The Rittenhouse Exception: How Your Legal Right to Protest Can Now Be Deadly

Over the past two decades new “Stand Your Ground” laws (also known as shoot first laws) have changed the legal standard for self-defense by making it possible to use deadly force against another person if you feel threatened, removing any requirement that you step away from an incident even though you knew you could safely retreat.

Thirty States with Stand Your Ground Statutes:

  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Michigan
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • West Virginia
  • Wyoming

Stand Your Ground, a product of NRA legislative lobbying, expands what is called the Castle Doctrine that allows you to shoot a person invading your home without requiring you to flee from your home. Stand Your Ground extends the Castle Doctrine to all public places.

Beyond Stan Your Ground

The recent Rittenhouse not guilty verdict was reached by a jury that determined Rittenhouse, who killed two people and injured a third, did so in self-defense even though Rittenhouse clearly could have safely left the scene of the demonstration. In addition, Rittenhouse was too young to legally poses the weapon he carried, which means he violated the law BEFORE he shot anyone and is not covered by Stand Your Ground or the Castle Doctrine (It’s like driving without a license and getting rear-ended by someone else. You shouldn’t have been driving so you are at fault even though the other driver hit your vehicle).

What is pernicious about this verdict is that it was issued in a courtroom in Wisconsin, a state that does NOT have a Stand Your Ground law. However, Wisconsin does have legislation that put the onus on the prosecution to prove a defendant was not self-defending as opposed to states that put the burden on the defense to prove self-defense was involved — -a legal slight-of-hand that operationally institutes a bastardized version of Stand Your Ground.

Though this verdict was highly unusual for a state without Stand Your Ground, it is a further extension of the jury verdict in the Florida George Zimmerman killing of Trayvon Martin: Florida does have a Stand Your Ground law, and the jury acquitted Zimmerman based on the law even though Zimmerman made NO attempt to claim self-defense under the law.

The Zimmerman and Rittenhouse cases represent such major extensions of Stand Your Ground that attending a legal civil demonstration can now result in your death at the hands of gun totting vigilantes.

By themselves, Stand Your Ground laws have increased the U.S. murder rate by 8%. In a given month, 30–50 people across the U.S. are killed due to Stand Your Ground. In Florida, one of the first to enact Stand Your Ground, this law is associated with a 32% increase in firearm killings, and had the largest impact in neighborhoods that had the lowest homicide rates. In Florida, 79% of the Stand Your Ground assailants could have retreated to avoid killing, with 68% of those killed were unarmed.

Stand Your Ground disproportionately effects Blacks: In the U.S., the chances that a white-on-Black murder is found justified is 281% greater than if both assailant and victim are white.

The Rittenhouse victims were all white, as was Rittenhouse. In Florida, twice as many Stand Your Ground perpetrators were found guilty if the victim was white as compared to those cases with non-white victims. What this means is that the Rittenhouse decision likely made it substantially more dangerous for anyone to exercise their civil right to publicly protest regardless of their race.

Rittenhouse is just the kind of agent that Republicans are creating to allow them to exercise vigilantly justice at arms-length by relaxing gun ownership and licensing requirements, preventing sensible gun control, and passing shoot first legislation: an armed high school drop-out easily manipulated by violent right-wing rhetoric.

When you go to your next legal demonstration, look out.

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