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Sheryl Crow on Explaining School Shootings to Her Children Ahead of March for Our Lives: 'It's Not OK for Our Kids to Not Feel Safe'

Sheryl Crow lives in NRA-friendly Nashville these days, but the singer isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers when it comes to the subject of gun control.

“Isn’t that just crazy to even think that it would be a bold stance to stand up against  gun violence?” she tells Billboard when asked if it’s odd that more Music City stars haven’t spoken out in support of new gun restrictions in the wake of last month’s mass shooting at Florida’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School.

In December, Crow released “The Dreaming Kind” in tribute to the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which 20 children and six adults were murdered by a man wielding a semi-automatic AR-15 rifle like the one allegedly used by the Florida shooter. Crow recently spoke to Billboard about why she’s making noise again following the Parkland massacre and why musicians have a responsibility to raise their voices at times like this.

Last year, you called out the country community for not speaking up about the Route 91 Festival mass shooting in Las Vegas. Did you get any response to those comments, which seemed like a bold stance at a time when saying anything was bold?

Just the fact that it’s a bold stance is shocking. Isn’t that just crazy to even think that it would be a bold stance to stand up against gun violence? But it is, I guess. ... Here in Nashville, we don’t see a lot of artists saying this has to be addressed, we have got to protect our children and our fans and stand up for sensible gun legislation. I didn’t hear specifically from anyone that I know in the community. People just stay quiet, which to me was deafening. I know that the country community cares about their fans, they love their fans and it’s a very heated topic. But what I think is happening now with Parkland and seeing the leadership by these kids ... it’s unfathomable to me that we as the parents of kids, of our nation’s future, are not going to stand up and say, "It’s not OK for your kids to be afraid to go to school. It’s not OK for our kids to not feel safe at a movie theater or at a concert."

It is heartbreaking when you have to point out to your 12-year-old where the alternate exit is at a movie theater so you can get out in case something happens. Is that what you mean?

When I recorded "The Dreaming Kind," which hopefully brought awareness to those who don’t know about the Sandy Hook Promise campaign, I had to explain to my 10-year-old what the song was about. He said, "Why is there such a big deal about this song? Why are you performing it on Good Morning America?’’ I had to explain to him what happened at Sandy Hook, and he looked at me with disbelief. So when the Parkland shooting happened, before he went to school, I said, "I know you’re going to hear about this and I want to be the one to explain to you what has happened." He had all kinds of questions like, "Well, what if that were to happen at my school?" You can’t look at your child and say, "It’s never going to happen at your school." And that is a heartbreaking reality. So I feel like we’re at a precipice: We either do the right thing or we fail our society. 

Have you seen any appreciably different response this time around following the Parkland shooting?

The thing that was different this time was that the students of Parkland became our leaders, the voice of this terrorizing situation in a way that was undeniable and continues to be undeniable. I think what we’re going to see on the 24th is the 97 percent of people who are for sensible gun legislation are going to take to the streets in the March for Our Lives. It’s a march brought about by kids who are school-age. Not only is it unfathomable, but it’s the most heart-rending thing I’ve witnessed in my lifetime to see these kids actually beg to have something change, to beg leaders to defend them and their right to go to school safely.

I’ve not seen that before. I’ve not ever believed that that would have to happen in this country, and the fact that the government is recommending in some situations arming teachers, it completely misses the point. It’s saying, "Not only are we not going to do anything about it, we’re going to make more money from it by training our teachers to carry weapons." It so goes against what these children are asking for.

What inspired you to release“The Dreaming Kind," a rare song that takes on one of these incidents directly?

It was written for the five-year anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook, and as impactful as that shooting was was the fact that Congress did nothing. And they continue to do nothing and continue to side on the side of money. It’s beyond the Second Amendment. I believe in the Second Amendment, however I believe the Second Amendment was written for our colonies when there were far less people and people were protecting their land. I refuse to believe that you need an automatic weapon to shoot a deer and I also refuse to believe that that kind of weapon is needed to defend your home against one person.

You have two elementary-school-age children, so it probably goes without saying that you worry about their safety at school. How do you handle that anxiety?

I do, and one of the reasons I wanted to join forces with the Sandy Hook Promise is because until there’s gun legislation, at least they’re taking the steps required to understand what the signs are of people at risk of hurting themselves or walking into a place and hurting others with a gun. Their main focus is to educate parents, students, faculty, administration on what those signs are and give people a voice to express their concerns over someone who is acting out in a way that exemplifies hurting themselves or someone else. That at least is a place to start. What we saw at Parkland is all the signs were there and they were missed. I think there are valuable lessons learned from that and I don’t think they’ll ever be overlook again.

Do you think the strong statements from the Parkland student might move the needle?

I do. The concern over them losing their momentum is one that we all have. The fact that it’s become an everyday thing and we move past it is always a concern. I’m not sure this group is going to be that group... [one] that moves past it. I believe we’re seeing the birth of real leadership and the birth of a movement conducted by kids who were there. Wait until whoever the NRA spokesperson is who is so articulate and on fire… let’s see what happens if her child faces a gun in the hallways of their  school? I know that is a harsh statement, but that is the reality. Let’s see you defend automatic weaponry if your child is facing the end of an AR-15.

Do you foresee a time when politicians can stand up to the NRA?

It is a terrible thing to say, but are our government leaders going to look at the millions of dollars put into a campaign against them if they stand up against the NRA? I don’t know. The face that they’re showing is absolutely unfathomable. It’s absolutely un-American. It’s un-American to me that you would defend the money that goes into a campaign over the safety of our kids getting an education. Anybody that reads this will say that I am anti-Second Amendment, but I don’t believe our forefathers would stand for this. I don’t believe that when they wrote the Constitution they were envisioning unstable people being able to get a gun and walk into a church, walk into a movie theater, walk into a school or shoot from a window above a concert. And I believe that the NRA is hijacking the Constitution. 

Do you plan on going to the March for Our Lives on March 24?

Absolutely. And I’m taking my 10-year-old with me.

Have you reached out to your congressional reps to share these thoughts?

Absolutely. I call and email almost daily.

Do they respond to you?

No. I’ve gotten two recordings and a stock email that my emails have been delivered, but I’ve not heard from anyone.

Does that disappoint you?

Yeah. It’s frustrating that that old belief system that our public servants work for us… it confirms to me that they are not working for us. They are working for the people who write the giant checks. 

In the past, you had protest songs like Neil Young’s “Ohio,” marches on Washington, the groundswell of support after 9/11. But now it seems like we’re seeing an almost eerie silence from many in the creative community about what has been labeled an epidemic of gun violence in schools. Especially from Nashville. Why do you think that is?

I think there is a marriage between the gun lobby and country artists and I think there’s a tremendous amount of fear of losing fan base, of losing record sales. I’m of the age where I’m happy if people know I have a record out. Pop music is so geared toward the young and the country format so dedicated to the NRA lobby, and there’s a lot of fear that’s wielded about what you’ll lose or the possibility of what you will lose. But I say that the kind of fear of losing your fan base or having the NRA against you cannot compete with the fear of what those kids in the hallways at Parkland had to live through or did not live through. It’s grotesque. We have to show bravery and some courage at this moment in our evolution or we’re failing our kids. We’re failing our society. [Shortly after Billboard spoke to Crow, NRA Country removed its roster of country artists associated with the organization from its website.]

What can artists like yourself do to keep the gun control debate on the front page?

We have to write songs. We have to stand up in the tradition of the legacy of so many artists that paved the way for us to be doing what we’re doing. People like Neil Young, Marvin Gaye… these people that were there in the civil rights movement, through the '60s. People like Eddie Vedder, who are still writing those songs. We need to hold our artists' feet to the fire… thank goodness for rap. At least some of what’s happening gets addressed there, but I don’t hear our popular culture taking on these issues that affect all of us. I do believe that there’s a hunger for it.