Today, Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted of all charges after killing two people and injuring another while leading his own armed self-defense patrol from Kenosha, Wis., In response to protests by Black Lives Matter. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case over whether people have a constitutional right to concealed port permits.
Why am I talking about these two things together? Because, combined, these two cases could mean the season will soon be open to racial justice protesters across the country.
Rittenhouse’s verdict is obviously of great concern to racial justice protesters. Rittenhouse said he visited Kenosha on the night of August 25, 2020 to protect his property. He did so by openly wielding a semi-automatic rifle through city streets amid the unrest over the Jacob Blake shooting. As they patrolled the streets, there were gunfire which led some of the Black Lives Matter protesters to believe Rittenhouse was attacking them. They charged Rittenhouse, and he opened fire, killing Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber and injuring Gaige Grosskreutz.
Rittenhouse has been charged with six different crimes, including homicide, reckless endangering of security and illegal possession of weapons. Earlier today, after nearly four days of deliberation, a Wisconsin jury acquitted him of all charges. As a result, even though he went to Kenosha to wield a gun and killed two people, Rittenhouse comes out of the courthouse today as a free man.
Responses to Rittenhouse’s acquittal largely fell along predictable lines. But one particular thread of the right-wing response should be of even more concern than the general support it has received from the conservative movement. One outlet reports that far-right groups see the verdict as “a precedent for future violence on the streets” in response to protests, such as those which could occur this weekend because of the verdict. And United States Representative Madison Cawthorn said this afternoon that the verdict is cause for celebration and that her supporters should “be armed, be dangerous.”
Rittenhouse’s verdict follows argument in an important Second Amendment case before the Supreme Court, addressing people’s right to bear arms in public. The case, debated on November 3, raises the question of whether states can deny people concealed transport permits without extraordinary reason to do so. In oral argument, the conservative 6-3 majority in the court appeared ready to rule that the Constitution protects the right to such permits. That may not be an unlimited right, as some of the court’s conservative judges have expressed concern over the right to carry a gun in crowded spaces, such as sports stadiums or Times Square on New Years Eve.
But beyond that, the judges seemed very willing to proclaim that everyone has the right to carry a gun in public. Their basic reasoning goes to the heart of the Rittenhouse case. For court conservatives, the world is a place where you always need a weapon due to the ever-present possibility that you will be attacked and have to use your weapon to defend yourself. This is exactly the defense that Rittenhouse successfully used in his trial.
The Supreme Court will not rule on this case until next year, probably at the end of June. But the writing is on the wall given questions posed earlier this month and reveals how conservative this set of judges is. There is never a guarantee, but almost everyone thinks that by the middle of next year there will be a constitutional right to carry a gun in public, perhaps with a few exceptions.
What this means in conjunction with the Rittenhouse verdict is very frightening for everyone, but especially for racial justice protesters around the world. With a proliferation of concealed transport permits and a feeling among the far right after today’s verdict that they have the freedom to patrol racial justice protests and act as vigilantes, the system’s message judicial process could not be clearer – anyone who protests against racial injustice risks taking their lives into their own hands.