One thing is certain: If Kyle Rittenhouse had left his gun at home, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber would still be alive today.
At age 17, Rittenhouse probably shouldn’t have had a gun at all. Indeed, Rittenhouse should have kept himself at home that August night in 2020, as the Illinois teenager made the drive across state lines to Kenosha, Wisconsin to intimidate Black Lives Matter protesters with his showy AR-15. Instead, the now-18-year-old man found himself on trial for murder, having found exactly the kind of conflict that’s entirely predictable when you go waving a gun at protesters. And yet he was acquitted because he claimed “self-defense.”
The same can be said of Greg and Travis McMichael and William Bryan, all of whom are on trial now in Georgia for the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed Black jogger who was chased down by the three white men last year. The men filmed themselves arguing with and then shooting Arbery. They, too, now claim “self-defense.”
There is nothing sensible about viewing these killings through the lens of “self-defense.” In both cases, white men hopped up on cowboy fantasies went out looking for trouble. When you want trouble, it’s easy to find, especially if you go around chasing people and waving guns at them. These are not situations most people imagine when they think of self-defense, which is where you are minding your own business and someone attacks you. In both cases, if the shooters had not sought out conflict, they would not have killed anyone.
Blame the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, with a massive assist from right-wing media. For decades, the gun lobby has fought a battle on two fronts – through law and propaganda – to redefine the American concept of “self-defense” toward one that encourages people to seek out violent conflict. They’ve empowered every insecure yahoo in the country to recast himself as a hero in an action movie, who goes out hunting for bad guys under the guise of “protecting” the community.
We see this most clearly in the spate of “stand your ground” laws that the NRA spent years aggressively lobbying state lawmakers to pass. (About half of all states have some version of this law.) As the gun safety group Giffords explains, these laws “allow a person to use deadly force in public, even if they know they could safely avoid any need for violence by simply stepping away from the incident.” With these laws, you can start a fight with someone and, if they punch back, you can now claim “self-defense” to justify shooting them. “In other words,” Giffords notes, “they make it easier to get away with murder.”
The more people there are out there waving guns and shooting at each other, the more others will start to believe they, too, need a gun to protect themselves. So more guns will be sold. Sure, the result is the ridiculously high murder rate in the U.S., but what do gun executives care? They get their money. The cost is borne by everyone else and paid for in blood.