Kornhaber: You tweeted about gun control, and some of the replies pointed out that California already has strong firearm regulations and in fact recently passed some more.
Cash: It’s as if they think California is an island. Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws. People go across the border to Indiana to buy the guns. This should be a federal law.
Kornhaber: The attacker in Thousand Oaks was using a handgun that is legal in California, but also an extended magazine, which may have been banned there.
Cash: Yeah, I don’t know how he got it. Step back and take the wide view and see that we have a systemic problem in this country. These were college kids, right? We use young people as collateral damage for the Second Amendment, and it’s wrong.
Kornhaber: Have country artists taken up your call in the last year to speak out against the NRA?
Cash: No. There’s a lot of fear. Particularly from younger artists who know the blowback they’ll get. Look at the blowback Taylor Swift got for just telling people to vote. I’ve gotten threats for speaking out. Like I said in the op-ed, people wanted to kill us because we spoke out against gun violence. There’s a level of insanity that’s taken root.
I heard from some musicians, privately, after Las Vegas and the op-ed, [who] said, “Thank you; my mind has been changed by this.” But very few came out publicly.
Kornhaber: How have you tackled this issue as an artist?
Cash: There’s a song, on my new record, that I did with Kris Kristofferson and Elvis Costello called “8 Gods of Harlem.” I’d recently read about a kid being killed in Harlem by gun violence, and we played it out like a theater piece: I wrote the mother’s, Kris wrote the father’s, Elvis wrote the brother’s point of view. I think it’s a powerful song. I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to change anybody’s mind—people are entrenched. But you have to say what’s in your heart, don’t you?
Kornhaber: You also sang on Mark Erelli’s recent song about gun violence, “By Degrees.”
Cash: That’s a heartbreaking song. It was subtle and so sharp at the same time. Like, you can learn to live with the worst imaginable possible thing when it’s happening incrementally. You don’t notice until there’s carnage all around you and the fabric of your country is torn apart.
Kornhaber: Your New York Times column mentioned that gun-rights proponents often say your dad, Johnny Cash, wouldn’t be on board with your cause. What’s your line on that claim?
Cash: Oh, it’s so ridiculous, and I never use him to support my own agenda. But he was on the advisory board of PAX, the anti-gun-violence-against-children organization. So, come on. He had hunting rifles and antique Remingtons, but he didn’t have an arsenal of military weapons, and he never believed in that.
Kornhaber: Do you have anything else to say about the fact that country-music fans have been targeted twice in a very explicit way?
Cash: I wish they would take notice and start defending themselves by supporting more commonsense gun laws. Not by adding more guns to the mix.