This week as part of our Gunshots series, we asked Vermonters about the role of guns in their lives. Hannah Rommer grew up in Southern Vermont. Now, she's a music teacher and Orchestra conductor in Hanover, New Hampshire and reached out to us to share her story.
My dad is one of the 373 Vermonters who died by gun-related suicide between 2011 and 2016.
He had never owned or used a gun before.
Before this experience, I had never really felt strongly about gun laws. I know lots of people who have guns for hunting or farming or dealing with woodchucks in the garden. But no one in my family owns guns and I didn't think much about them.
But my perspective was really shattered by my dad's suicide and the violence involved. Following his death, I was appalled to learn how easy it is for someone like my dad to buy a firearm in Vermont. He bought the gun in a local shop 10 days before his death. He had a well-documented clinical history of mental illness and suicidality but no criminal record. So his background check was clear.
It's hard to believe that individuals like my father in psychological crisis have nothing preventing them from buying a gun except having to hand some money over the counter. There's no waiting period in Vermont between the purchase and transfer of a firearm. My dad walked in with cash and walked out with a gun.
As both executor and heir of my dad's estate I inherited the gun he had used to kill himself. I didn't want to have anything to do with it. And I was overwhelmed by everything I thought I would need to do in order to pick up the gun from the police station have it cleaned and somehow get rid of it.
As it turned out a friend of mine who has experience with guns was able to run over to the station pick it up on my behalf and sell it privately. All without any paperwork background checks or identification from him or for me. I was relieved to have this taken care of but absolutely horrified that this had been so easy easy for my dad. Easy for me and easy for my friend who just wanted to help out but it would have been easy for anybody.
I don't object to responsible gun ownership but I am disgusted at how easy it is for anyone with any motive any history to obtain a firearm in our state.
Suicide is a complex and profound personal crisis that goes far beyond access to firearms or anything else. But given the alarming statistics of gun related deaths especially among men in psychological distress why haven't we done anything to prevent these individuals from getting access to firearms. At the very least at the point of sale for me it's not an issue of gun rights it's an issue of the health and safety of individuals in crisis who need us to support and protect them.
Hannah Rommer is a music teacher and orchestra conductor from Southern Vermont.