Rittenhouse Feared His Rifle Endangered Him
His case adds to data showing proliferation of guns makes us less safe.
There is a widely shared notion among gun owners that carrying a gun makes one safer. This claim has been widely promoted by the NRA and other members of the gun lobby. It is, however, overwhelmingly rejected by researchers who study the use and abuse of guns.
Last summer’s events in Kenosha and the subsequent trial of Kyle Rittenhouse illustrate how the presence of a gun, rather than offering safety, can lead to increased danger, including to the gun’s owner.
Who is responsible for the Kenosha tragedy? I would direct the reader’s attention to the Wisconsin legislators who over the years have systematically disassembled the state’s laws aimed at regulating the carrying and use of firearms, a process that is ongoing today.
Rittenhouse’s first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum, was described as “deeply disturbed” in one account. Recently he had been released from a Milwaukee hospital after his second suicide attempt. A witness told the jury that Rosenbaum had taunted him and a group of armed people like him who came to the area to defend the local businesses. “After he had done that a few times, I turned my back to him and ignored him,” the witness said, dismissing Rosenbaum as “a babbling idiot.”
At his trial, when asked why he shot the unarmed Rosenbaum, Rittenhouse responded, “If I would have let Mr. Rosenbaum take my firearm from me, he would have used it and killed me with it and probably killed more people.”
Following Rosenbaum’s death, Anthony Huber chased Rittenhouse, threw his skateboard at him, and was shot dead.
Gaige Grosskreutz was the third victim. He was a medic who carried a pistol. Apparently, both he and Rittenhouse pointed their guns at each other. Grosskreutz hesitated. Rittenhouse fired, giving Grosskreutz a serious arm wound.
Ironically, if Grosskreutz had fired and killed Rittenhouse, he likely could use the same self-defense claim successfully used by Rittenhouse. The fact that Rittenhouse had already shot and killed two people would have further strengthened Grosskreutz’s self-defense claim.
In bringing his rifle into Kenosha, Rittenhouse made Kenosha more dangerous for others. He also made it more dangerous for himself. From his testimony, it is evident he feared that the three people he shot intended to seize the rifle and use it against him.
A previous Data Wonk column published October 21 looked at data on the revived Milwaukee Homicide Review Commission Dashboard. Since then, gun violence has continued to grow in Milwaukee. The chart below, taken from the dashboard, shows the number of homicides victims (in blue) and nonfatal shootings (in green) through October of this and previous years. Since that earlier column, Milwaukee has had an additional 145 nonfatal shootings and 42 firearm homicides.
As before, over half the shootings for which a cause is identified result from an argument or fight. With the wide availability of guns, a dispute easily leads to a shooting.
A search on the internet will turn up numerous web sites that claim that guns make us safer. That, however, is not the predominant view of serious researchers in the field. In 2015, Harvard’s David Hemenway sent out surveys to people who had published research on the use and abuse of firearms and received 150 responses. The consensus is overwhelming: the presence of a gun makes people less safe.
Rather than make Rittenhouse more secure, his gun added to his worries. His fear that his rifle would be seized and used against him helped convince him to shoot his pursuers.
Good research on guns is difficult. The United States has by far the highest rate of gun ownership and the highest rate of gun homicides of any advanced country. The obvious interpretation is that the second fact results from the first. It is hard to pinpoint any other factor that explains the high U.S. homicide rate.
What the Rittenhouse case shows is that people with guns are a menace to themselves and people around them. That is particularly true amid a protest.
Yet rather than reducing the prevalence of guns in protests and elsewhere, Republican legislators continue to introduce bills to further reduce the already weak Wisconsin rules. Currently, AB669 would eliminate the requirement that people carrying a concealed weapon have a license, AB293 would exempt Wisconsin manufactured guns and ammunition from federal regulations, and SB570 would limit the liability of firearm, firearm accessory, and ammunition manufacturers, distributors, importers, trade associations, sellers and dealers.
At the Rittenhouse trial, a Kenosha police officer testified that there were probably more people armed with weapons than not, throughout the entire course of the civil unrest. Under current Wisconsin law, these people—and their guns—had every right to be there. The striking thing about this case is that Rittenhouse viewed his own rifle as a threat to his life.
- Back in the News: The Return of Kyle Rittenhouse - Bruce Murphy - Feb 28th, 2022
- Op Ed: Rittenhouse Verdict Gives New Defense For Killing - Ion Meyn - Dec 20th, 2021
- Rittenhouse No Longer Enrolled at College - Henry Redman - Dec 1st, 2021
- Data Wonk: Rittenhouse Feared His Rifle Endangered Him - Bruce Thompson - Nov 24th, 2021
- Rittenhouse Says ‘Self-Defense Was On Trial’ - Shawn Johnson - Nov 23rd, 2021
- Murphy’s Law: After Rittenhouse, Expect More Vigilantes - Bruce Murphy - Nov 22nd, 2021
- Rep. Robyn Vining: Statement on Rittenhouse Verdict - State Rep. Robyn Vining - Nov 19th, 2021
- Attorney General Kaul Statement on the Verdict in Wisconsin v. Rittenhouse - Wisconsin Department of Justice - Nov 19th, 2021
- Supervisor Taylor Statement on the Rittenhouse Verdict - Sup. Sequanna Taylor - Nov 19th, 2021
- Rittenhouse Found Not Guilty on All Counts - WPR Staff - Nov 19th, 2021
Read more about Kenosha Shooting here