Nathaniel Rateliff on Why He's Wading Into the Politics of Gun Violence

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats performing at the Not One More rally on Saturday, October 13
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats performing at the Not One More rally on Saturday, October 13 Jake Cox
This past Saturday was a busy one for hometown music hero Nathaniel Rateliff; on the morning of October 13, he and his foundation, The Marigold Project, hosted a number of workshops and panels in RiNo and then raced across town that afternoon to Levitt Pavilion Denver in Ruby Hill Park, where the Night Sweats headlined a mini-music festival and rally.

It was all in the name of preventing gun violence.

Under the "Not One More" banner, the events were an effort by Rateliff and a coalition of nonprofit partners to register people to vote and promote sensible gun legislation.

Rateliff and his foundation took pains to pitch the event as being non-partisan, but predictably, wading into the topic of guns has already drawn some ire from fans. Rateliff responds by saying he’s not rankled by any criticism.

In an interview backstage during Saturday’s concert, Rateliff told Westword, “If there is backlash, then people can spend their time listening to other music. I'm not trying to write any political songs — I'll still write what I feel is important to me. But as far as what's happening in our community, I think it's important to try and change those things in the ways we can.”

But why guns? we asked.

Rateliff began by pointing out that he and other bandmembers are gun owners, so it’s not that he’s taking any sort of hard-line, anti-gun stance; rather, he is trying to promote laws that decrease mass shootings, gun suicides and tragedies. For Rateliff, it’s personal.

"I moved here in 1998 and ended up living right near Columbine when that happened. I have an acquaintance who had a bullet graze up his back at the [Aurora] movie theater shooting [in 2012],” he says. “It hits home. My daughter is a teacher, and she's 22. My goddaughter is in school. There's a real fear."

Rateliff adds that the Marigold Project supports many causes, including helping the homeless with drives and raising money for refugee communities, but he felt compelled to do what he can — including raising student voices — on the topic of gun violence. Indeed, at Saturday's rally, there were numerous middle school and high school students who spoke between musical sets about how they need people to vote this November for candidates who will protect youth with gun legislation.

click to enlarge Kaylee Tyner of Team ENOUGH from The Brady Campaign - JAKE COX
Kaylee Tyner of Team ENOUGH from The Brady Campaign
Jake Cox
"Our fear is that all these shootings are going to keep happening and that nothing is going to change," Rateliff continued. "So our hope is that, by doing something, we could potentially push people to vote and help legislation."

Even so, the topic of guns is divisive, and while the Not One More event was promoted with the idea of finding “common ground,” even that phrase seems like it could mean many things to many people. We asked Rateliff: What does common ground mean to him? What are the no-brainers when it comes to gun legislation?

“Well, first I want to hear everyone's opinions," he began. “But there are certain things that have to change without question.”

Echoing one of the panel sessions from that morning, Rateliff advocated “Extreme Risk Protection” legislation.

“It would have the potential to notify authorities if someone is endangering themselves or anyone else,” Rateliff explained while reading from his phone. The laws serve to empower families, household members, or law enforcement officers to temporarily remove a person’s access to firearms before they commit violence.

"But a success for this event would be that we actually get any laws passed in Colorado that make a difference," he adds. “And if bills don't get passed, we'll just do this again. And keep doing it."
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Chris Walker is a freelancer and former staff writer at Westword. Before moving to the Mile High City he spent two years bicycling across Eurasia, during which he wrote feature stories for VICE, NPR, Forbes, and The Atlantic. Read more of Chris's feature work and view his portfolio here.
Contact: Chris Walker