My View: The Troubling Implications of Rittenhouse’s Acquittal

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By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

As the verdict was read in court on Friday, one by one the charges came back not guilty, Kyle Rittenhouse had been holding back the emotion and finally let it all out when the final not guilty came through.  Under other circumstances, we might have concluded – justice was served.

While this may have been a legally permissible verdict, to me it did not feel like justice.  Two men a dead, a kid who made a series of appallingly bad decisions is vindicated, Proud Boys and other right-wing fringe characters celebrated like they won the Super Bowl and the implications for the future of this nation run deep.

If you don’t believe there are racial implications – imagine this was a Black gunman running into a white crowd with a gun and understand how differently he would have been treated by our criminal legal system.

If you don’t believe there are racial implications, ask yourself why the defense struck 11 of the 12 potential Black juror – and the judge let them.

UC Davis Law Professor Jack Chin told me, “State legislatures all over created the right to carry fire arms loaded, loaded, concealed what ever in public.”

So decades ago he said Kyle Rittenhouse carrying a loaded weapon in Kenosha, Wisconsin, would like have been stopped and arrested – now it’s legal.

At the same time, the right to self-defense has been dramatically expanded.

“Both of those things come from the national rifle association,” he said.  It used to be that the defendant bore the burden of proving the defense.  “All states have changed the burden of proof to require the prosecution to disprove the defense beyond a reasonable doubt.”

That means that if the juror thinks by clear and convincing evidence that this is a cold blooded murder, but if there is a reasonable doubt that the person is acting in self-defense, that jury has to acquit, Chin argued.

“That’s the law in all 50 states now, it’s designed to let people use self-defense more freely, pull the trigger more freely,” he said.  “The Rittenhouse case went just the way the changes that have been pressed intended them to go.”

That’s the same thing that comes from the NY Times with their interview of Cecelia Klingele, a University of Wisconsin law professor

“When people look at this, and they’re feeling frustrated, they’re not recognizing just how high the prosecutors’ burden is here,” she said.  “It was a real uphill battle to get out from under self-defense.”

“The acquittal points to the wide berth the legal system gives to defendants who say they acted out of fear, even if others around them were also afraid,” the Times writes.

“Do you look at the choice to go to a heated, confrontational area with a weapon that would be scary to a lot of people?” said Samuel Buell, a former federal prosecutor who teaches at Duke University School of Law, speaking of Mr. Rittenhouse. “You can’t really say that he doesn’t have a right to do that because of the status of gun laws.”

“If we’re going to have a country in which guns are pervasive and the law has little or nothing to say about where and when one may carry a gun and display a gun,” Mr. Buell said, “then we are going to have a situation where self-defense law can’t really handle it.”

This is really the point that alarms me most.

In my view this isn’t or shouldn’t be self-defense.  As the Prosecutor argued and I think correctly, “You cannot claim self-defense against a danger you create.”

The problem that the prosecutor has here – other than as many people suggest, he just made a bad showing of the evidence – there is a subjective element here – does bringing the gun by itself show that Rittenhouse incited the situation that led to the need for self-defense.

For DA Binger, he argued, this was akin to an active shooter situation,  He argued, “It is entirely reasonable for that crowd to believe at that moment that he is a threat to kill again.”

This is where I see the true danger in this ruling.  There are two things happening kind of simultaneously.  One is that we continue to see the active shooter situations – the Parkland, Florida, the Virginia Tech, the Columbine situations.

What we know from those is that the police are not going to get there in time to prevent large loses of life, even when they get their they might not engage and it is really up to citizens to either hide, flee, or confront.

At the same time, the NRA and gun rights advocates have pushed to allow open carry of weapons in public.  And over the last year, increasingly we have seen people go to protests with guns.

So you are bringing a gun into an emotional and volatile situation.  And as Jack Chin pointed out in our interview, Rittenhouse is not a trained police officer, he’s a 17 year old kid.  He doesn’t have the experience or training on de-escalation or lesser lethal force, etc.  And he’s making life or death situations as 17 year old who is scared and clearly at some point under duress.

This is a recipe for disaster.

When people see Rittenhouse with his baby face and his weapon, are they thinking, no worries, he is here to protect property that he doesn’t own or are they thinking he is here to shoot a lot of people.

If they give him the benefit of the doubt – that could result in the lose of life to many people including the individuals making that call.  If they attempt to disarm him, what this ruling says, is he has the right to use deadly force.

We’ve been told that a good guy with a gun is the answer to crime and mass killings – but is the good guy with a gun a 17 year old kid or someone else with a strong ideological bent going in and throwing gas on an already smoldering fire?

None of that speaks to Rittenhouse’s actual motivation.  The prosecution was not able to introduce evidence of a video where Kyle Rittenhouse was threatening to shoot men he believed were shoplifting at a pharmacy.

“Bro, I wish I had my (expletive) AR, I’d start shooting rounds at them,” Rittenhouse says, according to the motion.

In my view, this acquittal sets a very dangerous precedent for future confrontations.  And while this one happened to be in Wisconsin, given the similarity of state laws elsewhere, we can see the potential for this kind of bloodshed anywhere that we have open carry laws.

“The message that this case sends is to shoot first, ask questions later,” said Kami Chavis, director of the criminal justice program at Wake Forest Law.

“What happened in Kenosha isn’t some fluke,” said Nick Suplina, senior vice president for Law & Policy at Everytown for Gun Safety. “It’s the logical consequence of state and federal laws being written by the N.R.A. and going unopposed for decades.”

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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    1. Matt Williams

      Under the laws as they exist in Wisconsin, it appears that the answer to that question is “no.” As Jonathan Capehart said last night on the PBS Newshour, this was not unequal justice, but rather unequal laws.  That doesn’t make the outcome any better … but it does clearly point the way to changing Wisconsin’s laws so that incidents like this don’t happen again. Those laws as currently written afford white defendants the opportunity to use those favorable laws with an affirmative defense to raise reasonable doubt in the eyes of a jury.   Defendants of color also have that opportunity … but only if they are alive to do so,


      With that said, crossing a state line with a weapon to do what Rittehouse purported to do, probably was a violation of federal law.  Certainly purchasing a gun for a minor was illegal, and Rittenhouse may be chargeable as an accessory to that crime.  Keith, do you think Rittenhouse should be charged and prosecuted for those alleged crimes?

  1. Don Shor

    So decades ago he said Kyle Rittenhouse carrying a loaded weapon in Kenosha, Wisconsin, would like have been stopped and arrested – now it’s legal.

    It’s legal for a teenager to carry a loaded weapon in public?

      1. Don Shor

        Doesn’t seem that way. But maybe I’m misunderstanding this law. Seems pretty clear to me that whoever furnished that gun should be prosecuted.

        948.60  Possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18.
        (1)  In this section, “dangerous weapon” means any firearm, loaded or unloaded; any electric weapon, as defined in s. 941.295 (1c) (a); metallic knuckles or knuckles of any substance which could be put to the same use with the same or similar effect as metallic knuckles; a nunchaku or any similar weapon consisting of 2 sticks of wood, plastic or metal connected at one end by a length of rope, chain, wire or leather; a cestus or similar material weighted with metal or other substance and worn on the hand; a shuriken or any similar pointed star-like object intended to injure a person when thrown; or a manrikigusari or similar length of chain having weighted ends.
        (a) Any person under 18 years of age who possesses or goes armed with a dangerous weapon is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.
        (b) Except as provided in par. (c), any person who intentionally sells, loans or gives a dangerous weapon to a person under 18 years of age is guilty of a Class I felony.
        (c) Whoever violates par. (b) is guilty of a Class H felony if the person under 18 years of age under par. (b) discharges the firearm and the discharge causes death to himself, herself or another.
        948.60(2)(d)(d) A person under 17 years of age who has violated this subsection is subject to the provisions of ch. 938 unless jurisdiction is waived under s. 938.18 or the person is subject to the jurisdiction of a court of criminal jurisdiction under s. 938.183.

        1. Ron Oertel

          That’s Wisconsin.

          Would that apply to a gun purchased out-of-state?  (Isn’t that the case, this time?)

          Alternatively, the guy could have just waited until he turned 18.  (Which he already has, now.)

          Let’s face it – what we’re all shocked about is how anyone can walk around with a gun like that. News to me.

  2. Chris Griffith

    Notice how Antifa and BLM can burn, riot and loot for more than a hundred days, and the police are ordered to stand down. But let one young patriot go and try to protect a business, with a gun, and the legal system turns HIM into a criminal. Kyle is not a criminal, he is a hero. But, he is an anti-Leftist hero, which means, to the Left, he is a criminal.

    The leftists in this country seem to applaud it being flushed down the toilet.

    As Michael Savage once said “Liberalism is a mental disorder.” Hating America when you are well clothed and fed, burning down businesses owned by innocent people, and trying to take a loaded gun away from a young man during a nighttime riot, seem to suggest the possibility of a disordered mind.


  3. Ron Oertel

    This case has no implications.  Rittenhouse did not initiate the attack.  The only issue here is gun control.

    The “other” case (where those 3 guys decided to aggressively chase down and confront someone that they believed to be a thief – presumably to perform a “citizen’s arrest”) is different.

    1. Keith Olson

      I agree with you Ron regarding the Aubrey case.  But in the Rittenhouse case those claiming things like racism are just the usual people who cry racism at every turn.

      1. Bill Marshall

        Will agree, Keith… the racism is a “red” herring… as is “gun rights”…

        All three shot were “white”, at least definitely not black/asian/latinx…

    2. Bill Marshall

      The only issue here is gun control.

      Do you mean that re: 2nd amendment?  If yes, read that carefully… Rittenhouse could not be considered a ‘militia’, unless you include a self-appointed ‘militia of one’…

      And I disagree… some things are highly immoral and offensive, and dangerous… but still legal.

      This was not about gun rights nor gun control, altho’ some spin it that way… and the ‘founding fathers’ wrote that when guns were ramrod loaded, single shot… no concept of an AR-15…

      1. Ron Oertel

        If yes, read that carefully…

        Never have, actually.  (Or don’t remember it, at least.)  But apparently, whomever decided that it’s legal to carry-around a gun like that has read it. (More effective than what the police are allowed to carry, for that matter.)

        Rittenhouse could not be considered a ‘militia’, unless you include a self-appointed ‘militia of one’…

        Regardless of the number, aren’t they all self-appointed?  Isn’t that the very nature of a militia? Isn’t one of their claimed purposes to oppose a tyrannical government, as they see necessary?

        Ruby Ridge, Waco, the Bundys (no – not “Al” Bundy), etc.?

        Those guys who took over a wildlife refuge, in Oregon?

      2. Ron Oertel

        Here it is.  Not sure if this is a “shortened” version:

        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.

        In regard to my other comment, I wouldn’t recommend messing with “Al” Bundy, either – or anyone in that family. They stick-together, when it comes right down to it. 🙂

        I wonder if “well-regulated” is defined somewhere?

        1. Ron Oertel

          Looking at that citation, it almost seems to be two separate issues in regard to how it’s worded.

          The “second” issue starting with the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms . . .”.

          And yet, it’s one amendment.

          Maybe the courts should figure this out at some point? (Where’s that “sarcastic” emoji?)

        2. Ron Oertel

          It’s safest to just not mess with any Bundy.

          I might add any Rittenhouse at this point, as well. (Though I suspect we’ve heard the last we’ll ever hear from him. Can’t imagine that he’ll want to get involved, again.)

  4. Bill Marshall

    It’s safest to just not mess with any Bundy.

    Particularly if they are operating under some MH “issues”…

    I guess you see it best if all “Bundy’s” act as they please, or are driven to.  Society should not mess with them.

    I don’t see it that way… twice in my life I seriously was prepared to use any necessary force, in one case, possibly lethal, in defense of another… in real time… I had no gun, no knife (in one instance, the ‘threat’ had a 5 inch sheath knife).  In both instances, I had reason to believe there was a ‘credible threat’… but, unlike Mr Rittenhouse, I withheld action, and ‘time’ resolved the issues, with no one dead nor injured.

    Mr Rittenhouse made choices… he could have made other ones, like running away, holding up his weapon in a sign of surrender/non-aggression, for example.  We’ll never know what the outcome of “other choices” might have been… partly because two folk who could best opine, will never be able to do so.

    Two dead, one paralyzed, and Mr Rittenhouse has no culpability… got it.  Your view, and that of many others.  Not mine.

    1. Ron Oertel

      I guess you see it best if all “Bundy’s” act as they please,

      As with Mr. Rittenhouse, “Al” Bundy (at least) does not initiate problems.  Unless you believe (in the case of Mr. Rittenhouse) that showing up with a weapon like that “causes” others to attack him.  Normal people don’t attack those holding semi-automatic weapons.

      The other (real-life) Bundy did initiate a problem.  The government exhibited a great deal of patience when dealing with him.  They did so with those in Oregon (in my opinion), as well.  Ruby Ridge and Waco – not so much.

      Mr Rittenhouse made choices… he could have made other ones, like running away, holding up his weapon in a sign of surrender/non-aggression, for example.  

      I believe he was running away/ being chased by those intent on attacking him.  I would not recommend “holding up a weapon in a sign of surrender/non-aggression” at that point.

      I’d recommend not showing up at all. I’d make that same recommendation for those without weapons, as well. None of this is “their” personal battle, until they make it that way. (That goes for the “protestors”, as well.)

      When I see these two sides clash, I’m glad that I’m not there. I want no part of it.

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