Will the Las Vegas massacre change country music’s view of guns? – Los Angeles Times
Country music has long idealized the gun-owning lifestyle. From Johnny Cash in âFolsom Prison Bluesâ to Miranda Lambertâs âGunpowder and Leadâ and Blake Sheltonâs âGranddaddyâs Gun,â the genreâs stars have harnessed gun imagery to bolster their outlaw credibility, connect them with kindred fans and conjure a specific image of Americans â self-reliant and violent.
Whether that remains the case after a mass shooter killed at least 59 people at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas is an open question.
If the National Rifle Assn. has its way, the connection will continue unabated. But there are fissures within the country music community, with voices of dissent questioning loose gun laws, and doing so with full knowledge of likely reprisals by the gun lobby and blowback from some of the genreâs fiercest fans.
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, Caleb Keeter, the guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, which performed Sunday at the festival, posted on social media that the tragedy had already changed his mind on the need for gun control.
“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night,” he wrote. “I cannot express how wrong I was.”
Rising country singer Margo Price, in an interview Tuesday, said that she is a longtime gun owner â she used to live in a tent in Colorado and kept a shotgun to protect herself. But she also said that after Las Vegas, country artists need to use their credibility with rural and right-leaning voters to advocate for stricter gun control.
âNo one I hang out with thinks that a random person on the street should be able to buy a machine gun,â Price said. Her sister is a performer on the Las Vegas Strip, and she said the shooting may finally lead country artists to speak out more forcefully.
âPoliticians offer their âprayers and thoughtsâ but then take money from the NRA. People have had all these opportunities to speak out, and instead they just say vague things like, âThis is a song against hateâ but not talk about reforming gun laws. Theyâve got to get their heads out of the sand,â Price said.
Such divergence from the pack can have its consequences, as the Texas trio the Dixie Chicks learned when singer Natalie Maines told a London crowd in 2003 that she was “ashamed the president of the United States is from Texas.” Within days much of commercial country radio had pulled the platinum groupâs hit songs from its playlists.
The reaction didnât silence Maines. In 2015 after a theater shooting in Louisiana, she posted on Twitter, âThe NRA has such a hold on our politicians, we’ll probably be issued guns at movie theaters before they’ll up gun control.â
For his part, singer Jason Aldean, the headline perfomer on Sunday who was forced to flee the stage as the bullets flew, struck a balanced tone in a note published to Instagram on Tuesday.
Saying that heâd experienced a range of emotions since Sunday, he wrote, in part: âSomething has changed in this country and in this world lately that is scary to see. This world is becoming the kind of place I am afraid to raise my children in. At the end of the day we arenât Democrats or Republicans, Whites or Blacks, Men or Women. We are all humans and we are all Americans and its time to start acting like it and stand together as ONE!â
Compared to other musical genres, country music holds a position of honor within the NRA. Rock and pop musicians tend to be liberal and pro-gun control. Gunplay is a staple of hip hop music, but those artists arenât likely to be embraced by the NRA.
Given the demographics of its fans â many of them conservative and from rural regions — country music and guns is a natural fit.
Vanessa Shahidi, director of NRA Country, told the Nashville Tennessean in 2015: “If you poll our members, they love country music.” NRA Country, which was started in 2010, promotes the work of NRA-card-carrying country music artists including Big & Rich, Gretchen Wilson, Florida Georgia Line, Trace Adkins and dozens more.
Normally an active presence across social media, NRA Country hasnât posted anything since the shootings. Nor has it responded to repeated requests for comment.
Country duo Big & Rich performed at the Route 91 festival a few hours before headliner Jason Aldeanâs set was interrupted by gunfire. The groupâs John Rich, who owns a bar on the Las Vegas Strip called the Redneck Riviera, said he and some of his crew were at the bar on Sunday night when they learned of the shooting, according to his account on Fox News.
While there, an off-duty police officer approached Rich and asked him if he was armed. Rich told the officer, ââI have my conceal and carry permit and yes sir, I am armed.â The officer asked to borrow the gun, and for about two hours, recalled Rich, âwithout flinching this guy kept a point on that front door just in case somebody came through.â
Representatives for Rich did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but in a statement on Twitter, the band wrote, âUnreal, tragic and sad beyond belief. We are all in shock from the senseless massacre that took place in Vegas last night at the Route 91 Fest.â (Of the nearly two dozen NRA Country-supported artists contacted by The Times, none was available for comment.)
On NRA Countryâs website, however, artist-advocates have expressed their devotion to the NRA cause. âI understand the price of freedom,â wrote country singer Pete Scobell. âI fought for it as a member of our armed forces. The freedoms we are granted as Americans, especially our Second Amendment freedom, is something I do not take for granted.â
“I am extremely honored to be named an NRA Country Featured Artist,â wrote Texas singer Aaron Watson, adding that â[t]he NRA fights for my right to enjoy hunting with my family, but more importantly, my second amendment right to bear arms and protect my family if need be.â
Artists in countryâs more progressive circles, many of whom are younger and rose not through the Nashville label system but independently, however, hinted that they are prepared to advocate for one of the most contentious issues in American society, even at the risk of alienating fans.