What country musician Caleb Keeter saw Sunday night in a hailstorm of bullets in Las Vegas changed his mind, set for many years, about gun control.
At least 59 people died and more than 500 were injured when, on the final night of the three-day Route 91 Harvest Music Festival, a gunman took aim at a crowd of about 22,000 country music fans packed shoulder-to-shoulder in a penned-in area.
Keeter plays guitar with the Josh Abbott Band, which had performed Sunday afternoon just hours before the shooting.
“I’ve been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my entire life. Until the events of last night,” Keeter tweeted Monday at the beginning of a passionate essay about what he witnessed.
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“I cannot express how wrong I was. We actually have members of our crew with CHL licenses, and legal firearms on the bus.
“They were useless.
“We couldn’t touch them for fear police might think that 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.”
Keeter’s change of heart made headlines because of country music’s close ties to the nation’s gun culture. In 2010 the National Rifle Association launched the initiative NRA Country as a way to “soften” its image in the country music community.
“Many of the artists affiliated with NRA Country have vented their sadness over the Las Vegas shooting on social media, including Tyler Farr, who tweeted, ‘Didn’t expect to wake up to see this, this morning. Prayers out to everyone affected by this tragic event in Las Vegas,’” noted Chris Richards in the Washington Post.
“But what happens after the disbelief? Will he — or any of the other acts associated with NRA Country — detach themselves from an organization that aggressively lobbies to allow semiautomatic weapons to remain in the hands of the American public?”
For the time being, Keeter appears to be a lone voice. But gun control proponents heard him and welcomed him to their “side” on social media.
“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,” Keeter tweeted Monday.
“These rounds were powerful enough that my crew guys just standing in a 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.”
The events in Las Vegas left the country stars who were there feeling lucky to be alive, and those who weren’t horrified and bewildered.
“My deepest sympathies and prayers to anyone has been affected by the Vegas shooting last night. I don’t even know anymore... Why?” tweeted Blake Shelton.
Jason Aldean, who was performing at the time of the shooting, and his wife, Brittany, had just celebrated at a baby shower two days before. Brittany, pregnant with the couple’s first child together, posted a photo from the party to Instagram.
Her next Instagram post was this: “Prayers for Vegas.”
“Brittany was there at the concert with Jason,” sources told Us Weekly on Monday. “They both, including his entire team, are still in shock. They can’t believe this happened to all those innocent people.”
Jake Owen, who performed before headliner Aldean, said it was like watching “a bad movie.”
“Standing there, you could hear the bullets starting to hit the roof of the stage and people started fleeing everywhere. You could hear people screaming,” Owen told ABC News. “It sounded like gunshots were coming from all around us, and this is before any of us knew that it was coming from above.
“I keep saying it was like a bad movie that you’ve seen before but never thought it would be real life.”
Owen tweeted from the scene, reassuring people he was OK and sending love to his daughter, Pearl.
“You could see blood everywhere. It was something that I wouldn’t ever want to see again or wish upon anyone else to see,” he told ABC News.
Owen said he was standing about 50 feet from Aldean when the shooting began. He doesn’t think Aldean, who had just started playing his hit “When She Says Baby,” heard the shots over the music.
It appeared that someone in the crew told the singer “to get off stage and run back here,” Owen said. “I could tell he kind of stopped and started running. At that point, we were all not knowing what to do.”
Aldean ran. His band and crew ducked behind equipment. Their tour bus, directly in the line of fire, was riddled with bullet holes, the source told Us Weekly.
Owen, who fled too, said he had “to run a decent amount of distance,” he told ABC. “We actually had to hop a fence to get out. Luckily there were people assisting, people hopping over this wall that we hopped, and we were lucky we got out.
“It didn’t sound like it was coming from inside of the venue. It sounded like it was coming from closer to Las Vegas boulevard.”
Country singer Chris Young hid behind the stage.
“Spent I don’t know how long on the floor of a trailer behind the stage ... know multiple people are dead. Listening to that gunfire...” he tweeted.
Country performer Luke Combs, who had also performed at the festival, tweeted to his followers from the scene, too.
Aldean and his wife were reportedly driven from the scene in a police vehicle. He later posted a lengthy message to Instagram.
“Tonight has been beyond horrific,” Aldean wrote. “I still don’t know what to say but wanted to let everyone know that Me and my Crew are safe. My Thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved tonight. It hurts my heart that this would happen to anyone who was just coming out to enjoy what should have been a fun night. #heartbroken #stopthehate.”
This isn’t the first time an Aldean show has been marred by tragedy, though nothing even close to this scale, Rolling Stone reported.
In May 2014 a man killed himself by hanging himself in the men’s bathroom at an amphitheater in Atlanta where Aldean was performing.
A few months later a fan disappeared during an Aldean concert in Cleveland, found days later in a county landfill presumably after falling down a trash chute at the venue, according to Rolling Stone. That same summer a drunken driver leaving a show in Connecticut hit a police officer.
“You want people to come out to your show to enjoy it and everybody to wake up the next day and talk about what a great time they had. You don’t want somebody to come to the show and never make it home,” Aldean told Rolling Stone in 2014.
“Unfortunately that kind of stuff is out of our hands.”