Tim McGraw's Sandy Hook Show Sparks Controversy, Billy Currington Bails

McGraw sends poignant message to angered gun rights advocates, while his opener decides to stay neutral

Tim McGraw will headline a charitable -- but controversial -- concert for Sandy Hook Promise in July. Credit: Chelsea Lauren/WireImage

Earlier this week, Tim McGraw announced plans to swing his summertime tour through Hartford, Connecticut, and play a benefit show for Sandy Hook Promise, a non-profit organization that formed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings

Billy Currington and Chase Bryant, McGraw's two opening acts on the Shotgun Rider tour, were originally scheduled to play the gig, as well. That changed yesterday afternoon, when Currington — caught in the middle of a social media firestorm ignited by gun rights advocates — cancelled his appearance. 

The trouble started on Tuesday, with a 255-word article published by Breitbart.com. A conservative website whose recent headlines include "Zoinks!: Clinton Parks 'Scooby' Van in Handicap Space — Just Behind Vacant Spot!" and "Bruce Willis and Demi Moore Daughter: Nipples Represent Equality," Breitbart examined the Sandy Hook benefit from a decidedly right-wing perspective, branding it a "gun control fundraiser" and promising that "the money McGraw and Currington raise will ultimately succeed in making it harder for law-abiding citizens to acquire and carry the guns they need for self-defense." The article's author, Awr Hawkins, even backed up his assertions by citing an older Breitbart article from last December, published shortly after the two-year anniversary of the school shootings. Coincidentally, Hawkins had written that piece, too.

Sandy Hook Promise, whose mission statement is to "protect children from gun violence so no other parent experiences the loss of their child," doesn't see itself as an anti-gun organization. The NPO's website lists mental wellness programs and "firearm safety and security" as its main areas of focus, even offering tips for proper gun storage ("Make sure your guns are stored unloaded and separate from ammunition") in a downloadable PDF. Even so, champions of the Second Amendment rallied behind the Breitbart article, with everyone from Travis Tritt to the NRA voicing their dissatisfaction with McGraw, Currington and Bryant via Twitter. 

At first, Currington fought back. "i didn't sign up for shit," he wrote in a since-deleted Tweet on April 15th, responding to one particularly angry commenter. "just hearing about it like you are. so fuck u too." One day later, he logged onto Facebook and announced his decision to pull out of the show altogether. 

"I've never been one to take on controversial issues — I'm a singer," he wrote. "I do feel strongly about honoring and supporting the Sandy Hook community and will be making a donation to a local organization. I appreciate people's freedom and passion for whatever cause they want to support, however, I am choosing to step aside from this fundraiser and will focus instead on the rest of the tour dates as I look forward to being on the road with Tim and Chase and having a blast with all of the fans."

One champion of the Second Amendment who isn't backing down is McGraw, a gun owner and recreational hunter whose fiddle player, Dean Brown, was family friends with one of the 20 children killed in the Sandy Hook attack. "I support gun ownership," he wrote yesterday in a statement to The Washington Post. "I also believe 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. Through a personal connection, I saw first-hand how the Sandy Hook tragedy affected families and I felt their pain. The concert is meant to do something good for a community that is recovering."

With or without Currington, McGraw will perform at Hartford's XFINITY Theater on July 17th, with all profits going toward Sandy Hook Promise. Chase Bryant is presumably still in the mix, too, although he's kept a low profile since April 13th, when he retweeted McGraw's original announcement about the Sandy Hook gig. Currington will sit that gig out, then rejoin his tourmates for the rest of the Shotgun Rider run.