Billboard Touring Conference Panel Explores Effects of Gun Violence on Music Industry

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Concertgoers take cover during the Route 91 Harvest country music festival shooting in Las Vegas on Oct. 1, 2017.

“What we are learning today is that when [the NRA] is challenged, they are so much weaker than they appear to be,” said Everytown for Gun Safety director and research of implementation Sarah Tofte.

Everytown for Gun Safety, the non-profit organization that advocates for gun control, wants to deflate the public’s idea that the National Rifle Association can’t be beat. 

Everytown for Gun Safety director of research and implementation Sarah Tofte told the audience Tuesday at the Billboard Touring Conference that the public narrative around the NRA is beginning to change. "What we are learning today is that when [the NRA] is challenged, they are so much weaker than they appear to be,” she said.

During the "Silence is Not an Option: A Conversation With Everytown for Gun Safety" moderated by Tofte, panelists Sam Harris of X Ambassadors, Warped Tour founder Kevin Lyman and Monotone tour manager Lalo Medina discussed the effects of gun violence on the music industry. 

In the wake of the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas that left 58 country fans dead and hundreds injured, Harris believes artists need to lead. "It is important to get back up on that stage. As artists, we have to make sure that our fans are reminded that if we’re not afraid to be there performing for them, then they shouldn't be afraid to be there, either,” he said.

Medina said the Las Vegas shooting has changed the way artists think about safety while on tour. 

“As touring professionals, a 'safety meeting' used to be code for smoking pot in the back of the bus,” he said. “But now we’re going to have to have actual safety meetings to talk about where the exits are, where we’re going to meet in case of an emergency.”

Lyman, who founded the Vans Warped Tour in 1995 that travels around the country and attracts thousands of young fans at each date, said that after the 9/11 attacks, he began to look at concert safety differently. 

“Everyone is doing more and more. We’re doing what we can, but it is going to have to be changing things and getting artists more involved,” Lyman said. “We are a reactive society at this point. We’re trying to be proactive, but if someone gets near a venue with a gun, they are going to get some shots off before we can do anything.”

As the lead vocalist for X Ambassadors, Harris explained that has tried to use his band’s platform to bring more awareness to gun violence.

“We need to not be afraid to say something,” he said. “It is really important for all artists who want to see change and don’t want to see something like what happened in Vegas, what happened in Texas, or what happened at Pulse [in Orlando, Florida] happen again. You have to speak. You have to use whatever platform you have.”

Harris told the audience that every time he posts something political to any of the band’s social media platforms, he can see the number of followers go down and comments telling the band to stay away from the topic. He added that just as many people will say the band is doing something right and hopefully get involved in their own way. 

“For me, as an artist who has somewhat of a platform, it’s not just a choice but it is my obligation to speak out and make it clear to my fans that this is something that we believe in,” Harris said. 

“We need artists to step up,” Lyman added. “If you are playing a place like Stockton, California, where local elections are won by a matter of 100 votes, you have a table there. We need to make it easy for artists to lead. It could be as simple as a campaign for the right to bear arms responsibly.”

“I know it feels like you are facing some political headwinds here, but I think it is important, as more and more artists speak up and join this chorus, I think you’ll see that the NRA isn’t as powerful as they say they are,” Tofte said. “It’s not political suicide to come out and support common-sense gun laws.” 

“The touring industry needs to say enough is enough and do what we can to depoliticize the issue,” Medina said. “I don’t see gun regulation as a political issue. It shouldn’t be a political issue. It’s a basic, common-sense issue in my mind.”

Added Tofte: “We’re seeing a lot of folks join us, but we need more. The thing we say to artists and other influencers is, 'Come join us, because the water is great.' Even 90 percent of Americans are in support of strengthening gun laws. The NRA’s power is waning.”

Everytown has seen success in challenging the gun lobbyist group at the state and local level, with Tofte saying the nonprofit has “defeated 90 percent of the bad bills that the NRA put forward in state houses last year.”

At the forefront of Everytown’s current fight are two federal bills: One would deregulate silencers, and the other would allow gun owners crossing state borders to carry guns according to their state’s regulations instead of the one they are in. Everytown has launched a campaign to stop Congress from hearing the bills and has provided scripts on the organization’s website for constituents to reach out to their representatives. 

This story first appeared on Billboard.com.

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