NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — For weeks the National Rifle Association has been publicizing plans to hold a fundraising dinner at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum where it planned to auction off firearms, even as many country music artists have distanced themselves from the gun rights organization.
But a spokesperson for the museum confirmed to The Associated Press that the April 17 event will not take place at the site after the AP asked questions about the museum’s no firearms policy. The NRA’s relationship with country artists and music organizations has fractured in recent years after several mass shootings, including one at a Las Vegas country music festival in 2017.
On Feb. 28, Kelly McGlumphy, the museum’s director of communications, confirmed to the AP that the museum’s policy prohibits firearms, loaded or unloaded, or other weapons, in the building whether visible or concealed. When asked how the policy affected the NRA’s plans for an auction that included firearms, McGlumphy, said that the museum was talking to the NRA about the auction. Nearly a week later, on Thursday evening, McGlumphy told the AP that “following those discussions, the organization will not be holding their event at the museum.”
“The NRA was asked to change our firearms policy at our auction,” said Amy Hunter, director of media relations for the NRA. “We respectfully declined and made alternate arrangements at a venue with additional capacity. We would like to thank the Country Music Hall of Fame for their consideration.”
The NRA is holding its annual convention this April in downtown Nashville. Touted as one of the premiere events of the convention, the $500-per ticket NRA-ILA dinner and auction at the museum promised “celebrities, industry executives and a host of Second Amendment supporters from around the country.” The Institute for Legislative Action is the NRA’s lobbying arm. Last week, the NRA publicized that auction items would include “engraved firearms, suppressors, knives, fine art, hunts, optics and trips from around the globe.”
Previously, the NRA’s website for the fundraiser had an image of a woman displaying a rifle in a crowded room.
The museum, which calls itself “the Smithsonian of country music,” is one of the Nashville’s biggest tourist draws, bringing in a record 1.3 million visitors last year. The museum also rents out private event spaces.
The convention will still be held at the Music City Center, a nearby convention site.
For years, the NRA partnered with and publicized country artists as a part of a lifestyle marketing campaign called NRA Country. They promoted country artists on their website, paid for advertising for the artists and hired them to perform at NRA events. NRA partnered with the Academy of Country Music in 2011 and 2012 to put on a celebrity shooting competition that was hosted by Blake Shelton and included artists like Luke Bryan, Montgomery Gentry and Justin Moore. In 2015, when the NRA last held its convention in Nashville, the organization sponsored an Alan Jackson concert and held NRA Country Jam, a free concert featuring Hank Williams Jr. and Colt Ford.
“Part of it is buying friends. They are supporting artists, giving them money, tour support, basically hiring them to play at events,” said Don Cusic, a Belmont University professor and country music historian.
Cusic said that in the wake of mass shootings, some country artists changed their tune about teaming up with the NRA — privately and more publicly.
“They went from seeing the NRA as an opportunity in terms of marketing, publicity and tour support money to a big liability,” Cusic said. “And they are going to avoid that. They aren’t going to say it out loud, but they’re gonna have a private meeting.”
Certain country artists have been vocal on gun control. Tyler Hubbard of Florida Georgia Line, the hit duo that NRA Country once publicized on its website, called for universal background checks on firearm sales in 2018 and faced a backlash from gun rights supporters. Eric Church, in a Rolling Stone interview, said he blamed the NRA for blocking legislation with its lobbyists and control over lawmakers. Country music couple Tim McGraw and Faith Hill called for “common sense” gun control legislation, and Rosanne Cash wrote an op-ed in the New York Times asking country musicians to publicly stand up to the NRA’s efforts to form an alliance with the country music audience.
The NRA Country website that once listed dozens of country artists now doesn’t name any artist.