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Ted Nugent should be in jail

By LZ Granderson, CNN Contributor
April 19, 2012 -- Updated 1604 GMT (0004 HKT)
 Musician Ted Nugent speaks at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia.
Musician Ted Nugent speaks at a rally in Charleston, West Virginia.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • LZ Granderson: Ted Nugent should be tried and go to jail for insinuating he'd kill Obama
  • Threatening a president at a time of war needs to be taken seriously, LZ writes
  • LZ: Consider that we have highest rate of civilian gun ownership in the world
  • LZ: This disrespects the office: It's wrong if it's directed at a GOP president too

Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter: @locs_n_laughs.

Grand Rapids, Michigan (CNN) -- Ted Nugent should be arrested.

Not because he doesn't like Barack Obama but because he got up in front of a group of people and insinuated he would attempt to assassinate Obama if he's re-elected. Or let's put it this way: A man with a truckload of guns has threatened the life of our president while the country's at war.

Nugent's words were: "If Barack Obama is elected, I'll either be dead or in jail this time next year," which sounds to me like he's open to directing his disapproval of Obama in a way that is violent and unlawful. When you see that statement next to Nugent comparing Obama and his colleagues to coyotes that needed to be shot, as well as the need to "ride into that battlefield and chop their heads off in November," I don't see how that rant cannot be looked upon as a threat on the president's life.

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I don't care how you feel about Nugent's music or Obama's policies, it seems that if there were a First Amendment line to cross, that would be it. And yet, the reality is the Secret Service will spend a little time investigating Nugent, determine he's not a true threat, and move on. If the Supreme Court can rule in favor of an 18-year-old man who, in voicing his opposition to being drafted for the Vietnam War, said: "If they ever make me carry a rifle the first man I want to get in my sights is LBJ," then it's doubtful anything is going to happen to Nugent.

LZ Granderson
LZ Granderson

At least anything involving jail time.

People are still free to organize boycotts and express disapproval. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech but it cannot insulate folks against the social and cultural repercussions that come from saying something offensive.

Nugent should be in jail. But he's just a piece of low-hanging fruit. We already know he's a wild man who makes inflammatory remarks to stay relevant. We also know he's not the only media figure who shocks for a living.

The bigger question is why is it OK to say you're going to kill the president, and by OK, I mean legal?

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True, because President Obama is black he has attracted a unique breed of critics, such as Walter Bagdasarian, who in 2008 was arrested but later set free after posting "Re: Obama fk the n****r, he will a .50 cal in the head soon" on a Yahoo message board. He also posted "Shoot the n*g."

Obama is hardly the only president to have a U.S. citizen publicly threaten his life. And yet, like Bagdasarian, the people issuing the threats are protected under a law that yanks the teeth out of another law, one that makes it a felony to threaten a president or major presidential candidate with death or bodily harm. In order to get a jail sentence to stick, prosecutors must prove the individual has made plans to carry out such a threat. So even though law enforcement found a .50 caliber muzzle-loading rifle in Bagdasarian's home -- the kind of bullet he said would soon be in Obama's head -- that wasn't enough to keep him in jail.

I don't know about you, but I find that to be a bit unsettling, especially nowadays, when we have almost as many guns in the U.S. as we do people -- the highest rate of any country in the world of civilian gun ownership. Forty-nine states allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons outside of their home for protection, including in some cases, bars. Who needs a plan when you can be ticked off, get liquored up and then go attend a rally?

I'm not anti-gun.

I'm pro- America.

Allowing people to threaten the life of a president, particularly during time of war, is not protecting free speech as much as it is dangerously close to treason as it is defined in Article III of the Constitution. We have an agreed-upon system to replace elected officials we don't like. It's called democracy. If people don't like the president, they can say that. They can vote against them. They can run. They can leave. But they shouldn't be allowed to go on the Internet or radio and threaten his or her life. I felt that way about George W. Bush, I feel that way about President Obama, and I will feel that way if Mitt Romney gets elected.

That's because this conversation isn't about them or the parties they represent. It's about maintaining some level of respect for the office. How can we begin to talk seriously about "restoring America"-- whatever that means -- when we openly threaten the life of our chief ambassador?

U.S. Presidents Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Kennedy were all assassinated. Six U.S. presidents survived assassination attempts.

I'm not surprised to hear such comments from Nugent. But I am surprised that in a country with 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles, 83 million shotguns and four assassinated presidents, we don't take such talk more seriously.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.

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