Policing in America, Politics, Race in America, Second Amendment

Rittenhouse II: Rights have responsibilities

Kyle Rittenhouse had the right to take up arms. He had the right to bear them to Kenosha. He had the right to join the leaderless group of mostly white guys who likewise exercised their right to bear arms in a sea of tension, heated protest and riot. A court will now decide if Kyle Rittenhouse had the right to shoot two men dead and injure another.

The most maddening part of discussing a person like Kyle Rittenhouse with staunch Second Amendment supporters is how that right — God-given right, as many falsely claim — supersedes every other consideration. In other words, if a person chooses to bear arms in any situation, so be it. No responsibilities or considerations matter other than that basic right to bear. “All I saw were clean shots,” they remarked on Rittenhouse’s kills. It never enters their minds that those “clean kills” could’ve been avoided if an amateur, untrained, unskilled teenage boy hadn’t appointed himself a de facto police officer in the midst of a chaotic, violent racial protest action.

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t particularly care if Kyle Rittenhouse is convicted. I hope the trial makes a bold statement on the matter, suggesting that those who choose to bear arms might also consider details like, skill, training, maturity and restraint when inserting themselves into situations where their choice to bear arms might result in the taking of human life.

I believe Kyle Rittenhouse is an immature kid who put himself in a situation way over his head. If the court decides he is guilty, he should pay. If not, for God’s sake, I hope the trial will be a blunt reminder of the responsibilities that come with a right as serious as taking up arms.

I have questions for the people who see the right to bear arms as a right with few or no responsibilities.

Just because you can, does it mean you should? Just because you want to exercise your right to bear arms, you should do it? Does the desire to exercise your right take precedence over all other considerations? Does the right itself supersede careful consideration and common sense? So any bozo who wishes to exercise his Second Amendment right to bear arms in a situation like Kenosha shouldn’t be questioned or second-guessed because the right itself is sacrosanct? Are people really that stupid?

I was schooled in firearms at a young age. I got my first rifle before the age of ten. By my early teens, I was a crack shot. I suck at a lot of things but, for some reason, I can aim a firearm. Contrary to what many people think, I am not opposed to the Second Amendment — but I believe any decision to handle a tool designed specifically to kill comes with certain duties. I believe the right to bear arms comes with inarguable responsibilities. I do not believe anyone can just grab a gun and go enforce laws in the chaos of racial unrest.

By the time I was 17, I was proficient with firearms. Most adults would’ve considered me a good example of a teenager who could handle guns. I came of age in the 1980s, a period which saw little unrest in the U.S. but if a violent uprising had occurred near me, I could’ve exercised my Second Amendment right to grab one or more of my guns and place myself in what I believed to be a defensive position of enforcing laws that protect property.

But I would’ve been an impetuous fool to do so.

I was the last person who should’ve joined a group of vigilante gunmen with no leader, no command structure, no real-time accountability.

Kids shouldn’t be arming themselves and wading into highly-charged situations of racial unrest. The 55-year-old me sees this clearly but the teenage me might’ve been eager to save the day. I was a 17-year-old kid who was proficient with firearms so why not me? Why not? Because I was a teenager who was utterly unschooled in using firearms in law enforcement or martial capacities. I was a teenage boy with all the maturity, self-control and wisdom of — wait for it! — a teenage boy. Teenage boys have no business appointing themselves armed arbiters of law and justice in scenarios of racial unrest or riot.

It seems so obvious to me.

Where 2A purists see clean kills in Kyle Rittenhouse’s actions, I see a heavily armed kid who shouldn’t have had the opportunity to make clean kills, dirty kills or anything in between. Rittenhouse certainly had the right to bear arms but I do not believe he had the right to appoint himself a de facto law enforcer.

Among the dozens of armed white men who answered the call of Kevin Mathewson’s Kenosha Guard group were a number of men who actually did possess training and experience in quelling crowd violence — do such men really see value in inexperienced teenage boys running around with high-powered weapons, policing angry throngs?

And here’s another concern: shouldn’t a person taking up arms to defend against lawbreakers, himself, be hyper-cautious in respecting the law? The same people who claimed Rittenhouse’s kills were “clean shots” diluted the teenager’s taking of human life by listing the previous transgressions of those Rittenhouse slaughtered. One of them, for example, was a mentally ill sex offender, therefore his death was apparently acceptable.

So let me get this straight: A teenager can appoint himself the armed arbiter of justice, meting out the ultimate penalty when he takes another man’s life. Where I would expect proponents of the Second Amendment to have a profound respect for justice and the taking of human life, instead I see them diluting the law to excuse the teenage killer because his victims did some bad stuff at other times and in other places. I’m sorry but this is a regression to frontier justice which has no place in a civilized society.

I support the Second Amendment but it’s a right accompanied by responsibility. I even understand that, in extreme circumstances, civilians might need to take up arms to defend their property. But such actions should be carefully considered and undertaken by people with proficiency in handling firearms and the maturity to do so with control and restraint. And if, for some reason, an open call for gunmen is issued, wouldn’t it make sense for some sort of rudimentary command structure to be implemented so teenagers like Rittenhouse aren’t put on the front line?

Really, it all boils down to one thing.

Heavily armed teenage boys like Kyle Rittenhouse have no place policing angry crowds fueled by a rage he doesn’t even begin to understand.

The Second Amendment should not be an unlimited license for inexperienced, unqualified kids to appoint themselves armed law enforcers in the chaos of riot.

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EDITORIAL NOTE: There is some ambiguity regarding Rittenhouse’s weapon. First, Rittenhouse’s 19-year-old friend purchased the weapon for him and stored it in his house in Kenosha so the gun didn’t actually cross state lines illegally. Second, while prosecutors have charged Rittenhouse with one misdemeanor count of possession of a dangerous weapon under the age of 18, defense attorneys suggest Wisconsin hunting laws actually allow Rittenhouse to carry the weapon. But the legal thinking seems to be that this argument is a long shot. Ultimately, the court will decide.

Photocomposite © Alex McCarthy via Unsplash; Maxim Potkin via Unsplash