On Sunday night, a gunman fired bullets for eleven straight minutes into a crowd attending a country music festival on the Las Vegas strip. The person behind the flurry of bullets killed 58 festival goers and himself and injured more than 500 others. The shooting has tested people’s faith in humanity and pierced (once again) our ever-waning sense of security. Between this tragedy and the ongoing health care debate, fewer people trust that our lawmakers have any interest in seeing us live.
While American right-wing lawmakers are void of enthusiasm for gun control, celebrities have begun to use their individual platforms to plead with lawmakers and galvanize their fans in support of legislation that would address America’s gun violence epidemic. Among those celebrities speaking out was Caleb Keeter, guitarist for the Josh Abbott band, who released a lengthy statement on Twitter expressing wrong-headedness when it comes to his prior support for the 2nd Amendment.
— Caleb Keeter (@Calebkeeter) October 2, 2017
Roseanne Cash, daughter of gun enthusiast country star Johnny Cash, called for an end to gun violence in a New York Times column.
It’s no coincidence that country music culture and gun culture seem at times almost intertwined. The NRA wants it that way, in fact. Since 2010, the NRA has had its eye on country music fandom in order to appeal to a younger demographic, the Tennessean reported in 2015.
“It’s no secret,” Vanessa Shahidi, director of NRA Country and special projects manager at the NRA, told the Tennessean at the time. “If you poll our members, they love country music.”
While the right often lobs claims that the left only runs on identity politics, the NRA’s strategy is classic identity politics taken to a much more insidious place. The NRA, knowing their fans love country, infiltrated country music and sold guns as part of a rural lifestyle: Friday night lights, pick-up trucks, country music and guns. NRA Country aligned its brand with Luke Bryan, according to the Tennessean, and Florida Georgia Line and Tracy Adkins, according to CNN.
The NRA’s thesis is that it can use music stars to make sure gun culture seeps from an older generation into a younger one. The NRA understands the power of stars to influence their fandom. The opposite then, can also be true: country stars who speak out against gun violence and in favor of legislation that can curb its terrifying vicegrip on American lives.
In the year 2017, celebrity silence remains tantamount to tacit consent. Sure, it’s not always right. Taylor Swift’s decision to keep mum around the election issues has led to a flurry of theories that the singer may have cast her vote for Donald Trump. I’m not endorsing casting assumptions about anyone in pop music, but Swift’s failure to speak out should be a cautionary tale: fans want receipts. And staying silent, or neutral, in the year 2017 is siding with the oppressor.
Advocating responsible gun ownership doesn’t mean Miranda Lambert can never perform her song “Gunpower and Lead” again. Nor does it mean that stars must work to convince anyone against owning a gun. It does mean something far more difficult. It means asking people who ascribe to a lifestyle steeped in tradition to adopt a new way of thinking. But just as much as country music is soaked in nostalgia, it’s also a genre of earnest reflection. And if a country music star can use their microphone to sing about the culture and country they love, surely they can use it another minute to advocate to keep that country’s citizens alive.