Ted Nugent’s recent racially inflammatory “subhuman mongrel” comment directed at the President of the United States has triggered a national debate about whether individuals suffering from mental illness or who abuse drugs/alcohol should enjoy a Second Amendment right to gun ownership. Nugent is a well-known Second Amendment advocate who has used his National Rifle Association (NRA) membership and pro-republican soap box to make some incendiary, off-the-wall comments against elected and appointed public officials, social liberals, and gun control advocates. For example, he has called the President, Vice President, and former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton “criminals,” one of the nicer things he has said about these officials. In 2012, he leveled the seemingly incomprehensible charge that if Barak Obama was reelected President, Nugent would either be jailed or killed by the Obama administration.
We don’t know if Ted Nugent if mentally ill or if he uses drugs and/or consumes alcohol. What we do know is that it has been reported in various mainstream and Internet media outlets that Nugent: 1) used meth and played crazy to avoid the military draft in the 1960s; 2) admittedly had sex on a frequent basis with underage girls as an adult; and 3) endorses virtually every communist/socialist conspiracy theory circulating under the belly of normal society. Besides “liberals,” Nugent has called right-wing radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh a “drug abuser” and “hillbillies” (the core of the extreme base of the Republican Party) stupid.
Given this personal and social history, it is understandable that many people believe Ted Nugent is a mentally ill person whose view of the world has been warped by drug and alcohol abuse. Accepting this perception as true, should Nugent be allowed to possess firearms under the Second Amendment? The law is clear: yes.
Federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922, criminalizes the purchase and possession of firearms by, among others, 1) an unlawful user of or addict to any controlled substance; and 2) an adjudicated mental defective or one who has been committed to a mental institution. There is no evidence that Nugent is a current user of or an addict to any controlled substance or that he has ever been adjudicated a mental defective and/or committed to a mental institution.
The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence (“Law Center”) cites a 2013 national poll conducted for the New England Journal of Medicine that revealed a vast majority of Americans support laws to keep guns away from dangerous individuals. For example, more than 70 percent of Americans believe people who commit two or more crimes involving drugs or alcohol within a three-year period should be prohibited from owning a gun for ten years while 75 percent support laws requiring health care providers to report people who threaten to harm themselves or others to the background check system to prevent them from having a gun for six months.
The Law Center also reports that: “Numerous studies have associated alcohol abuse with a person’s tendency to engage in violent behavior. Research has demonstrated that alcohol consumption reduces shooting accuracy and impairs judgment about the propriety of using a gun. Gun owners are more likely to drink and drive than those with no firearms at home, and to have more than 60 drinks per month. In addition, heavy alcohol use is more common among firearm owners who keep their firearm unlocked and loaded.”
While § 922(g) prohibits possession of firearms for any “illegal user of a controlled substance,” the Law Center says that “identifying these individuals are rarely reported.”
If, Ted Nugent has publicly admitted to using meth, it is highly unlikely that he would have reported this illegal use of a controlled substance in the “background check” process for the assorted weapons he has purchased and possesses.
As for mental illness, § 922(g) prohibits firearm possession only for those individuals who have been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution. But there is a definite link between mental illness and violence. The Law Center pointed to a Mother Jones Magazine study of 62 mass shootings in this country between 1982 and 2012 which found that 38 of the shooters “displayed signs of possible mental health problems prior to the killings.”
Ted Nugent’s public dialogue lends credence to the frequently heard charge that “he’s crazy.” But being “crazy” alone is not a sufficient legal reason to deny a person the right to purchase and possess firearms. The Law Center reports that 34 states and the District of Columbia have laws that “restrict access to firearms by persons who are mentally ill.” Texas is not one of those states. In this state, an individual can be “nuttier than a fruitcake” and still purchase and possess a firearm. Nugent is one of Texas’s most infamous residents, so his right to purchase and possess a firearm is firmly secure, regardless of the state of his mental health.
That’s not surprising. As the Law Center reported, Federal law, much less state laws, does not “prohibit suspected terrorists from purchasing or possessing firearms. Individuals on terror watch lists tried to buy guns and explosives 1,453 times from February 2004 to December 2010. On 1,321 occasions, the FBI was unable to block these sales because the person did not fall in a prohibited category. Suspected terrorists have used firearms in a number of high-profile shootings, such as the massacre in November 2009 at Fort Hood, Texas.”
If suspected terrorists can purchase and possess weapons of every stripe, there doesn’t seem to be much reason to prohibit dangerously mentally ill individuals or “meth heads” from having a Second Amendment right to gun ownership.