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It's Always About The Gun
For all the commentary on the verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse the elephant in the room is being ignored.
I’m Michael A. Cohen, and this is Truth and Consequences: A no-holds-barred look at the absurdities, hypocrisies, and surreality of American politics. If you received this email - or you are a free subscriber - and you’d like to subscribe: you can sign up here.
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On Friday afternoon, Kyle Rittenhouse was found not guilty of all charges in the shooting deaths of two people during a protest last year in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
Whatever one’s feelings about Rittenhouse’s reckless and irresponsible behavior, the verdict was likely the correct one. All three of the men Rittenhouse shot either attacked or threatened him at various points in the evening. Joseph Rosenbaum chased him and threatened to kill him. Anthony Huber hit him with a skateboard. And Gaige Grosskreutz, who was shot but not killed, admitted, on the witness stand, that he had pointed a gun at Rittenhouse. The actions of all three men made it relatively easy for Rittenhouse’s lawyers to (successfully) argue that he acted in self-defense.
Of course, none of these facts have stopped a torrent of misinformation about the case from flowing. Rittenhouse’s critics on the left have claimed that he was driven to Kenosha by his mother (not true). They’ve argued that he went to Kenosha for the purpose of murdering the men he shot (as noted above, each man attacked him). They criticize him for crossing state lines to get to Kenosha (it’s irrelevant). If Rittenhouse were black, many have claimed he’d have been either shot by the police or found guilty (impossible to know, though there is plenty of empirical data that shows people of color are treated worse by the police and the criminal justice system).
On the right, even though Rittenhouse’s actions led to the needless deaths of 2 people, he is being treated as a folk hero. Three members of Congress have already promised him an internship. A Fox News crew followed him around during the trial, filming a documentary. The right’s response is nothing less than the celebration of armed vigilantism, and it’s sickening. Even if one believes that Rittenhouse had a right to defend himself, it doesn’t obviate responsibility for the recklessness of his actions.
In short, the usual political lines have been drawn. However, what’s missing from the post-trial coverage is what is seemingly always missing from the debates about gun violence in America — the gun.
The weapon pictured above is a Smith & Wesson M&P 15. It’s the gun that Rittenhouse strapped on his body and displayed in public as he sought to “protect” local Kenosha businesses from demonstrators. It’s the sole reason why what happened that August night turned deadly.
Without a gun, Rittenhouse likely never travels to Wisconsin.
Without a gun, he doesn’t shoot his first victim, Joseph Rosenbaum.
Without a gun, Rittenhouse might have fled the scene once Rosenbaum, a man with a history of mental illness just released from the hospital following a suicide attempt, threatened his life.
Without a gun, he wouldn’t have needed to escape the scene and then been attacked by Joseph Huber, who hit him with a skateboard before Rittenhouse killed him.
Without a gun, Rittenhouse doesn’t shoot Gaige Grosskreutz, permanently maiming him.
Without a gun in his hand, Gaige Grosskreutz likely doesn’t get shot at all.
Without the proverbial Chekhov’s gun, would Rittenhouse — at the age of 17 — have been emboldened to walk the streets of Kenosha at night amidst a violent and tense situation?
If Rittenhouse hadn’t been carrying a semi-automatic rifle that night, there would be no murder, trial, and national debate. The presence of a gun — introduced, if you will, in the first act — is what led to tragedy.
Even if Rittenhouse still traveled to Kenosha, even if he still participated in the demonstrations that night, and even if Joseph Rosenbaum still threatened him, no one would have been shot — if not for the presence of a gun.
Rittenhouse would still have had the right to defend himself. But when individuals are permitted to carry guns and protect themselves with deadly force, people will die needlessly. And that’s precisely what happened in Kenosha. Even if one believes that the actions of Rosenbaum, Huber, and Grosskreutz were dangerous and provocative, none of them deserved to die.
Every act of gun violence; every mass shooting; every accidental discharge of a weapon; every suicide attempt that is a cry for help but turns deadly; every racially-tinged murder has its roots in the fact that we, as a society, have made the choice that ordinary Americans should be allowed near-unfettered access to guns.
Even police shootings, like the one of Jacob Blake, which sparked the demonstrations in Kenosha, have their roots in American gun laws. Why do American police officers kill so many Americans? They are trained to believe that every interaction with the public could become deadly, and for good reason: America is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world. Do police need better training and less permissive rules of engagement? Absolutely. But as long as guns are ubiquitous in our society, police will continue to kill innocent civilians they believe might have a gun.
As I wrote eight years ago about the death of Trayvon Martin and the acquittal of George Zimmerman:
“For all the focus on the racial and class-based inequities in the criminal justice system (of which there are many) or the legal perversion of stand-your-ground laws (that dangerously lower the criteria for use of deadly force in self-defense) or the mistakes of the prosecution (of which there appear to be many), it is the presence of a loaded firearm that changed what might have been an unpleasant confrontation into a deadly encounter.”
Some things never change. This simple reality — of turning the frequently mundane into tragedy — plays itself out every day in communities across America. The Rittenhouse case is only notable and different because we paid attention to it.
Since gun violence is so pervasive in American society — and since there seems to be no solution to the endless carnage — the elephant in the room is, all too often, ignored. We focus on other issues, other culprits, and other explanations for why two men in Kenosha are dead and why another walked free. But make no mistake, there will be other Kyle Rittenhouses, other Joseph Rosenbaums, other Anthony Hubers, other Gaige Grosskreutzs, and other Jacob Blakes.
As long as there are guns — and near unfettered access to them — tragedy will always follow.
This Day In History
This clip gets me every time:
What’s Going On?
ICYMI: I wrote a piece for the New Republic on why fears of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan are vastly overblown.
This is a very smart piece by Samuel Charap on how President Biden should handle the potential threat to Ukraine from Russian military aggression.
Interesting article in the Wall Street Journal on conservatives turning away from the death penalty.
Jennifer Rubin argues that the problem in American politics is not polarization — it’s GOP radicalization. She’s right.
On A Personal Note
I have a small confession to make. I’m a bit burned out on American politics right now.
I need a few days off to catch up on some reading and refresh. So this week, there will be a lighter publishing schedule, and when I write, my focus will be on non-political topics. In particular, after publishing today’s uplifter, I want to focus this week on things that make me happy.
Since I got vaccinated and the worst of the pandemic passed here in New York, I’ve made it a priority to focus on the things in life that give me the greatest pleasure. Writing this newsletter gives me (as my people like to say) enormous nachas — so too does the cultivating of the community that has developed around it. But it’s essential to find a balance, and this is a week where I’m going to err on the side of happiness and topics that invoke a bit less stress. And on that note, here is a song that gives me great joy every time I hear it. I LOVE this song, and I LOVE these guitar solos. They are resplendent!