The Corner

Vermont: Safe and Happy and Armed to the Teeth

An interesting little artifact from Prison Policy Initiative, which reports that the state with the lowest incarceration rate in the country is Vermont. This should probably not be surprising. Vermont, per the Death Penalty Initiative, also consistently has either the lowest or second-lowest number of murders in the country. And FBI statistics show that the state routinely ranks as one of the five safest. In 2012, there were eight murders there — just two of which involved firearms.

Why is this interesting? Well, because it does some damage to the idea that there is an ironclad link between  the availability of firearms and crime. Not only does Vermont essentially have no gun laws at all, but the state’s residents own more guns per capita than those of any other. (It is estimated that between 70 and 75 percent of Vermonters own firearms).

As I noted in NR a year ago:

Most of the other gun-friendly states — including what are called “Vermont carry” states, such as Arizona, Wyoming, Arkansas, and Alaska, all of which have recently thrown out their rules in emulation of Vermont — arrived at their present condition after repealing restrictions that had been gradually added to their statute books between colonial times and the 1990s. Vermont, conversely, has never had any gun-control laws. Its constitution boasts a bluntly worded provision in Chapter I: “The people have a right to bear arms for the defense of themselves and the State.” This is backed up by a set of watertight statutes commonly referred to as the “sportsmen’s bill of rights.” Together, the provisions have ensured that gun control remains all but impossible.

Not only do anti-gun legislators in Montpelier have their work cut out by the state’s impenetrable charter, but local governments are hamstrung by it too. No county or city can pass gun restrictions into law without the permission of the state government — and that permission is never forthcoming. Indeed, even if it were to be granted, any limitations would likely be struck down by the judicial branch. The state’s supreme court has held that all regulation of the manner in which arms may be borne is flatly unconstitutional. In consequence, Vermonters may not just carry concealed weapons without a permit, they may carry weapons openly on their hips, too. Short of a constitutional amendment, lesser gun-control measures appear not to have a chance in the state.

Now, this is anecdotal. Certainly, that this is the case does not in any way demonstrate causation. Nationally, the statistics tell a complicated story: Many states with loose gun laws have high crime, murder, and incarceration rates; many states with strict gun laws have high crime, murder, and incarceration rates; and many states — Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine to name three – have loose laws and little crime. Sometimes, firearms play a role in informing the crime rate; sometimes, they do not. Sometimes, the rules play into the equation; sometimes, they do. What we can absolutely say, however, is that a) an abundance or firearms and a set of loose regulations do not inevitably lead to more crime, and b) that the widespread suggestion that they do is dishonest.

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