The Law in the US Is Practically a License To Kill

Kyle Rittenhouse shot and killed two people at a protest because he felt threatened. Now he has been acquitted of all charges. Because the laws interpret the right to self-defense very broadly, the jury had no other choice.

It is at once correct and fundamentally wrong that Kyle Rittenhouse is not being punished for what happened last August in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The then-17-year-old shot and killed two people with a semiautomatic weapon at a Black Lives Matter protest in the city and wounded another. It is obvious that no society, even if it is only partially enlightened, can want minors to arrive armed and fatally shoot people in its cities.

But in this case, the fault does not lie with the jury. Its members abided by the rules of the trial and by the laws in Wisconsin. If the laws do not allow a conviction, emotions play no role — not even in the question of whether the acquittal of a marauding teenager who killed two people could set a dangerous precedent. Under the rule of law, the law comes first.

The problem was not the jury. The problem lies much deeper.

Let’s imagine that, on that evening when Rittenhouse decided he wanted to help out because some protesters were looting in his father’s hometown of Kenosha, he showed up without a deadly weapon. Let’s imagine, moreover, that no one in downtown Kenosha came to the protest with firearms because they were prohibited.

It is well known that the bearing of arms in the U.S. is anything but prohibited, and that that is not going to change any time soon, possibly never. But it is important to imagine this scenario over and over again. If arms were banned, there still would have been violent protests in Kenosha that evening. But it is fairly safe to say that no one would have died.

The gun lobby seizes every opportunity to argue that firearms do not kill people; people kill people. But what if almost no one had a firearm?

The right to bear arms is established in the U.S. Constitution. Many states have open carry laws. In addition, most states preserve a very broad right to self-defense. In essence, it is enough for someone just to feel that their life or limb may be in danger to legally use or fire a gun.

Given the confusing situation at the demonstrations in Kenosha, where groups in some cases attacked each other physically, it was easy to argue that Rittenhouse feared for his life. In such cases, the legal situation in the U.S. is de facto a license to kill. That is why Rittenhouse was acquitted.

But there is also a decisive caveat. Namely, that it is very questionable whether Rittenhouse, had he been a 17-year-old Black man, would have been acquitted. It is also debatable whether a young Black man armed with a semiautomatic weapon who had just killed two white men — in self-defense or otherwise — would have left the crime scene alive.

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