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0000017a-15d9-d736-a57f-17ff8c300000Over the week, the newsroom will examine issues and topics surrounding guns in New Hampshire for our special series, A Loaded Issue. Stories include a look at our state’s gun laws, the big business of manufacturing guns, how parents are prosecuted in accidental shootings, the culture around open carry and the efforts to repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law. Each day, we’ll also ask a new online discussion question.

Gun Crime In New Hampshire Is Well Below National Average

Sara Plourde, NHPR

It's no surprise to Granite Staters that New Hampshire is one of the safest places in the country.

According to the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program, New Hampshire's rate of violent crime in 2011 was 188 per 100,000 people, the third-lowest in the country, behind Maine And Vermont. Only Hawaii had a lower murder rate than the Granite State's 1.3 per 100,000.

While reliable estimates on the number of guns in New Hampshire are hard to come by, the state has a vibrant gun culture and, compared to neighboring Massachusetts and other states, it places fewer restrictions on firearm possession.

Yet guns are much less likely to be used in the commission of a violent crime in New Hampshire than the nation as a whole.

For instance, 168,595 murders were committed in the U.S between 2000-2011; 112,600, or 67 percent, were committed with a gun. In New Hampshire, 61 of the 156 murders committed during the 12-year period, or 39 percent, involved a firearm.

Handguns were used in 33 of the Granite State's 61 gun murders, or about 54 percent of the cases between 2000-2011. Nationally, 75 percent of all murder-by-firearm cases involved a handgun.

Criminologist Ted Kirkpatrick, co-director of Justiceworks, a criminal justice research institute at UNH, said the below-average proportion of handgun murders can be attributed to New Hampshire's rural character.

While handguns tend to be the firearm of choice in murders, Kirkpatrick says  "hunting-culture states may have a higher proportion of long gun ownership relative to handgun ownership."

The same pattern of gun use holds true with other violent crime in New Hampshire. Guns were used in less than a quarter of the 3,877 robberies committed in New Hampshire between 2000-2011, according to the FBI data. Nationally, 42 percent of all robberies in the U.S. during the same period involved a gun.

Aggravated assaults, in New Hampshire and across the country, are much more likely to involve a knife or the assailant's fists than a gun. About 15 percent of the 10,314 cases of aggravated assault reported in New Hampshire between 2000-2011 involved a firearm, compared to more than 20 percent of all aggravated assault cases in the U.S.

Charles Putnam, a UNH professor and co-director of Justiceworks, is former chief of the Criminal Justice Bureau of the New Hampshire Attorney General's Office. He says the statistics in New Hampshire are consistent with the decline of violent crime, including gun-related crime, across the country.

Moreover, Putnam adds, there is an "urban-rural distinction" that may explain why a gun-friendly state like New Hampshire may experience lower rates of gun crime.

"I think there are characteristics of both our physical and social environment that contribute to those trends," he says. "We have higher rates of employment, higher rates of income, higher rates of education — all things that give people other alternatives to solve their problems than to use physical violence, including handguns."

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