The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

‘I cannot express how wrong I was’: Country guitarist changes mind on gun control after Vegas

In the wake of the deadly mass shooting in Las Vegas on Sunday night that left at least 58 people dead and more than 500 injured, the Josh Abbott Band — like many country acts — posted a message that sent thoughts and prayers to the victims. The Texas-based group performed at the Route 91 Harvest festival Sunday afternoon, several hours before a gunman fired into the crowd during Jason Aldean’s set.

However, one member of the band went even further, posting a lengthy message on Twitter about his personal response to the attack. After spending the night fearing for his life, Caleb Keeter, the group’s lead guitarist, spoke up about gun control.

Column | Country artists have the ear of American gun culture. They need to speak up.

“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with [Concealed Handgun Licenses], and legal firearms on the bus,” Keeter wrote. “They were useless.” He continued:

We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think we were part of the massacre and shoot us. A small group (or one man) laid waste to a city with dedicated, fearless police officers desperately trying to help, because of access to an insane amount of fire power.
Enough is enough.
Writing my parents and the love of my life a goodbye last night and a living will because I felt like I wasn’t going to live through the night was enough for me to realize that this is completely and totally out of hand. These rounds were powerful enough that my crew guys just standing in close proximity of a victim shot by this f—ing coward received shrapnel wounds.
We need gun control RIGHT. NOW. My biggest regret is that I stubbornly didn’t realize it until my brothers on the road and myself were threatened by it. We are unbelievably fortunate to not be among the number of victims killed or seriously wounded by this maniac.

Speaking up about any remotely political issue is rare in country music, particularly about gun culture, given the genre’s close ties with the National Rifle Association. While many singers are often hesitant to get political for fear of being blacklisted from radio, the Josh Abbott Band has found plenty of success in their native Texas and as a touring band — their last charting single in 2016, called “Wasn’t That Drunk,” landed in the mid-40s. So in terms of mainstream radio, they don’t have much to lose.

A gunman in a high-rise hotel overlooking the Las Vegas Strip opened fire on a country music festival Oct. 1, in the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history. (Video: Taylor Turner/The Washington Post)

Later, as his message started to get retweeted thousands of times, Keeter added another tweet:

“That being said, I’ll not live in fear of anyone,” he wrote. “We will regroup, we’ll come back, and we’ll rock your f—ing faces off. Bet on it.”

A publicist for the Josh Abbott Band said the band declined to comment further and pointed toward a statement that the group posted on Facebook.

“Everyone in our band and crew are safe,” Abbott, the lead singer, wrote. “The band & crew were on the concert grounds and saw people get shot. Some of my crew members were hit with shrapnel, but not injured. We are deeply disturbed by this horrific act of violence and send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. It was a long awful night but we are blessed to be alive and healthy. Hug your loved ones tight.”

The scene after a gunman opened fire on concertgoers at a country music festival in Las Vegas

Police officers advise people to take cover near the scene of a shooting near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Read more:

Stunned country music community mourns after mass shooting in Las Vegas

Jason Aldean, Jake Owen and Luke Combs, Sunday’s artists at the Route 91 Harvest festival

Route 91 Harvest festival: The Las Vegas ‘sleepover’ that ended in a nightmare

Should country singers speak up about politics and Trump? We asked them.