The Current

Las Vegas shooting: what's the impact on country music, gun culture and NRA?

In the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, Rosanne Cash is calling out country musicians who get too cozy with the NRA.
The powerful gun lobby group, NRA, looks for new members from the country music scene. (Johnny Hanson/Houston Chronicle/Associated Press)

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You can find lyrics that revere the gun in every genre of music, but the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful U.S. gun lobby group, has aligned itself with country music artists.

And the result is "NRA Country" — a creation that glorifies American patriotism and an outdoor lifestyle in a bid to rebrand gun culture and attract a younger following.

In the wake of the massacre of country music fans at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas, some country music stars are denouncing any affiliation with the NRA.

Guitarist Caleb Keeter who performed at the Las Vegas festival says the incident has caused him to change his mind —coming out in support of gun control.   

And singer Rosanne Cash, the daughter of country legend Johnny Cash, bluntly writes in a recent New York Times op-ed: "The NRA funds domestic terrorism."

She's calling on other country musicians to stand up to the NRA.

Realistically, the chances that will happen, according to freelance journalist Jonathan Bernstein, is "pretty slim, at least right now."

"She can make a statement like that and not face any career blowback at all; in fact, I think she's gotten probably pretty great press for saying that," Bernstein tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"But the fact of the matter is ... if you're an artist that relies on being played on mainstream country radio, there's still a very real and very legitimate fear that your career could be entirely derailed if you sort of came out very vocally in terms of gun control."

NRA Country's influence in the music industry "has done its job," says Bernstein.

"It has worked, you know, in a certain sense to normalize its presence in Nashville."

According to GfK MRI, a U.S.-based consumer reserch company, American adults who have attended a country music concert in 2016 are 68 per cent more likely to own a handgun than others; 74 per cent more likely to own a rifle; and 83 per cent more likely to own a shotgun.

For new country musicians who want to be successful, the NRA claims they help sell records, says Berstein.

He explains the gun lobby group partners with up-and-coming country musicians for featured artists of the month campaign.

"Country music, like the entire music industry, is in a very rough place right now ...  so artists and their management companies and their labels look at NRA Country as one of many sponsorship opportunities, and one of many possible ways that they can reach new audiences."

The idea that NRA Country "has this huge footprint within country music" that could make or break a career is overstated, according to Kurt Bardella.

The editor of the country music newsletter Morning Hangover recognizes there is some relationship as a number of country music fans are part of gun culture.

"But when you look at overall artists and their songs, guns represent such a small portion of the catalogue."

It makes sense that the NRA would want to look for ways to tap into a younger demographic, Bardella says.

"It's a marketing effort that they have initiated and tried to reel in younger audiences to become members of the NRA — it's basically a membership drive."

But from the country music side of it, Bardella says, the NRA is "just one of the hundreds of different brands that interact with country music every year."

The Current did put in a request to speak to someone at NRA Country. The organization did not get back to us. 

Listen to the full segment near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Lara O'Brien, Samira Mohyeddin and Yamri Taddese.