From the very beginning, Saving Country Music has taken on the charge to not just report on country music, but to report on how the media is covering country music. The way artists, songs, albums, and the genre itself is characterized by the media very commonly feeds into public perception, making it an important beat to cover, even if it can make you vilified by your fellow media members as you point out nonfactual reporting or flimsy mischaracterizations.
There is no better example of just how damaging a mischaracterizing article can be to an artist than the Rolling Stone cover story that came out about Eric Church in the summer of 2018. And in this instance, it came in the form of a puff piece feature, not some attempted take down of Church based off of spurious or outright false information like we commonly see today.
You might think that after five years, bygones would be bygones, or maybe the truth about the matter would have ultimately trickled out and prevailed in popular culture. But no. In the last five years, trust in the media has sunk to an all-time low in the United States, and music media is no different. But this Eric Church report came out before distrust in the media reached its present-day level, and before Rolling Stone had completely beclowned itself under the new leadership of editor Noah Shachtman.
There are plenty of reasons that the general country music fan may not have favorable opinions about Eric Church, including the fact that his music has never really been that country. He’s more of a roots arena rocker residing in the country realm. He’s also had some moments in his career that have made him unfavorable to some, like his cancellation of a major concert in 2022 so he could attend a basketball game. Saving Country Music has posted ample criticism of Church over the years for sure, for the basketball offense and other issues.
But for Eric Church, there’s another more pointed accusation that comes up every single time his name is mentioned, and it has absolutely no basis in the truth. It’s the accusation that Eric Church is “anti-gun,” and it’s usually chased with the further accusation that he is a communist or leftist.
These are just some of the comments that populated under a recent article about how Eric Church is taking independent country artists such as Cody Jinks, Whiskey Myers, Morgan Wade, The Red Clay Strays, and many more out on tour with him. They’re indicative of the comments that always appear whenever Eric Church’s name is uttered.
Of course, some of this can be boiled down to internet idiocy, like many online comments. But in the case of Eric Church, this is a pervasive sentiment, and it really helps illustrate how one instance of misinformation from the media can result in an undying and pervasive canard that can be difficult to impossible for people to let go of. They see someone’s name, and it’s immediately like a dog whistle.
Nothing Eric Church said to Rolling Stone in 2018 would ever deserve such characterizations. In the portion of the interview with Church where politics was broached, he left some extremely reasonable opinions that if anything, might be characterized as slightly right of center, including, if not especially, the ones about gun control.
On the 2nd Amendment, Eric Church said, “I’m a Second Amendment guy. That’s in the Constitution, it’s people’s right, and I don’t believe it’s negotiable. But nobody should have that many guns and that much ammunition and we don’t know about it. Nobody should have 21 AKs and 10,000 rounds of ammunition and we don’t know who they are. Something’s gotta be done so that a person can’t have an armory and pin down a Las Vegas SWAT team for six minutes. That’s fucked up.”
That sure doesn’t sound “anti-gun” to me. And let’s remember that Eric Church was one of the performers at the 2017 Route 91 Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas that is currently the worst mass shooting in modern American history, with 60 people killed, 413 wounded, and over 1,000 bullets fired from one individual. Church was being a bit hyperbolic, but this is what he was referencing specifically in this instance. This was the question he was answering in the wake of the 2017 shooting in a 2018 interview.
Here were Eric Church’s other political takes:
On Hillary Clinton: “Hillary just bored me. I just didn’t see much.” (He said he didn’t vote at all, and his wife voted for Trump)
On Donald Trump: “I’m conflicted. I like that he’s thrown a monkey wrench into things. I think that chaos is good. I enjoyed the North Korea thing. Why haven’t we talked to that guy? Tariffs, I don’t know yet. I don’t want a trade war, but I’ll walk with him down that road a little farther. At the same time, I have a ton of problems with him. I don’t like the racial overtones. I hate the tweeting. It seems insecure, petty, not presidential.”
On Abortion: “I’m a pro-life guy at heart, but I don’t think we should change the law. Some things you shouldn’t govern.”
On the NFL Protests: “I was taught by my father to take my hat off [for the anthem], but if somebody wants to do something different, it’s not my place to tell them not to. That’s how the Constitution works.”
On Immigration: “I believe there’s a better way to handle it, but we’re a country of immigrants, and we always should be.”
On Politics In General: “I believe most of [my fans] feel the way I do – regardless of their voter registration. Some of this stuff you look at and go, ‘What the fuck? Why is this hard?’ Why can we not get infrastructure done? Why don’t we do more clean energy? Why are [prescription] drugs so expensive? Because it’s a lobbyist-based system. It’s a money-based system. Either way, we’re fucked.”
His Bernie Sanders Comments, In Context: “I love Bernie. Bernie had a great message. It’s funny: If it had been Bernie versus Trump, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I would’ve at least thought about it more than I did.” (meaning he liked both candidates)
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Most or all of Eric Church’s stances start with taking a fairly conservative viewpoint, and then qualify it with a caveat that would characterize him as a rationally-minded conservative moderate. So how is it that every time Eric Church’s name is uttered, the comments will always include how he is an anti-gun “leftist” or “commie”? It primarily has to do with the mischaracterization of the cover of the Rolling Stone story.
The blurb was written to shock and to be provocative, and was not rooted in the reality of what Eric Church said. Even Eric Church when he posted an image of the cover on his Instagram account said, “Read the full interview (don’t be misled by the headline).”
Eric Church did go on to say about the NRA in the context of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, “There are some things we can’t stop, like the disgruntled kid who takes his dad’s shotgun and walks into a high school. But we could have stopped the guy in Vegas. I blame the lobbyists. And the biggest in the gun world is the NRA. I’m a Second Amendment guy, but I feel like they’ve been a bit of a roadblock. I don’t care who you are – you shouldn’t have that kind of power over elected officials. To me it’s cut-and-dried: The gun-show [loophole] would not exist if it weren’t for the NRA, so at this point in time, if I was an NRA member, I would think I had more of a problem than the solution. I would question myself real hard about what I wanted to be in the next three, four, five years.”
Eric Church was certainly critical of the NRA in his statements. Since 2018, criticism of the NRA has only increased due to financial scandals and other issues with the organization. But that doesn’t make someone “anti-gun.” Rolling Stone was perpetrating a common practice that was occurring in 2018 during the Trump presidency, especially when it came to country artists: trying to bait them into uttering left-leaning political ideas under the false pretense that if they take such stances, it will bring country music’s more conservative fans around to left-leaning ideology.
But as this instance with Eric Church and others have proven time and time again, country fans will divest their fandom in an artist who they disagree with politically well before their assuaged to changed their political beliefs to align with said artist. Why Rolling Stone was even asking political questions of an entertainer and making the answers the focal point of a cover story is a fair question as well.
But it wasn’t just the Rolling Stone mischaracterizations that have led to this Eric Church “anti-gun” canard. After the cover story was posted on July 25th, 2018, conservative media outlets and personalities pounced, and often with similarly unfair and out-of-context coverage and misleading headlines about the issue, proving that the problem with the media and how it covers country music crosses the political divide. Some, if not most of the people who claim Eric Church is “anti-gun” never even saw the original Rolling Stone article. They saw a response to it in a conservative media outlet, or just the headlines of those stories, or a hot take of a pundit online.
“I’m a Second Amendment guy. That’s in the Constitution, it’s people’s right, and I don’t believe it’s negotiable” seems to very clearly state how Eric Church feels about gun ownership in the United States. He’s also clearly stated that he is a gun owner himself, owning about “half a dozen” firearms. By both sides gaming his comments to enrage the public and create click-bait, it not only bled the nuance out of the statements he made, it discourages the taking and sharing of nuanced and pragmatic views in total since it can leave you misunderstood, and in a political no man’s land. Anti-gun advocates certainly aren’t going to rise up and defend what Eric Church said. So this leaves him with few allies.
You may still disagree with Eric Church’s gun stances and his take on the NRA. Or, if you happen to be anti-gun, perhaps you’re disappointed that he doesn’t share your views. You may still think Eric Church is a slime ball for some other reason. But the idea that Eric Church is “anti-gun” is empirically false. And claiming that he is “anti-gun” is not only unfair to Eric Church, it’s the exact kind of mischaracterizations that have led to the polarizing political environment the United States currently suffers from where the truth is often sacrificed for the uninformed hot take.