Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage from

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.

iReport: Opinion - "I want to live in a world where you can speak your mind"

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?

Ted Nugent: Obama admin 'vile, evil'
Sen. Inhofe weighs in on Nugent comments

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.

Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

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

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1941 GMT (0341 HKT)
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1645 GMT (0045 HKT)
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
July 29, 2014 -- Updated 2357 GMT (0757 HKT)
Alan Elsner says Secretary Kerry's early cease-fire draft was leaked and presented as a final document, which served the interests of hard-liners on both sides who don't want the Gaza war to stop.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1158 GMT (1958 HKT)
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1818 GMT (0218 HKT)
Rick Francona says Israel seems determined to render Hamas militarily ineffective.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1743 GMT (0143 HKT)
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 2028 GMT (0428 HKT)
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1939 GMT (0339 HKT)
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1156 GMT (1956 HKT)
A crisis like the Gaza conflict or the surge of immigrants can be an opportunity for a lame duck president, writes Julian Zelizer
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Carol Costello says the league's light punishment sent the message that it didn't consider domestic violence a serious offense
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1251 GMT (2051 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says saggy pants aren't the kind of fashion statement protected by the First Amendment.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1852 GMT (0252 HKT)
Margaret Hoover says some GOP legislators support a state's right to allow same-sex marriage and the right of churches, synagogues and mosques not to perform the sacrament
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Megan McCracken and Jennifer Moreno say it's unacceptable for states to experiment with new execution procedures without full disclosure
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1744 GMT (0144 HKT)
Priya Satia says today's drones for bombardment and surveillance have their roots in the deadly history of Western aerial control of the Middle East that began in World War One
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 1635 GMT (0035 HKT)
Jeff Yang says it's great to see the comics make an effort at diversifying the halls of justice
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1555 GMT (2355 HKT)
Rick Francona says the reported artillery firing from Russian territory is a sign Vladimir Putin has escalated the Ukraine battle
July 27, 2014 -- Updated 1822 GMT (0222 HKT)
Paul Callan says the fact that appeals delay the death penalty doesn't make it an unconstitutional punishment, as one judge ruled
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 2225 GMT (0625 HKT)
Pilot Robert Mark says it's been tough for the airline industry after the plane crashes in Ukraine and Taiwan.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1510 GMT (2310 HKT)
Jennifer DeVoe laments efforts to end subsidies that allow working Americans to finally afford health insurance.
July 26, 2014 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Ruti Teitel says assigning a costly and humiliating "collective guilt" to Germany after WWI would end up teaching the global community hard lessons about who to blame for war crimes
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1245 GMT (2045 HKT)
John Sutter responds to criticism of his column on the ethics of eating dog.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says it's tempting to ignore North Korea's antics as bluster but the cruel regime is dangerous.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1850 GMT (0250 HKT)
To the question "Is Putin evil?" Alexander Motyl says he is evil enough for condemnation by people of good will.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Laurie Garrett: Poor governance, ignorance, hysteria worsen the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
Patrick Cronin and Kelley Sayler say the world is seeing nonstate groups such as Ukraine's rebels wielding more power to do harm than ever before
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 2205 GMT (0605 HKT)
Ukraine ambassador Olexander Motsyk places blame for the MH17 tragedy squarely at the door of Russia
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1142 GMT (1942 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
Les Abend says, with rockets flying over Tel Aviv and missiles shooting down MH17 over Ukraine, a commercial pilot's pre-flight checklist just got much more complicated
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1317 GMT (2117 HKT)
Mark Kramer says Russia and its proxies have a history of shooting down civilian aircraft, often with few repercussions
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1637 GMT (0037 HKT)
Gerard Jacobs says grieving families and nations need the comfort of traditional rituals to honor the remains of loved ones, particularly in a mass disaster
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
The idea is difficult to stomach, but John Sutter writes that eating dog is morally equivalent to eating pig, another intelligent animal. If Americans oppose it, they should question their own eating habits as well.
July 23, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
Bill van Esveld says under the laws of war, civilians who do not join in the fight are always to be protected. An International Criminal Court could rule on whether Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocketing are war crimes.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Gordon Brown says the kidnapped Nigerian girls have been in captivity for 100 days, but the world has not forgotten them.
ADVERTISEMENT