Ketch Secor helped found the Episcopal School of Nashville, where his two young children are currently students. It’s a small, private Christian institution that has much in common with the Covenant School of Nashville, which was the site of a grisly mass shooting earlier this week that claimed the lives of three children and three adults.
Those similarities and the safety of his children were surely on the Old Crow Medicine Show leader’s mind when he hopped on Instagram and let loose with an intense, viscerally raw plea for change in this country. “Fuck your assault rifle,” he said, calling out everyone still clinging to their right to bear such high-powered arms.
A few days later, Secor is 700 miles away from home in Dallas, Texas, where he and the rest of Old Crow Medicine Show are set to play the newly reopened Longhorn Ballroom this evening. Sitting on a riverbank behind the venue, Secor has his mind on Nashville and his family — tears are in his eyes, and when he speaks, his tone veers between frustration, confusion, sadness, and anger.
“Monday morning, my kid was made aware that his school was no longer a safe place, as every child in Nashville, Tennessee, was made aware of the same information,” Secor says. “We’re talking about it a ton. Both my kids and I, and kids that I’m in community with through my school. But now, the genie is out of the bottle.”
Rolling Stone spoke with Secor before the group’s show in Dallas, where he was still processing the tragedy as well as steeling his resolve to bring about change.
This tragic incident at Covenant School has hit you on so many levels, both personally and professionally.
Yeah. I feel like I’ve been in a full body cast since Monday morning at 10:15. No part of me feels untouched by it — I just want it to change.
How are your kids doing? Do they understand?
My children started their active shooter training this week. My 11-year-old said, with kind of a half-smile on her face, “Well, I was number four, so I still had a little bit of my body exposed on the other side of the desk that we all climbed behind, so they probably would’ve shot me.” And this as a reality leads me to ask the question — is this Goma? Is this Bukavu? Are we in Crimea right now? No, man. Isn’t this where the kids are supposed to feel the safest on earth?
Beyond the fact that gun violence has become such a tragic part of our everyday culture now, it probably hits home even more since it happened in your backyard of Nashville.
I think it’s important that it’s happened in Nashville, because I have begun to think that perhaps — of any of the places — that Nashville has the right kind of culture and climate to be a place where the last nail could be driven into this coffin. We’re a capital. We’re a blue dot in a red sea. We’re a place where the agents of change gather routinely. We live in a state where those types of powers that be also dwell. And we as the music community, so many of us [are] sick and tired of it.
When John Lewis came to Nashville, Tennessee, he came because, along with the architects of the Civil Rights movement, they knew that in Nashville they wouldn’t get hung. They wouldn’t get murdered in their sleep and they wouldn’t get firebombed in their dorm rooms. They also knew that in Alabama and Mississippi they would be murdered, hung and bombed out. But, they came to Nashville as a proving ground for non-violent demonstration, and it worked.
And so, here we are again. We are going to make this change. It’s going to happen in my children’s lifetime. And I was worried that it maybe wouldn’t happen in mine, and my kids could be the ones to fix it. Because I believe it’s going to be fixed.
What about the music industry? Nashville and country music folks have such big platforms and yet remain silent either out of fear or solidarity.
Silence is complicity. And thoughts and prayers are just flags flying at half-mast. I’ve seen flags at half-mast for [almost] 25 years now.
Yep. Thoughts and prayers? They’re not active enough. This is the kind of situation where there has to be a front line and you need to put the flower into the gun barrel. And the thing is, we’ve seen this before, literally. And we can do it again.
Do you own guns?
I don’t own guns, but I have owned guns in the past. And I wouldn’t mind owning guns that were [for] hunting. I respect the rights of Americans to own weapons. I’ve shot lots of rounds for clay sporting pigeons and done target shooting. I never really got into handguns, but my band started up in East Tennessee where everybody had guns and we shoot ‘em just for fun.
But, with the gun reform debate, we’re talking about AR-15s and military grade ammunition, which is a whole other ballgame.
That we are even debating whether owning military grade weaponry, the type being used for war, whether that’s part of the Second Amendment for everyday Americans, to me, is just a bitter joke.
It can often feel like you’re yelling at a brick wall to get somebody to listen. Are you optimistic?
Oh yeah. I’m ready. Let’s go. I feel very optimistic that this could be the last bullet casing that we pick up, the last [bullet casing] they pick up with their rubber gloves for the forensics teams to find out which child this killed.
That this could be in the hallway of Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee? I demand that our elected officials make this the last casing that a forensic squad picks up with a rubber glove to figure out which child it entered the body of.
American culture gets in this loop where, one week from now, there will be something else the news focuses on. I feel like you’re not going to let people forget anytime soon.
I’m not. This is where the buck stops. I’m not going to stop writing. This is how things change, man. It’s talking one-to-one. We can stop it as long as we stop it together. You’ve got to talk to your neighbor. We have to make a sacrifice for our children. And some of us think that that’s not a hard sacrifice to make. I think the gun rights activist crowd needs to be able to see, needs to have a renewed sense of clarity about why it is imperative that they make the sacrifice.
I see this in three parts. There are three crises in America. The first one is that it’s a crisis about gun control. The second part is that it’s a crisis about mental health. And the third part is that it’s a crisis about the American political factionalism that has driven us apart from one another, and has allowed the other two crises to contribute to the normalization of school shootings.
I want to sit down with [Tennessee] Governor Lee. I want to sit down with Senator [Marsha] Blackburn and Senator [Bill] Hagerty. And I want to just be able to talk. I’m not upset with those people. I’m upset with the circumstances of the America that I’m bringing my children up in. And even though I didn’t vote for those guys, they are the leaders of my state, and of my state in the nation. I need them to know that I want to peaceably demonstrate how unacceptable the new terms of being a parent in Nashville, Tennessee, are. But I’m not doing it with vitriol. I’m doing it because I demand action from my elected officials on this subject. And I don’t care if Republicans lead it or Democrats lead it. I don’t care about that at all. All I care is that I can feel safe as a parent to drop my kid off at school — is that so much to ask?