As Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in two killings that he said were self-defense, armed civilians patrolled the streets near the Wisconsin courthouse with guns in plain view.
In Georgia, testimony in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers showed that armed patrols were commonplace in the neighborhood where Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased down by three white men and shot.
The two proceedings sent startling new signals about the boundaries of self-defense as more guns emerge from homes amid political and racial tensions and the advance of laws that ease permitting requirements and expand the allowable use of force.
Across much of the nation, it has become increasingly acceptable for Americans to walk the streets with firearms, either carried openly or legally concealed. In places that still forbid such behavior, prohibitions on possessing guns in public could soon change if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a New York law.
The new status quo for firearms outside the home was on prominent display last week in Kenosha, Wis. Local resident Erick Jordan carried a rifle and holstered handgun near the courthouse where Rittenhouse was tried for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-15–style semiautomatic rifle during a protest last year.
“I got a job to do — protect these people. That’s it,” said Jordan, referring to speakers at a news conference that was held in the hours after the verdict.
Speakers included an uncle of Jacob Blake, the Black man who was paralyzed in a shooting by a white police officer that touched off tumultuous protests across the city in the summer of 2020.
“This is my town, my people,” Jordan said. “We don’t agree on a lot of things, but we fight, we argue, we agree to disagree and go home safe, alive.”
“That’s real self-defense.”
The comments were a counterpunch to political figures on the right who welcomed the Rittenhouse verdict and condemned his prosecution.
Mark McCloskey, who pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor charges stemming from when he and his wife waved a rifle and a handgun at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their St. Louis home in 2020, said the verdict shows that people have a right to defend themselves from a “mob.”
He was selected to speak at the Republican National Convention in August 2020 and currently is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.
The Kenosha verdict arrived as many states are expanding self-defense laws and loosening the rules for carrying guns in public. Both gun sales and gun violence have been on the rise.
At the same time, six more states this year removed requirements to get a permit to carry guns in public, the largest number in any single year, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. In all, 30 states have enacted “stand your ground” laws, which remove a requirement to retreat from confrontations before using deadly force.
Wisconsin has a tougher standard for claiming self-defense, and Rittenhouse was able to show the jury that he reasonably believed his life was in danger and that the amount of force he used was appropriate.