Kyle Rittenhouse is a name that caused a stir in the media lately. If the name does not ring any bells, he is the 17-year-old white boy from Antioch, Illinois who traveled with a semi-automatic rifle to Kenosha, Wisconsin. His purpose? To protect property from looters and rioters within Black Lives Matters protests over the shooting of Jacob Blake. During the course of the night, Rittenhouse shot and killed two men, Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Hubert, and injured a third, Gaige Grosskreutz. He was arrested and charged with first-degree reckless homicide, two counts of first-degree recklessly endangering safety, first-degree intentional homicide, attempted first-degree intentional homicide, and possession of a dangerous weapon by a minor. On November 19, 2021, a jury acquitted Rittenhouse and found him not guilty on all charges after three and a half days of deliberation.
The case garnered national attention since that fatal night in Kenosha. Conservatives championed the boy as a hero against the anarchy of BLM. Supporters raised money and defended the image of Rittenhouse in the media. Critics drew stark parallels between Rittenhouse and Black defendants as they are less likely to receive the same support. AP News produced an extensive look at the charges and how each side presented their claims here.
The 2nd Amendment
Numerous debates surround the right to bear arms, as outlined in the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution. The National Rifle Association, founded in 1871, is collective advocacy for citizens to possess firearms. Through meticulous lobbying, most states are open-carry states. In some states, you can buy firearms and ammunition at your local Walmart. The gun is a cornerstone of American society. It was the gun that secured our conquest of the Indigenous people. Those with the quickest draw win disputes in Old Westerns. First-person shooter video games such as Call of Duty and Apex Legends have grown in popularity, amassing millions of users daily. The gun is as American as the bald eagle and apple pie.
However, a study by Tom W. Smith and Jaesok Son shows that 22% of American adults own one or more firearms, and 31% of American households have firearms. Mass shootings only increased in the last decade and bearing arms to protect one from danger seems more necessary. The common consensus is that one is less likely to die if they can disarm or kill an active shooter. But some scholars believe that a common interpretation of the 2nd Amendment misconstrues its true intent. Was it in the Founder’s wishes for Las Vegas mass shooter, Stephen Paddock, to have unfettered access to purchasing 33 firearms in a single year?
Reading Between the Lines
The 2nd Amendment states that “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia helps us understand the constitutional context of the 2nd Amendment. He stated:
“Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
We discern two things considering Scalia’s words and analyzing the language used in the Constitution. First, the Amendment grants the right of operating a “well-regulated Militia” to the State. Second, there is no evidence to suggest that this right extends to the unlimited access civilians have to guns today. In other words, the Constitution protects a long-standing reservation held by conservatives. Remembering the days of Red Coats marching their streets, the newly independent Americans sought to ensure that armed forces were not a sole responsibility of a central government. The country could not even go to war without a majority of the States’ approval. However, as time wore on, the States’ civilian militias became extensions of the federal armed forces.
What We Practice vs What We Preach
Since the signing of our Constitution, we have seen the government act in ways not in accordance with public approval. The American government became the tyrannical oppressor from which it had emancipated. Racial injustice, sexist legislation, homophobic and xenophobic rhetoric all prevail within our government. As a result, the common man realizes he alone must protect himself and his loved ones. We, as a society, long agreed that it is within every citizen’s right to possess a firearm. This is especially true in times of civil dissonance between the governing and the governed. Although, this social contract comes with many a loophole.
Let’s take the Mulford Act of 1967 in California. This act, introduced by Republican assemblyman Don Mulford, banned the carrying of loaded weapons in public. This came shortly after Black Panther members, armed with firearms, patrolled their neighborhoods and deterred any possibility of police brutality. Most of the State’s Assembly and Senate supported the bill and Governor Ronald Reagan signed it into law July 28, 1967. Reagan, after signing the bill, stated that he saw “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons” and that guns were a “ridiculous way to solve problems that have to be solved among people of good will.” This sparked a wave of gun control laws throughout the country aimed at disarming Black liberation and activist groups.
It is important to add that the National Rifle Association, feeling threatened by armed Black organizations, voiced major support for stricter gun laws. A major contrast to arguments held today by NRA members over restricting government intervention on 2nd Amendment rights. In the case of Black liberation, the largest 2nd Amendment advocate shuns the idea of universal gun ownership. However, in the cases of mass shootings orchestrated by white men, the NRA sings a different tune.
A Culmination of All Things
I argue that the gun is a precious resource in subduing marginalized groups in society. The US government bent its own rules to ensure that only the Americans who had unparalleled access to firearms were white. Today, white men are the most likely to own a gun. According to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, white men are the most likely to own a gun compared to their Black and Hispanic counterparts. Cities with high concentrations of Blacks and Hispanics uphold strict gun carry laws while predominantly white areas of the country seem to have unfettered access. Since the 1960s, the narrative around guns always carried a racial component. The Black Panthers with their rifles were deemed threats to national security while mass shooters such as Sandy Hook killer Adam Lanza are regarded as unfortunate tragedies.
The idea of protecting one’s life and property remained an American right that cannot be infringed upon. It is the responsibility of the American to take up arms and annihilate the threat when the sanctity of the Union is threatened. Black rights are not in the fabric of the Union. The ending to police brutality is not within its framework. The Union was not designed with a fair judicial system. Hence, the media portrays BLM protestors as rioters and anarchists.
This is the society and narrative that emboldens the Kyle Rittenhouses. The fight against the current regime threatens the sanctity of white supremacy. Rittenhouse, I believe, was merely fulfilling the duty his society assigned him at birth. Historically, America strips the Black community of firearms and places it in the hands of white men. When the city of Kenosha burned over the shooting of Jacob Blake, it is no surprise that Rittenhouse felt compelled to travel state lines with an assault rifle. It is no surprise that law enforcement did nothing when they saw a 17-year-old white boy freely roaming the streets with a firearm. And, unfortunately, it is no surprise that Rittenhouse was not guilty on all charges.
Rittenhouse killed two white allies and injured a third. Police shot Jacob Blake seven times in the back, stating that he had a knife. The irony is sickening. The right to bear arms is not for all citizens. It is for the citizens who uphold the white supremacist power structure. By acquitting Rittenhouse, America tells us that we can either get down or lie down. It’s in the Constitution, after all.