Gun Control and Party Lines by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profileGuns and bibles have somehow become linked in this nation. Particularly throughout the midwest and the south, many associate their right to own a gun with their Christian religious values.  I personally find this confusing given Jesus’ stance on non-violence.

Many call me a “gun hater,” and that might not be too far from the truth.  But with that said, I need to be honest and share that there are guns in my home. They belong to my husband, Chris, but they exist in my space. It was a major issue that we debated before and after we were married.  Growing up in Ohio, Chris started hunting at a young age and continues to do so today (yes, he does eat what he kills).  We have a six year old daughter and I find it very difficult to cope with the fact that we own guns with a child in the house.  Nonetheless, we own a gun safe and take proper precautions.  And although I don’t like guns and I don’t like hunting, after fifteen years of marriage, I finally told my husband that I am going to stop judging him for his hunting lifestyle – it seems like the Jesus thing to do. *read sarcasm

I share this to say that the gun debate that exists in this nation also exists in my home.  Both my husband and I feel very strongly about our stances.  But we love and respect each other and so we find ways to compromise and ensure that in some ways we are both getting what we want, our rights our being honored, and safety is always our first concern.

The gap in the gun control debate has grown substantially in the last few decades.  During his presidency, Ronald Reagan argued that “I do not believe in taking away the right of the citizen for sporting, for hunting and so forth, or for home defense. But I do believe that an AK-47, a machine gun, is not a sporting weapon or needed for defense of a home” (February 6, 1989).  I don’t disagree with this position, and I don’t think many would.  However, the debate over gun control has become about party lines rather than a reasonable law that honors rights and is committed to safety.

In 2015 there were more mass shootings in the US than days in the year. In fact, the US has one of the highest murder rates of developing countries with nearly three quarters of those murders being committed with a gun. In addition, gun control is a serious women’s issue given that most women murder victims are killed by a gun by someone they know. Following the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College on October 1, 2015, Obama commented, “Tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks over the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side.”  So here are those numbers:

From 2005-2015:

  • Americans killed in terror attacks on US soil: 71
  • Americans killed by gun violence in the US: 301,797

Whether you are an Obama supporter or not, you have to admit, the numbers don’t lie. Also important to note, mass shootings only account for about two percent of gun deaths annually. Most of those killed by guns are murdered in various situations from domestic violence, to arguments at the bar, to road rage; there are numerous situations that result in someone being murdered with a gun in the US each year.  When I hear Trump propose that there should be no such thing as a gun free zone, I wonder if he is really looking at the issue with a critical eye?

Many republicans don’t disagree that some level of gun control is needed. For instance, in January, 2013 now Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan stated “I think we need to find out how to close these loopholes and do it in such a way that we don’t infringe upon people’s Second Amendment rights.” He continued, “We had this issue, 2001, 1999 I think … when I first got into Congress. At the time I remember thinking, ‘You know, there is a loophole here. We should address that.'”

However, in January of 2016 when President Obama announced his executive action aimed at reducing gun violence, Ryan criticized him for being “dismissive” and called his actions unconstitutional.  Focused on expanding background checks, registration for licensed gun dealers, and narrowing the gun show loophole, Obama’s executive action mirrors Ryan’s call for change in 2013.  However, once the plan was proposed by a democrat, Ryan argued, “We all are pained by the recent atrocities in our country, but no change the president is reportedly considering would have prevented them…At a time when the country wants the president to lead the fight against radical Islamic terror, this is yet another attempt to divide and distract from his failed policies.”

Likewise, Marco Rubio took to the airwaves claiming that Obama wants to take away everyone’s guns.  In an interview on Good Morning America, Rubio made this argument and was quickly called on the carpet by George Stephanopoulos.  Backing down, barely, Rubio acknowledged that the executive action would not take away gun owner rights, but continued that he strongly believes this is the ultimate goal of Obama. Rubio then followed up calling all citizens to purchase guns.  Appearing on Face the Nation with John Dickerson, Rubio argued, “If ISIS were to visit us, or our communities, at any moment, the last line of defense between ISIS and my family is the ability that I have to protect my family from them, or from a criminal, or anyone else who seeks to do us harm. Millions of Americans feel that way.” It seems that fear mongering rather than facts continues to play a critical role in our gun control debate.

While our politicians are obsessed with battling party lines and maintaining partisan stances, our “Christian” nation continues to be one of the most violent.  As a Catholic and a feminist, I would personally like to see harsher gun control laws.  But that said, I wonder, if we fought so vigorously for every person’s right to have food, clean water, and health care as we do for guns, where would we be as a nation? As a people? A global community?  When will our politicians stop focusing on personal vendettas and instead put the needs of the people first?

This article is an excerpt from Jesus in the White House coming from the Far Press in Spring, 2016.

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Religion and Gender Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion. She writes for The Huffington Post, has authored multiple publications and is the co-editor of the highly acclaimed Faithfully Feminist: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Feminists on Why We Stay. Messina-Dysert is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences and on national platforms including appearances on MSNBC, Tavis Smiley, NPR and the TEDx stage. She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the world. Messina-Dysert is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing. Connect with her on Twitter @FemTheologian, Facebook, and her website

Categories: General, Jesus, Politics, Social Justice

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13 replies

  1. Living in Greece, I have friends who hunt. I am not too happy with this as most of them are hunting birds and I am a birdwatcher. I am also aware that many of them hunt illegally and that it is hard to enforce existing laws or pass stronger ones because the hunting lobby–consisting not only of hunters, but of suppliers of guns, hunting clothes and gear, and even hotels for hunters–is very strong. I don’t get the need or desire to go out and kill something for fun. But I do eat meat and fish, which are also killed.

    At the same time, no one carries a gun in public or would even think of doing so in Greece. The police are often unarmed in Europe as well. Ever notice that on British crime shows the detectives and other officers do not carry guns?

    I think I would disagree that citizens should have the right to guns for personal defense. These guns would have to be readily available not locked up.

    We have a long way to go.


  2. Do the numbers for gun deaths reflect the number of people who commit suicide using a gun?


  3. I am a gun hater. I believe that every gun and every bullet on the planet should be melted down and the metal used to make statues of artists, composers, writers, and performers. If men still want to have wars, they can throw rocks at each other.

    And I am generally against hunting. Even though the dentist who killed Cecil the lion used a bow and arrow and some people do eat what they hunt, in how many homes and offices are hanging the heads and body parts of trophy animals who were just living their wild lives?

    The Second Amendment is about militias, not jerks who buy guns and then kill people. I’ve read some history. In the 1780s and 90s, the new states needed militias to defend themselves (their territory and people). That’s no longer true. Today, I think, a gun is just an extremely dangerous phallic symbol..

    Yes, this is all simplistic. .


  4. “if we fought so vigorously for every person’s right to have food, clean water, and health care as we do for guns, where would we be as a nation?”

    What a great question, Gina, and a vision to promote. How did the USA become so addicted to guns?


  5. One of the aspects of hunting that disturbs me so much is the “thrill to kill” that people seem to get, while I just find it completely abhorrent — and that was my feeling even before I became a vegetarian. The resistance to the realization that cultures can evolve is another aspect; killing animals was necessary to survival for many past populations, but it’s no longer the case.

    Then there’s the gun violence issue. While my husband and I don’t have guns, I’m not totally against having them in the house for potential protection (even if I cannot see it as necessary in a normal lifestyle). That said, I support President Obama’s executive order. Just this week, I read an essay that tries to understand the psychology behind resistance to any form of gun control, which I found interesting:

    Blessings, and thank you, Gina.


  6. Saying it’s the “Jesus thing to do” sounds artificial to me. The rest of what you have said is great, you’ve been open and honest with your husband and he knows where you stand.


    • I agree Sarah. It seems you Gina are still judging hunting, you are just not engaging your husband about your judgments. As for Jesus, I am not sure he was against all judgments, otherwise he would have had no opinions at all.


      • Hi Sarah and Carol – thanks for your comments – my statement “It seems like the Jesus thing to do” was supposed to be sarcasm! Ugh – I’m sorry it didn’t come off that way! I always think my tone can be heard in my writing but that clearly isn’t true – one of the biggest issues with written communication, right? I appreciate the note – this is an excerpt from If Jesus Ran for President and if you didn’t get it, no one else will either! I need to work on that!


      • Actually, Gina, I took that comment at face value and thought it was a lovely thing to do. It didn’t strike me as either sarcastic or judgemental, just following through on your values.


  7. I think Gina is onto something in combining religion and guns. I believe there are people for whom theso-called “right to bear arms” is sacred and somehow connected to their (mostly) right-wing concepts of religion. For this reason, I’ve thought for a while now that we need to move the debate out of the realm of rights and into the domain of public heath. That’s where most of us agree that something has to be done. One of the best things about Obama’s recent federal regulation changes is his move in this direction.


  8. Gina, I think the fact that you and your husband are on opposite sides, so to speak, of the gun-control debate means that you have a better view of both sides of the controversy in this country. I think that is a good thing, to help us understand both sides of this.

    I started thinking more flexibly about guns after a student wrote an essay in a class I taught giving his views on how to deal with guns, such as training children from an early age in gun safety. Just a thought, how did guns in the house get handled centuries ago when those on the frontier use them for food and defense?

    I do firmly believe in control, much stricter than we have now, but unfortunately, given where we are with guns in this country, it is more complex than anyone would like.

    I do wish we were like Britain, where the police don’t carry guns. Or Australia, where they collected guns from the populace voluntarily. Don’t know what it will take to change things in this country where fear seems to have hold of people’s reason.


    • Thanks so much for your comments, Iris! And I agree with all you say here. As you mention – fear mongering makes any real discussion almost impossible. Someone commented to me recently than when she was a child it was common knowledge that if you had a gun in your home your were far more likely to kill a family member than an intruder – I don’t know why this is still not part of the conversation.


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