In the firearms controversy, Rittenhouse’s verdict is unlikely to have the last word
Kyle Rittenhouse walked the streets of Kenosha, Wisconsin with a gun hanging around his chest and shoulder.
The weapon was supposed to be for hunting at a friend’s property in the north, says the friend. But that night in August 2020, Rittenhouse said he took his Smith & Wesson semi-automatic AR with him as he volunteered to protect property damaged during protests the night before. Before midnight, he used it to shoot three people, killing two.
After a trial that lasted nearly two weeks, the jury will soon debate whether Rittenhouse pleaded guilty to charges, including murder, that could send him to life in prison. Was the 17-year-old forced into self-defense while trying to deter crime, say he and his lawyers? Or did Rittenhouse—the only person in a heavily armed crowd to have shot anyone—provoked people with his weapon, inciting bloodshed, the plaintiffs argue?
It’s a debate similar to what’s going on across the country about the use of guns, particularly in protests like the one in Kenosha over the shooting of Jacob Blake, a black man, by a white police officer or in other cities because of the pandemic. restrictions. In Rittenhouse, some see a patriot defend an American city from destruction when the police were unwilling or overwhelmed to do so. Others see an irresponsible child above his head, intrigued by a firearm, a person looking for trouble or people shooting.
On the streets of Kenosha that night, Rittenhouse was known to some for his apparent youth. But, for a while, he was just another person with a gun.
The Kenosha protests were one of several that year that attracted armed militia or counter-demonstrators. Pep Moretti, Kenosha Police Officer, and others testified that the protesters were also armed.
“We were trapped all night,” Moretti said, adding that “there were probably more people armed with weapons than others.”
The shooting took place as the coronavirus pandemic raged in the United States and three months after the murder of George Floyd, a black man, by a white police officer in Minneapolis, sparking protests – some violent – in cities large and small. The election between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden was heated up, with increased murders and calls to “defund the police” a major focus.
Experts say all of these factors have led to a historic rise in the number of background checks for buying or owning a firearm, a key metric for gun sales. In 2020, the FBI’s Instant Criminal Background Check System database reported nearly 39.7 million background checks for gun purchases—more than double the 14.4 million in 2010.
The Rittenhouse wasn’t old enough to buy a firearm. But in May 2020, he gave the money to his sister’s friend, Dominic Black, who had been shooting with him in northern Wisconsin, and bought Black Smith & Wesson for him. Black testified that the gun was to be kept in a safe in Black’s stepfather’s house.
Then on August 23, a white Kenosha police officer answered an internal disturbance call by shooting Blake, who investigators said was armed with a knife. The shooting sparked protests as people destroyed buildings and set fires, at one point burning more than 100 vehicles in a car dealership yard.
It happened when his stepfather took the guns out of his safe in the garage and brought them into the house, Black said.
On August 25, Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha from his home in Illinois. He and Black helped clean up the business damaged in the turmoil, then returned to Black’s house. When they left again for the place of protests, they both took their weapons.
Richie McGuinness, chief video director for The Daily Caller, a conservative news website, has arrived in Kenosha after working on other protests across the country. This protest was different because Wisconsin law allows some people to carry guns openly, and he testified that as he followed Rittenhouse all night, he felt that something bad could happen.
Ryan Balch said he was carrying an AR rifle that night and was wearing body armor to protect himself from armed protesters. The former Army infantryman said he patrolled the streets with Rittenhouse, who told Balch that he was a 19-year-old EMT and thought he looked like a “little, vulnerable kid” and “low-equipped and inexperienced.”
Gaige Grosskreutz, a protester and volunteer doctor, carried a loaded pistol. A Second Amendment supporter of the right to bear arms said it was like any other day: “It’s keys, a phone, a wallet, a gun.”
Grosskreutz became the third person to be called Rittenhouse that night. He testified that he pulled his gun because he believed Rittenhouse, who shot Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Hopper, was an active shooter. He said Rittenhouse shot him in the arm right after Grosskreutz inadvertently pointed his gun at the 17-year-old.
Rittenhouse, who faces a misdemeanor of possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 in addition to the murder charges, testified that he had done nothing wrong and was defending himself when he fired his rifle. Prosecutors say the young former police intern who liked to play video shooting games was bringing those fantasies onto the streets.
For many people, Rittenhouse is the face of gun owners in America, said David Yamani, a professor of sociology at Wake Forest University who studies gun culture.
But he said this was a misconception. In Kenosha, the most common gun owner was the father who took the guns from the safe amid the turmoil, or Grosskreutz, who of course carried a concealed handgun.
And while Rittenhouse’s core supporters believe he did nothing wrong from start to finish, a much larger group of gun owners is “somewhere in between,” Yamani said. While they support Rittenhouse’s right to defend himself for now, they also believe he had no interest in being there, and that “two people died and one was injured for no good reason.”
Ryan Posey, a former executive in the arms industry who is now a senior policy advisor to the Giffords gun safety group, calls Rittenhouse the “avatar” of a client that the NRA and arms companies have been liking, including by marketing and selling products with names like Ultimate Arms hotspots. the war.
Among much of society, he said, whether Rittenhouse was guilty or not, he would not change anyone’s opinion about guns.
Posey added, “The dangerous thing is that he will become a talisman or a martyr. Every time he is Rittenhouse, he moves a window of what is acceptable. I think Rittenhouse has moved the window.”
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Officer Moretti’s last name.
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