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Kill or be killed

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Eric Levitz has an excellent piece pointing out that the real scandal of the Kyle Rittenhouse trial is what might be plausibly determined to be legal, because the combination of extremely broad self-defense exceptions and widespread gun ownership and lax regulation of firearms is not compatible with civil society:

In August 2020, Kyle Rittenhouse illegally brought an AR-15 rifle to Kenosha, Wisconsin, in the name of law and order. As protests and riots raged in the wake of the police shooting of Jacob Blake, the 17-year-old Blue Lives Matter enthusiast felt called to serve as an amateur armed guard for a Kenosha car dealership. He ended up shooting two unarmed protesters dead and blowing off another’s right bicep.

Now, a Wisconsin jury is deliberating over whether Rittenhouse’s shooting spree constituted a crime. And many legal observers believe it did not, or at least that the prosecution did not prove the teenage vigilante guilty of the most serious charges brought against him. Thus, an acquittal would not necessarily discredit the jurors’ judgement. But it would spotlight the anarchy latent in America’s peculiar combination of lax gun regulations, expansive self-defense rights, and mass gun ownership.

As we discussed at the time, the killing of Breonna Taylor was another absurd scenario in which both the cops and the occupant of the house had a plausible legal justification for opening fire:

In the firefight that led to Breonna Taylor’s death, authorities found that neither Taylor’s boyfriend Kenneth Walker, who shot into a group of plainclothes officers as they forced their way into her apartment, nor the police officers who fired 32 shots in response, killing Taylor, provably violated the law. Taylor had a plausible basis for believing that the police officers were actually intruders, and the cops a plausible basis for believing they were being deliberately targeted as officers of the law.

As Shaila Dewan notes in the New York Times, “legally kill or legally be killed” scenarios are just one of several pathological consequences of America’s lax gun regulations, and permissive police use of force and/or self-defense laws. In much of the country, Americans have a legal right to openly carry weapons of mass murder. And yet all it takes is one suspicious bystander, a phone call to the police, and the arrival of a trigger-happy cop for the legal act of carrying an AR-15 — or a toy gun — to become a legal basis for one’s summary execution.

This is a senseless set of rules that the Supreme Court is about to make much worse. And the problem of reactionary vigilante safaris to protests in particular is really going to get worse if Rittenhouse is mostly or entirely acquitted.

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