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When did country music become a vehicle for NRA promotion?

What was supposed to be a quiet Labor Day weekend at home turned into me going to my first concert in years. The first indoor Red, White & Boom seemed to be a big hit.

I smiled at the sight of young and old enjoying what I’ve always felt was America’s music, singing word-for-word with some of country’s better names.

Music has always been a bridge; it brings people from all walks of life together, regaling them with things that we’ve all been through. That moment of unity in this age of divisiveness was powerful. But it took a turn as I learned that my music is playing a big hand in holding our country back.

Between his classic “Watching You” and his barn-burner “If You’re Going Through Hell,” Rodney Atkins treated Rupp to a rendition of the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” (you know, the one that goes “stop children, what’s that sound”). He took it upon himself to change one of the lyrics, replacing the original words with “before the man comes to take your guns away.”

The crowd erupted in cheers, and I realized there really was something happening here, and probably had been for a long time. No matter the horrors that have befallen us as our laws fall short in this new age that grows more complex with every passing day, one constant fear has permeated the American electorate: “They’re going to take my guns away.”

If you’ve never heard that, you’re living under a rock. How do I know? Because Wayne LaPierre and former leaders of the National Rifle Association have worked tirelessly to make sure you believe there’s a scary Washington Democrat who wants to plunge our country into a new age of authoritarianism by coming to raid your gun cabinet.

There’s only one problem. I’ve looked and, for the life of me, can’t find one credible piece of federal legislation that has proposed any sort of mass confiscation of firearms. Even Democrats see confiscation without extreme due process as a complete non-starter, as they well should.

Each new atrocity reshapes my understanding of what horror is. Yet after every one of these horrors, even the slightest hint of reform is met with a war cry. A war cry fed by misinformation from the NRA and from America’s music, too.

As I watched the crowd erupt jubilantly as the star they’d come to see fanned the flames of fear, it ran through me what my music had become. As I watched in dismay, the words of the greats rang in my ears. Country music has been with me through every chapter of my life. In times of transition I “learned to live again” with Bobby Bare. When the world looked darker than my young eyes had ever seen, I too felt like an “old violin.” And now that the likes of George Jones and Glen Campbell are gone and I’m finding a whole lot of strangers in the house of Cash, it occurs to me that we truly are living and dying with the choices we make. Every time we let someone believe there’s a concentrated effort to take their guns away, we’re making it that much harder to stop the next Sandy Hook, we’re making it that much harder for responsible gun owners, making it much more likely that they will have to live their nightmare of using their firearms as a last resort. Like so many other times when words have failed me, there’s a song to help me find my voice: “There is a darkness that everyone must face, it wants to take what’s good and fair and lay it all to waste, and that darkness covers everything in sight ... until it meets a single point of light.”

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