Gun control debate stirs within country music scene after Las Vegas mass shooting

Key Points
  • The mass shooting at a country music concert Sunday night in Las Vegas prompted shock and horror in the genre's community.
  • While fans are responding with prayers and a sense of community, there are signs of division over the politics of gun control.
  • One country performer wrote that the massacre provoked him to change his mind on the matter: "We need gun control RIGHT. NOW."
People embrace during a vigil on the Las Vegas strip for the victims of the Route 91 Harvest country music festival shootings on October 2, 2017, in Las Vegas.
Denise Truscello | Getty Images

Kris Daniels had just finished singing along to "A Little More Summertime," one of her favorite songs from country star Jason Aldean, on Sunday night when gunfire overwhelmed the crowd at the Route 91 Harvest festival on the Las Vegas Strip.

"Everyone just went crazy," said the 40-year-old Daniels, a country music radio host for more than two decades. "You saw people laying on the ground. You just see blood." As she ran, Daniels called her children. "You didn't know if it's going to be your last time."

The mass shooting Sunday night sent shock waves through the genre's tight-knight community of musicians, fans and journalists, provoking horror, pain – and signs of division over gun control in the United States.

Daniels said she is disturbed that the largest mass shooting in modern U.S. history happened at a festival for people who love songs such as Aldean's "My Kinda Party" and "Dirt Road Anthem."

"This doesn't define country music," she said. "Everyone was there to just forget the problems of the world."

Still, the massacre struck at the heart of country music and its culture.

Billy Dukes, a senior writer for leading country music news outlet Taste of Country, usually spends his days writing celebrity Q&As and album reviews. But on Monday morning he awoke to missed calls and messages from his editor. The country music community had just suffered an attack, and it was time to start putting all the pieces together.

"We first tried to see how many were dead," Dukes said. "All the artists checked in to say they were all right." The event reminded him of the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. "Readers are responding with prayers and grieving."

Yet Dukes also thinks that the massacre will lead to divisions within the community, particularly when it comes to the politics of gun control.

"Some fans are angry, and the gun control debate is popping up quickly," Dukes said. "The majority are pro-gun."

There are indeed strong cultural connections between the world of country music and proponents of gun-ownership rights. In 2010, for instance, the National Rifle Association, the leading lobbying group for the gun industry, launched a partnership with the Nashville music scene, called NRA Country. According to its website, the partnership has featured genre luminaries such as Hank Williams Jr., the band Florida Georgia Line and Trace Adkins.

There's evidence that some minds are changing, however, in the aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting. Caleb Keeter, who performed at the Route 91 Harvest festival over the weekend, wrote in a post he tweeted Monday that he had a change of heart.

"I've been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life," he wrote Monday. "Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was." Later in the note, he wrote: "We need gun control RIGHT. NOW."

Other important figures in the country music world have turned their attention to security needs for the other festivals that happen throughout the year. Leah Ross, executive director of the Birthplace of Country Music in Virginia and Tennessee, which hosts the Bristol Rhythm & Roots musical festival, said security is now front and center in her mind. The festival draws some 40,000 attendees each year.

"What happened in Las Vegas will cause us to reexamine all of our safety measures and procedures," Ross said, "while also maintaining the joyous spirit of our musical festivals so our country can heal."