Slide A Liberal Right
to Bear Arms
story by MISSY JOHNSON photos by RICHARD GREGOR illustrations by CARLIE JEFFERIES

Casey Cassetty made news headlines when she was abducted and held at knifepoint on Nov. 17, 2016, in New Orleans. Cassetty was attending an academic conference as a part of the coursework in her pursuit of a master’s degree in social work.

After a late night of bar hopping on Bourbon Street, Cassetty was held against her will for over three hours by a carload of people posing as her Uber driver and other passengers. Robbed of personal items including her social security card and cell phone, her brain imploded with ideas on how to stay alive.

Cassetty said she was forced to purchase alcohol and withdraw money from various ATMs.

An avid gun owner, she was unarmed at the time and said she doesn’t believe that having a firearm would have changed the course of the night.

“I’m telling you right now, in those moments, you don’t use any of those things,” Cassetty said. “You comply with them the entire time.”

Cassetty, a 30-year-old private practice mental health therapist from Franklin, is pro-gun ownership even though her stock of firearms isn’t what saved her life years ago in the back of a four-door Nissan Altima.

Despite being a self-proclaimed leftist, Cassetty’s passion for protecting the Second Amendment does not define her political stance. “Man, I don’t like the dichotomy of political parties,” Cassetty said.

"I'm not big about one party over the
other, but morally, I'm very liberal."

- Casey Cassetty

Cassetty was raised in Lewisburg, a town with a population of less than 1,000, which she said was founded on factories, farming and the practice of having “a church on every street.”

Neither of Cassetty’s parents graduated from high school, and her upbringing was rooted in poverty.

“We were poor as fuck, man,” she said.

Cassetty’s mother left when she was 10 years old, leaving her to be raised by her stepfather. Without the financial means for cable TV or internet, her leisure time was spent hunting or having deep conversations with her father. Cassetty said those conversations usually revolved around religion or politics.

Although Cassetty was raised by her father, who was a registered Democrat, he often encouraged her to vote by issue instead of party. One of these issues included the protection of Second Amendment rights.

“Try this on for size: Gun culture is so ingrained in my culture, someone bought me a pair of muzzleloader pistols for my baby shower before I was born,” she said.

Cassetty said she grew up adopting many of her father’s beliefs until she made a friend in high school with someone she calls super liberal and hardcore pro-Obama. This relationship led Cassetty to examine other issues she felt deeply connected to, such as universal healthcare and LGBTQ and women’s rights.

Cassetty’s newfound enthusiasm for politics led her to the polls where she voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 election, her first presidential voting opportunity.

Cassetty owns several pistols, rifles and shotguns for various purposes such as recreation, self-defense and protection of her animals from predators. Although Cassetty is a supporter of the Second Amendment, she believes there should be stricter regulations for buying and selling firearms.

“Dad was worried that liberals would take our guns and raise taxes, but the other candidate was pro-women’s rights, pro-LGBT, pro-human healthcare.” Cassetty said. “I realized those values mean a lot more to me than these values.”

Bryan Reis, a 33-year-old ironworker from Erlanger, was in the market to purchase a gun this fall. He and Cassetty’s stories differ yet intersect in their liberal political beliefs and views on gun ownership.

“It’s hard for me to pinpoint down something,” Reis said about his political affiliation. “Somewhere between a democratic socialist and a constitutional anarchist.” Reis grew up in Southgate with stronger roots in urban culture than Cassetty, being on the outskirts of Cincinnati.

Reis said he was raised in a stable two-parent household composed of various political values.

“They’ve gone very back and forth throughout their lives,” Reis said of his parents. “Mom was Republican leaning, but not right-wing Republican. I know she voted Clinton and Obama, and I also know she voted Bush. My dad leaned left.”

Reis said his feelings on equality drive his political beliefs. “I believe that everyone should have the right to work, to live their lives however they please, without being infringed upon by laws that are no longer applicable in today’s society,” Reis said.

Lara Smith, an attorney in San Diego and the national spokesperson of the Liberal Gun Club, also believes that outlawing firearms goes against the civil rights her left-wing beliefs are embedded in.

"Like it or not, you are infringing on a constitutional right, and if we are gonna say we are the party who believes in civil rights — well, you have to believe in the protection of all of them."

- Lara Smith

Smith said she has always been liberal but not always in favor of guns.

“I was raised in the stereotypical liberal family, and guns weren’t a topic we discussed,” she said.

Smith credits her husband, a Marine, for her change of heart on the topic. He advised her to take a couple of classes in order to understand the technical aspects of guns. After educating herself about guns, Smith said that she realized that she didn’t know anything about them before and actually found them to be fun.

Reis said he has always supported the Second Amendment. Recent social movements, particularly the Black Lives Matter protests, have given him a clearer vision of what he calls a need for higher power assault rifles.

“What do I do if the National Guard or police turn against us?” Reis said. “Do I want to have what they have? My immediate threat is going to be someone down the street or our local government, or cops who come with no knock at the door.”

Smith, also an advocate for assault rifles, believes that liberals tend to associate the magazine-fed, rapid-fire equipment with mass shootings.

“Banning AR-15s is insane,” Smith said. “First of all, most school shootings aren’t done with AR-15s. Second, it’s just a tool. You’re not getting to why it’s happening. You’re just forcing them to find another tool.”

Reis recalled an encounter with an uninvited guest that began as a disagreement on Facebook.

When he stated a political stance on the social media platform, a person in his hometown disagreed and showed up on Reis’ doorstep in the middle of the night. Reis said the man became violent, and although he was able to return inside of his home uninjured, he believes he would have felt safer with a gun at that moment. He said his intent would be to scare off intruders rather than hurt them.

“There’s no part of me that wants to take a life,” Reis said. “There’s no part of me that knows if I could even handle taking a life emotionally or spiritually. I’m still trying to see everyone as God’s child, and I still grapple with that. How do you look at another of God’s children and say if it’s you or me – it’s you?”

Cassetty holds her 12-gauge pump shotgun on the front deck of her home in Franklin. It is her tool of choice for home defense because the sound the pump makes could scare off an intruder without even firing a shot. “My hubby got this for me as a gift,” Cassetty said. “It’s my favorite, and it makes a big boom.”

Cassetty said her pistol-grip shotgun is her favorite in her vast collection, which includes various rifles and BB guns.

“I like shotguns next to the front door because you can go like this,” she said as she cocked the gun. “It’ll scare someone who isn’t supposed to be there away.”

Unlike Reis, Cassetty’s rural location leaves her feeling more determined to care for her property and the animals that occupy it, including dogs, pigs and chickens.

“These are good for varmints,” Cassetty said while cradling her .22-caliber rifle. Cassetty has awoken to dead animals on her property since moving to the countryside, the perpetrator being a raccoon.

“I’d wake up every morning, making deals with God, please don’t leave any bloody carcasses to clean up this morning,” Cassetty said.

Despite a yearning to protect her animals, shooting the raccoons remained a prospect she found disturbing. In the beginning, her husband, Jodi, was responsible for shooting the intruders. Eventually, Cassetty started feeling guilty for putting all of the responsibility to kill animals on her husband.

“Eventually, my husband said, ‘You have to share this burden in killing them because I don’t like killing them either,’” Cassetty said. “There’s a great responsibility behind it that’s super uncomfortable.”

Reis, an avid camper, said that firearms would offer him a sense of security against animal predators as well. He recalled encountering black bears during trips to Red River Gorge, experiences that play into his decision to purchase a handgun. “I want something that’s gonna stop a bear, or at least scare it,” Reis said.

Guns represent more to Cassetty than a symbol of her right to bear arms, and they still go far beyond a safety measure. She said many of her collections are pieces of history to her.

“They are my heritage,” Cassetty said. “A lot of these guns are family heirlooms.”

Despite Cassetty’s support for guns, she said she believes stricter protocols for obtaining guns should be enacted.

Cassetty said she purchased two guns within 48 hours as Christmas presents in 2018, one for her father and one for her husband. She feels the process to obtain firearms and ammunition was too easy and she would like to see a stricter national protocol.

Reis is also a proponent of stronger gun safety training regulations. Smith said she believes that banning assault rifles doesn’t work and would like to see more work done for mental health care instead.

“Do cigarettes kill people, or does smoking kill people?” Cassetty said. “It’s an instrument to use, but so is my tomahawk. But guns are more instantaneous, and there’s a lot more regret that comes with that, I think.”