An 'Open' Discussion: Country Music Needs to Take a Hard Look At The NRA (Op-Ed)

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"Country music likes to think of itself as a family, and this time around, its family was viciously attacked"

The textbook definition of insanity, according to a now familiar cliche, is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.

The United States is mired in a horrible cycle of massacres. Each time the cycle is repeated, some authority figure tells the public that "now is not the time" to discuss the steps that can be taken to end the carnage. Each time, the chatter dies down, the nation turns its head to the next big issue -- a hurricane, corporate income taxes, the latest celebrity gossip -- and lets the issue drop. "Now is not the time" is, in practice, double speak for "We don't intend to do anything."

So each time the cycle repeats, we get the same result: The nation insanely moves forward, just waiting for the next disaster.

Through each atrocity, the country music community comes together afterward with a well-intended response: benefit concerts, efforts to increase public awareness or, at the very least, heavy-hearted social posts with love for the victims' families.

Country music likes to think of itself as a family, and this time around, its family was viciously attacked on Oct. 1 in Las Vegas when a renegade gambler turned the Route 91 Harvest Festival into a shooting gallery. The killer used a series of accessories, so-called "bump stocks," to turn legal firearms into machine guns, which are otherwise banned.

In the aftermath, the cliches were heard again: "Now is not the time." "Guns don't kill people; people kill people."

If the country industry truly cares about its family, now is the time to talk and to take action.

Yes, people kill people, but they frequently use guns to do it. Doing nothing is, at its very core, perpetuating the cycle, allowing the deranged to have access to weapons that are made to kill.

The Second Amendment allows citizens the right to bear arms. No argument.

But the First Amendment -- in addition to freedom of speech -- also guarantees the right of peaceful assembly. While that phrase, in that context, is intended to protect citizens gathering for political causes, it's an equal right to gather for a celebration, such as a concert. And, to quote another old cliche, one man's rights end where another's rights begin.

Thus, the country music industry should be up in arms that its family's basic right to attend a concert is being threatened. One madman's onslaught has provided an unfortunate template for copycats. While his actions are not likely to become widespread, even one more occurrence is unacceptable.

The reaction from the gun lobby is unsatisfactory. After the Newtown, Conn., shooting, National Rifle Association executive vp/CEO Wayne LaPierre's suggestions were for the government to spend more money arming every school with police and for people to spend more money on weapons: "The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun," he said.

A better response would have been to vow to make it harder for bad guys to get guns. That, of course, would require gun manufacturers -- the core of the NRA -- to dismiss a portion of its primary market, since ultimately, those bad guys are getting their guns from the same gun manufacturers as the good guys.

This time, the NRA waited four days to make a statement, saying that it was "open" to a discussion about stronger regulations on bump stocks.

It's a ridiculous stance. Automobiles can be used as weapons, but we cannot drive a tank down the interstate. Airplanes, as we discovered in 2001, can also be used as weapons, but private citizens are not allowed to fly F-15 fighter planes.

A machine gun is, like a tank or a fighter plane, a tool of war. So is a gun that has been modified to perform like a machine gun. Regulation is not an acceptable answer. Banning them is.

The majority of the American public -- including a majority of Republicans, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center -- supports such obvious stances as preventing the mentally disabled from owning guns, background checks for private gun sales and banning assault-style weapons. The NRA, and the government it lobbies, continue to resist the will of the people.

Meanwhile, in 2010, the NRA started partnering with a number of country acts through its NRA Country marketing program. Its boiler plate boasts, "Respect. Honor. Freedom." It hails "love of country," "respect for the military" and "local charities." It does not mention that the gun manufacturers the NRA represents make the very weapons that were fired at country stars and their fans.

Ironically, NRA Country was founded to take advantage of the link between the genre and the gun industry.

"It's no secret," NRA Country director Vanessa Shahidi told The Tennessean in 2015. "If you poll our members, they love country music."

That makes it likely that some of the country fans who were fired at on Oct. 1 -- perhaps some of the 58 who were killed -- are NRA members and/or supporters. Thus, the organization's target audience was turned into a target with its own weaponry.

If the NRA is so distorted in its ideology that it's merely "open" to discussing restrictions on a tool of war that possibly mowed down its own membership, country artists should be seriously examining whether they want to trust an association with the organization. Josh Abbott Band's Caleb Keeter announced via Twitter that he no longer opposes tighter gun controls. In a New York Times op-ed, Rosanne Cash called the NRA an organization that "funds domestic terrorism" and challenged country artists to stand up to it.

Indeed, an organization that wraps itself in such words as "respect," "honor" or "freedom" is deceitful when it willingly puts its own customers at risk. A genre that espouses three chords and the truth should be asking itself some very hard questions about the truth of the NRA.