This past Friday, the names of more than three dozen recording artists disappeared from the website of NRA Country, the lifestyle marketing subset of the National Rifle Association that promotes the gun lobby’s ties to the country music industry.
Since February 14th’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the NRA has witnessed an unprecedented degree of scrutiny as survivors of the school shooting have renewed the debate about the organization’s role in controlling the nation’s gun legislation.
On Friday, March 16th, just over one month after the shooting, NRA Country unveiled a brand new website, redesigned and modernized in accordance with the rest of the NRA’s web presence. But one key piece of information was now missing: the artists themselves.
Representatives from several prominent NRA Country artists like Granger Smith and Justin Moore, who, as of earlier last week, had been listed as NRA Country artists on the organization’s website, say that they had not been informed of the impending change to NRA Country’s website.
“I can only guess that after the Parkland shooting, there were a lot more acts that felt queasy about having their name directly associated with the NRA,” says David Macias, President of Thirty Tigers, a distribution, marketing and artist management company that works with several NRA Country artists. “So, rather than be left with a list of artists that only has Charlie Daniels on it, they decided to change it so that you couldn’t tell which acts were associated.”
The only mention of any musical artists appears on the revamped website’s “events” page, which promotes two separate concerts set for Dallas during the NRA’s annual convention in May: one with Randy Rogers Band and the Scooter Brown band; another with Charlie Daniels, Travis Tritt and Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers.
Since its inception in 2010, the “Featured Artist” section of NRA Country’s website has been the cornerstone of NRA Country, its primary way to highlight the ever-growing, relatively wide spectrum of artists who have been associated or worked with the NRA since its founding.
NRA Country’s list of partnered artists once included everyone from Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton to Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line. Before it vanished last week, the list featured 37 artists, including names like Hank Williams Jr., Luke Combs and Jon Pardi.
Most of these artists’ names appeared on the website after agreeing to one-off cross-promotions in which the artists received free marketing and publicity from the NRA in exchange for the NRA’s continued ability to promote their association with a growing list of prominent country music celebrities.
“NRA Country did a great job at marketing themselves as being about gun safety,” says an industry veteran. “A lot of artists signed up without really thinking about how actions have consequences.”
Over the past five years, many of NRA Country’s most prominent artists have disappeared from the website during similar periods of heightened scrutiny.
In the spring of 2013, a few months after the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, Shelton and Bryan’s name disappeared from the organization’s website. That year, the Academy of Country Music quietly ended its annual skeet-shoot event with the NRA.
Last fall, just days after 59 people were killed at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas, the names of Thomas Rhett and Florida Georgia Line were removed from the website.
“As the mass shooting and this level of violence started ramping up over the past few years, corporations and organizations in Nashville have realized that [associating with the NRA] is not a good look, whereas many of these artists didn’t really think about these things until very recently, when things have really come to fruition. Now, it’s really become a big issue,” says the industry source.
In the months since the Vegas shooting, NRA Country had already slowed down much of its web presence. After singer Drew Baldridge was named NRA Country’s “Artist of the Month” and promoted on its online channels the month following the Vegas massacre, the organization has seemingly discontinued its public-facing digital artist promotion – its website and social media channels have not been updated with a single new artist since November.
During that time, NRA Country did continue to partner with and promote an increasingly fringe group of recording artists such as the Scooter Brown Band, Dustin Collins and hunting personality Nate Hosie exclusively through the organization’s own backchannels, like its flagship publication, American Rifleman.
NRA Country’s public removal of over three dozen country recording artists from their online promotional materials comes at a time when the National Rifle Association has faced perhaps its most intense degree of public scrutiny in modern history.
Last week, in accordance with a nationwide school walkout and moment of silence to commemorate the lives lost in Florida, Viacom, the parent organization of Country Music Television, announced that CMT, like its sister channels MTV, VH1 and BET, would be suspending programming for 17 minutes.
Last week CMT also became the first major industry stronghold to make a public statement on the genre’s longstanding relationship with guns by announcing that it would be “work[ing] with the country music industry on its efforts to support gun safety.”
It is not clear whether NRA Country, which did not respond to a request for comment, has plans on reinstituting its list of partnered country artists.