Brow Beat

Country Musician Caleb Keeter Changed His Mind on Gun Control After Getting Caught in the Las Vegas Shooting

Caleb Keeter, second from left, with the Josh Abbott Band at the Academy of Country Music Awards in 2015.*

Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Mass shootings in the U.S. have become so common that the reaction to them has settled into a kind of ritual: the offering of thoughts and prayers, the steady trickle of details about the shooter and the heartbreaking capsule biographies of the victims, the cries for stricter gun legislation, the claim that it’s too early to talk about gun legislation. But Caleb Keeter, a guitarist with the Josh Abbott Band who was caught in Sunday’s Las Vegas shooting, did something we don’t see quite as often: He publicly changed his mind.

As you might expect from the lead guitarist from a band from Lubbock, Texas, whose songs include “Wasn’t That Drunk” and “Texas Women, Tennessee Whiskey,” Keeter was a dedicated supporter of the right to bear arms; according to him, members of the band’s road crew are licensed to carry concealed weapons, and they travel with legal firearms on their tour bus. But as he wrote in a note posted to social media on Monday, none of that made a difference when the Vegas shooter opened fire.

Their guns, Keeter said, were “useless” against a man firing into a crowd from a distant hotel room. “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.”

Keeter went on and did something almost unheard of in the world of mainstream country: He endorsed gun control.

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 just 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.

Keeter faced some backlash from people pointing out that it shouldn’t take getting personally involved in a mass shooting to empathize with previous victims and their families; a response to Keeter’s initial tweet reading, in part, “It’s called empathy. You had none until today,” has been liked more than 3,000 times. But as an even more popular response to that response points out, it doesn’t make sense to attack people for being on the wrong side of an issue and then chastise them when they change their minds. Nor is a response like Keeter’s an inevitable one; Eagles of Death Metal singer Jesse Hughes, who was onstage when gunmen opened fire at Paris’ Bataclan in 2015, has vigorously opposed France’s gun control laws, arguing that “until nobody has guns everybody has to have them.” (He was also barred from the venue after baselessly suggesting that its security guards had been in league with the attackers.)

Keeter’s boss, Josh Abbott, took a more typically noncommital stance, writing on Facebook that he and his crew were “deeply disturbed by this horrific act of violence and send our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.” Jason Aldean, who was performing on stage when the gunman opened fire, wrote, “At the end of the day, we aren’t Republicans or Democrats, Whites or Blacks, Men or Women. … Time to come together and stop the hate!” which is a nice enough sentiment but lacks much in the way of an action plan.

So Keeter’s public stand deserves commendation, and while it’s statistically unlikely that most of the people who oppose gun control will end up caught in a mass shooting, their chances just keep getting better.

Here’s Keeter’s complete statement.

Read more in Slate about the mass shooting in Las Vegas.

*Correction, Oct. 3, 2017: The photo caption for this post originally misidentified Caleb Keeter as being second from the right, not second from the left.