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After Vegas massacre, country music artists largely stay out of gun debate

There has been an outpouring of support for the victims of the Las Vegas massacre from the country music world, but as a debate over gun culture again touches the country music community and beyond, so far, most artists have avoided talking politics or directly addressing the gun debate.

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Deena Zaru (CNN)
(CNN) — There has been an outpouring of support for the victims of the Las Vegas massacre from the country music world, but as a debate over gun culture again touches the country music community and beyond, so far, most artists have avoided talking politics or directly addressing the gun debate.

"Over the last 24 hrs I have gone through lots of emotions. Fear, Anger, Heartache, Compassion and many others. I truly dont understand why a person would want to take the life of another," Jason Aldean, who was on stage when the shooting began, wrote on Instagram. "... At the end of the day we arent Democrats or Republicans, Whites or Blacks, Men or Women. We are all humans and we are all Americans and its time to start acting like it and stand together as ONE! ... Time to come together and stop the hate!"

The shooting left 58 people dead when a gunman opened fire at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival on Sunday.

Jake Owen, who performed before Aldean, thanked Las Vegas police and called for prayers.

"Praying for everyone here in Vegas. I witnessed the most unimaginable event tonight. We are okay. Others arent. Please pray, he tweeted. "Gun shots were ringing off of the stage rigging and road cases. No one knew where to go..thank you LVPD and responders for keeping us safe."

But amid the calls for unity, here are a few strong reactions that stand out:

In a passionate statement shared on social media Monday, Caleb Keeter, a guitarist for the Josh Abbott Band, which performed at the 91 Harvest Music Festival said that he had a change of heart on guns.

"I've been a proponent of the 2nd Amendment my entire life," he wrote. "Until the event of last night. I cannot express how wrong I was."

Keeter directly addressed the argument that guns are needed to protect people in the event of a shooting and wrote that even thought crew members on his bus had weapons and licenses to carry them, they "were useless" during the shooting because they feared that police would confuse them for the gunman.

"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," Keeter added. "We need gun control RIGHT.NOW."

The guitarist had defended gun rights in the past, tweeting to a fan back in 2012 that "if the laws we already have were actually enforced, the people committing the shootings wouldn't have these guns."

And on Friday, Sheryl Crow slammed "irresponsible" lawmakers for not passing legislation banning semi-automatic weapons.

"I think we have to do something about gun laws, just unequivocally," Crow told TMZ. "If we don't, our government should be fired. It's just irresponsible."

However, Crow's call for stricter gun laws does not come as a surprise because the singer has long been known for having progressive political views, and it is not an indication of the mainstream feeling on this issue in the country music world. While they are by no means monolithic on this issue, fans and musicians tend to lean generally conservative and some have had close ties with the NRA.

When asked if she thinks country music fans will "bounce back" following the tragedy, Crow, who released some country music, directly dove into the gun debate -- a sensitive topic for country music fans and artists, who have hailed the Second Amendment and gun culture in country music for decades.

Crow said she hoped that country music artists reconsider their tone on guns in music following the Las Vegas shooting.

Asked if this tragedy will change gun culture in country music, "I hope so, I hope so," Crow said. "I think it's infringing on the rights of all people if a few people are allowed to have semi automatic weapons."

Another response that stood out came from country music singer Chely Wright, who is also known for her liberal views and supported former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Wright shared a New York Times op-ed written by Rosanne Cash -- the daughter of the legendary country musician Johnny Cash, who was a big gun rights advocate -- calling on country musicians to stand up to the National Rifle Association and describing the threats she had been getting for twenty years as a gun control advocate.

"I'm with @rosannecash. Again," Wright tweeted. "To my fellow country music artists: Read this and consider your unique position and power to do something."

"Can we talk about it yet? Just checking. #GunControl," she added in a separate tweet.

But nearly a week following the shooting, most reactions have mirrored those from stars like Aldean and Owen.

Chris Young, a country music artist who attended the festival, described what it was like hearing the gunfire and tweeted, "I'm not gonna say anything else other than I'm lucky to be alive. As are many others... and so many people are gone... this is heartbreaking."

"My deepest sympathies and prayers to anyone has been affected by the Vegas shooting last night. I don't even know anymore... Why?" Blake Shelton, tweeted.

Carrie Underwood shared a prayer for the victims, tweeting, "Woke up to such horrible news. We are praying for the victims and their families. May the Lord bring some comfort to them."

Tim McGraw shared a message from himself and his wife, country music star Faith Hill following the Vegas shooting.

"We can't even begin to express all of our feelings waking up to the news that country music fans lost their lives in a tragic shooting last night in Las Vegas. Knowing so many people working at the show and worrying for their well-being and safety. And the fans. Above all our hearts break for each and every one of them affected by this senseless act. Let us help each other find a way to deal with the emotional trauma of these difficult times," he wrote.

Back in 2015 McGraw faced intense backlash from fans for headlining a concert fundraiser for the Sandy Hook Promise, which is a non-profit organization for the victims of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting whose mission is to "prevent gun-related deaths due to crime, suicide and accidental discharge."

The backlash intensified following an article published by the conservative media outlet "Breitbart" with the headline "Country Singers Tim McGraw, Billy Currington Headlining Gun Control Fundraiser."

"Please say it isn't so!" country musician Travis Tritt tweeted amid the backlash, along with a link to the article.

After musicians Billy Currington and Chase Bryant pulled out of the fundraiser, McGraw -- a gun owner and supporter of the Second Amendment -- defended his participation and told the Washington Post in a statement that while he supports gun ownership, he also believes "that with gun ownership comes the responsibility of education and safety -- most certainly when it relates to what we value most, our children. I can't imagine anyone who disagrees with that."

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