Written by: Shreya Gunda
On August 23, 2020, Jacob Blake, an African-American resident of Kenosha, Wisconsin was shot and killed by a white police officer, Rusten Sheskey. Protests emerged in Kenosha and among the protesters was Kyle Rittenhouse (17 at the time).
Afterwards, most protestors had left the streets, but few remained, including Rittenhouse who was armed with a semi-automatic military rifle. Later in the night, Rittenhouse was chased into a car lot by Joseph Rosenbaum, 36, who threw a plastic bag at Rittenhouse. After fatally shooting Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse ran towards the police officers and national guardsmen for safety. Several more members pursued Rittenhouse afterwards. Rittenhouse shot and killed Anthony Huber (26) and injured Gaige Grosskreutz (26 at the time).
On trial, Rittenhouse argued that he was a medic who came to the rally to provide aid and that he only used the rifle for self-defense. Rittenhouse was acquitted
of all charges on November 19, 2021.
A Closer Look At the Gun Laws:
During trial, Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed the charge of illegal possession of a military semi automatic weapon. As an open-carry state, Wisconsin law includes a provision which allows 16 and 17 year olds to use weapons for hunting purposes.
Diving deeper into the fine print of the state law, minors are exempt in certain cases including if their rifle’s barrel is at least 16 inches long. With the length of the barrel meeting state standards, Judge Schroeder dismissed the charges. Mr. Rittenhouse had borrowed the gun from his friend, Dominick Black (19). There is currently a pending case on Mr. Black who purchased the Smith & Wesson military-style semi automatic rifle at an Ace Hardware store in Northern Wisconsin in May 2020.
“Only in America can a 17-year-old grab an assault weapon, travel across state lines, provoke a fight, kill two people and injure another and pay no consequences,” said Josh Horwitz, the executive director of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.
The Rittenhouse case is sadly one of many. Open carry law has allowed gun rights extremists to use lockdown protests and Black Lives Matter protests to openly display military firearms to incite fear, threatening public safety. Last summer in protest of COVID-19 quarantine mandates, protesters, holding semi-automatic rifles, attended rallies in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The open carry of firearms, violent rhetoric, and rising tensions are a dangerous combination for public safety.
Currently, in 42 states, civilians can carry loaded, semi-automatic rifles in public without a permit. Legislators should close the open carry loophole. To protect our loved ones, we can advocate for laws that prohibit open carry of firearms in public, prohibit firearms at demonstrations held on public property, or allow local officials to regulate firearms at protests.
Responses: A Divided America
For racial-justice activists, gun-control advocates and police reformers, Americans saw a reckless youth use his AR-15 causing an already-dangerous situation to escalate.
For gun-rights groups, Trump loyalists and white supremacists, Rittenhouse was a hero, a vigilante fighting for justice by standing up to a violent mob.