers; it’s estimated that about 13% of those who have bought a gun did so through friends or online.”

In other data, New Hampshire was about average in the age-adjusted use of firearms in suicides.

The full report can be seen at https://www.security.org/resources/gun-ownership-statistics/




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