After announcing his involvement in the Toms apparel company’s campaign to support universal background checks in the firearm industry last week, Florida Georgia Line’s Tyler Hubbard went one step further on Monday, calling out 34 fellow country artists to add their voice of support to Toms’ “End Gun Violence Together” campaign.
In an interview with Rolling Stone Country, Hubbard expanded on his decision to speak out on the issues of gun violence and gun control, and explained the reasoning behind his call to encourage a wide range of country artists — including Blake Shelton, Chris Stapleton, Miranda Lambert, Sam Hunt, Luke Bryan and even fellow FGL bandmate Brian Kelley — to join him in the campaign.
“We’ve been given a platform and a voice for a reason, and it’s really time to start using that voice for more than just talking about our music and ourselves,” Hubbard says. “Whether it’s at a country bar or a country concert, every artist in our genre has been affected by gun violence directly or indirectly, and it’s something that really hits close to home and something that everybody wants to talk about, but doesn’t really know how to. But there’s no better time than now.”
Hubbard’s comments come just a month after last month’s shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill in Thousand Oaks, California, where 12 men and women were killed at the country music bar, and little more than a year after the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest festival in Las Vegas, two events that have galvanized the country music community on the issue of gun violence. “We’ve seen it firsthand,” he says. “Our fans and artists are getting shot.”
The Georgia native also cites growing up and having a family with wife Hayley Hubbard as factors that have influenced his thinking on gun violence over the years. “Before, I’d like to think that I was probably a hard-ass who could dodge a bullet, which is not true,” he says. “Now that I’ve got a wife and kids and family, I really start to think about things from a different perspective and I really want to start trying to make a change.”
Hubbard explained that focusing on an issue like universal background checks, supported by a vast majority of Americans in repeated polls, helped make it easier to speak out on a polarizing topic like gun control. “You’d have to be hard-pressed to find somebody that thinks there shouldn’t be background checks,” says Hubbard. “It’s not really as confrontational or controversial as one may think.”
The federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS, has been in place since 1993, but there are a number of inefficiencies and loopholes (including the ability to purchase firearms from unlicensed dealers at a gun show without a background check), that have made the system less than 100 percent effective. Toms’ “End Gun Violence Together” campaign is aimed at encouraging lawmakers to pass legislation that would strengthen the federal government’s ability to run background checks on all citizens purchasing firearms in the United States.
Speaking alongside Hubbard, Toms founder/CEO Blake Mycoskie expressed admiration for the Florida Georgia Line singer’s ability to address the issues from the perspective of a firearm enthusiast. “That’s my favorite part of Tyler’s first video, is when he says, ‘I’m a proud gun owner,’” says Mycoskie, who, like Hubbard, admits he has not historically been involved in politics. “That, to me, is what broke the dam: the idea that we can celebrate the sporting nature of using guns responsibly and at the same time we can say that it doesn’t make sense that if you’re a felon you can leave prison and go buy five guns tomorrow.”
Toms’ campaign encourages citizens to send a postcard to their legislators urging them to pass universal background check legislation. Mycoskie says that since launching the initiative last month, more than 600,000 postcards have been sent to lawmakers via the company’s website.
Hubbard and Dierks Bentley were among the first country artists to join the campaign, which Mycoskie began after the Borderline shooting.
“This isn’t about taking away anyone’s rights,” Fairchild wrote on Instagram. “We need better background checks.”
“Challenge proudly accepted,” posted Lady Antebellum. “Let’s #EndGunViolenceTogether.”
Hubbard hopes that more fellow artists will follow suit in the coming days. “I’ve gotten a lot of support and encouragement from people saying they agree, but everybody’s still being a little slow to report and speak out,” he says. “If we continue to be silent because we’re in fear of somebody taking our guns away, then that’s just the wrong mentality. That’s thinking backwards and we need to start thinking forwards and being leaders in these conversations, especially in the country music demographic that we live in.”
Hubbard’s comments are all the more striking considering Florida Georgia Line is among the dozens of artists who, in the past, have partnered in cross-promotional marketing opportunities with NRA Country, a lifestyle branding arm of the lobbying organization. In 2013, NRA Country published a tour-diary video that the country duo had made for NRA Country. As recently as last fall, the group was listed on the organization’s website. But within days of the Route 91 shooting, Florida Georgia Line was one the first acts whose name disappeared from the organization’s list of partnered artists, with a representative clarifying to Rolling Stone Country at the time that the group did not “have a present day association with the NRA.”
“I don’t really know where the NRA stands on all those issues of background checks, so I don’t want to speak out of turn,” says Hubbard. “But I do know that we’re all in agreement that the universal background check is just the first step in the right direction for everybody to show that we really do all want to make a change.”
(Although the NRA has long taken credit for NICS, the current federal background check system came about as a result of legislative compromise with the NRA in the early Nineties. On its website, the NRA also stated in 2016 that the organization “opposed expanding firearm background check systems, because background checks don’t stop criminals from getting firearms, because some proposals to do so would deprive individuals of due process of law, and because NRA opposes firearm legislation.” According to The Trace, the NRA spent nearly $7 million opposing a successful 2016 ballot initiative in Nevada that expanded statewide background checks.)
Ensuring universal background checks, says Hubbard, is “one little thing we can do to start a real historic change. It’s time to use our platform for the greater good.”