You need a license to carry a loaded gun either in your car, or concealed on your body, in the state of New Hampshire. To carry a loaded gun out in the open, you don’t need a license at all. That makes New Hampshire one of 28 states that allow so-called “open carry” to just about anyone, no permit or license needed. As part of our series A Loaded Issue, we visited an Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms night at Twins Smoke Shop in Hooksett.
There, people mill around the cigar shop puffing on cigars, drinking beer, and sure enough, they’re packin’ heat. These are liberty-minded folks -- mostly guys, one gal. Most have pistols either holstered on a belt, or tucked in the back of their pants. Mike Ruff -- who lives in Manchester -- carefully removes his M1911 pistol.
As you can see at no time was it pointed in an unsafe direction, at one point it was pointed at me, so only I would get hurt, but if I turn this around, you can see it's an empty chamber
For Ruff, being trained and responsible is an important part of openly carrying a loaded gun:
It's a visible signal that we do accept responsibility for defending ourselves and that Hey, if someone's not prepared to defend themselves, we're ready to voluntarily jump in and help.
People have been free to carry a loaded gun openly in NH since statehood. That is to say, there’s never been a law that prohibits or regulates it. It’s the same with many other states across the country. But over time, much of the public began to assume open carry was illegal. That is -- until the summer of 2004. Then, according to the website opencarry.org, second amendment activists began making a statement by wearing their guns publicly – often to the chagrin of local law enforcement.
Captain Bob Cunha has been policing Manchester for 25 years. Of course, it’s impossible to know how many people open carry, since there’s no permit or license required. But, Cunya says, – he’s witnessed more and more people open carrying over the last 10 years.
We don't track any statistics on that because open carry is legal, so it’s not something we create data on, because it is a right, and something we don't want to infringe upon,
Cunha is very careful not to step on any toes, when it comes to gun laws in New Hampshire. His department learned that the hard way, when a liberty group called the Ridley Report started filming incidents in which police wrongly stopped and questioned people for openly carrying weapons.
After those videos showed up on YouTube back in 2007, Cunha began giving officers extra training on gun laws. He wants to make sure police don’t stop people just for open carrying. It should take reckless behavior to warrant intervention. Or – carrying weapon in a courthouse, which is forbidden by the state; or on school property, which is prohibited by the feds.
Antigone Darling is the only woman at that Alochol Tobacco and Firearms event in Hooksett. She leans against a wall, puffing on a cigar. She’s in the process of shopping for a gun right now. Because, she says, she thinks wearing it will deter potential criminals:
So if someone is considering mugging me, or worse, they might reconsider that, if I'm open carrying.
But open carrying isn’t just about self-defense. Mike Ruff and the others see themselves as protectors – both of their loved ones, and the public. Ready to pull the trigger in case of an unexpected violent crime.
In the city of Manchester, the odds of being involved in a violent crime are 1 to 169. That’s more than three times higher than New Hampshire as a whole, but still… very unlikely.
But back at the cigar shop, Kirk McNeil isn’t thinking too much about the odds of witnessing a murder. For him, knowing how to use a gun is more symbolic. It’s about adulthood.
You should know how to change a tire, safely fire a firearm, you should know how to cook dinner, You should know how to change a diaper, and vacuum the floor.
In fact, gun experts say there’s no evidence that guns deter crime at all. And – Harvard’s Health Policy professor David Hemenway says -- in a real emergency, even people who are well-trained don’t act rationally.
Typically what the adrenaline does for you is it makes it easier to fight physically or to run away, not to think clearly and not to aim a gun very deliberately and hit what you're aiming at.
Hemenway says, statistically -- firearms are no better at preventing injury than running away, calling 911, or fighting back some another way. The National Rifle Association disagrees. In fact, they’ve taken the same data and come to fundamentally different conclusions.
But statistics may not concern open carry advocates, who argue that “a right unexercised is a right lost.” In October, Oklahoma became the 28th state in the nation to allow open carriage of guns, and similar legislation is being debated this year in Texas.