Kyle Rittenhouse looks back before his trial starts at the Kenosha County Courthouse in Kenosha, Wis., on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.
I’ve owned guns all my life. I’ve hunted nearly as long. The 19th-century Colt double-barrel shotgun that belonged to my grandfather (and probably his dad, too) is a treasured family heirloom. When it was time for my son to learn to hunt, we took a hunter safety course together, and I tried to teach him these important lessons just as my father had taught them to me.
I say all this because I cannot understand why anyone would think Kyle Rittenhouse is a hero.
He is no hero. He is a callow boy who didn’t understand how to handle a gun — and worse, didn’t understand the most important thing about owning a gun for protection: You do everything possible to make sure you never have to use it.
He should have stayed home.
The state may or may not prove its case against Rittenhouse, who was all of 17 years old on Aug. 25, 2020, when he shot three people, leaving two of them dead. Proving intentional, reckless and attempted homicide and reckless endangerment may prove too high a bar for this particular jury. His right to self-defense is a trump card. People have a right to defend themselves — even when they do stupid things.
But Rittenhouse and his family are guilty of something — they are guilty of tragically bad judgment.
What did this boy think would happen if he carried an AR-15-type rifle into the chaos that warm summer night?
With so little training or experience?
Prosecutors charged Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, left, of Illinois, in the fatal shooting of two protesters and the wounding of a third during a night of unrest Aug. 25 in Kenosha after the police shooting of Jacob Blake.
There is plenty of blame to go around for the sequence of events that led to the deaths of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and the wounding of Gaige Grosskreutz. The people burning and inciting violence were committing criminal acts. The police didn’t have good control of the streets when peaceful protests turned violent, and that opened the door to unprofessional, self-taught enforcers of the law.
Professional police officers know how to handle a weapon, and the best cops know how to de-escalate a tense situation — they know how to keep it from getting worse. A young vigilante knows none of these things.
Some people want to make Rittenhouse a hero; they argue he’s a positive role model for other young people: He saw a problem. He took action. He stood up when the police stood down.
But all I see is recklessness. The images from the videos of Gaige Grosskreutz’s exploding arm are seared in my mind. None of this should ever have happened.
We live in a society where guns have become a fetish for some people — where open carrying a weapon is a way to signal allegiance to your tribe. Where people with guns can cram into a statehouse in Michigan. Where gun-toting people who aren’t sworn officers can cram the streets in Kenosha.
And claim they are protecting the public.
It’s an illusion. And it’s dangerous.
David French closed his excellent essay in The Atlantic earlier this week this way:
“The law gives even foolish men the right to defend their lives. But an acquittal does not make a foolish man a hero. A political movement that turns a deadly and ineffective vigilante into a role model is a movement that is courting more violence and encouraging more young men to recklessly brandish weapons in dangerous places, and that will spill more blood in America’s streets.”
My father died 20 years ago. But I know exactly what he would say about the events in Kenosha. He would see a lesson in what Rittenhouse did. He would tell his teenage son: Don’t you ever do something so stupid. You stay home and stay out of trouble.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Kyle Rittenhouse a hero? No, he was foolish for being in Kenosha