Gun Owners of America ‘awarding’ Rittenhouse with AR-15 gun similar to weapon used in fatal shootings

Verdict exposes partisan divides on gun rights and permissiveness of lethal self-defense claims

Alex Woodward
New York
Sunday 21 November 2021 17:11
President Biden says he ‘stands by’ not guilty verdict in Kyle Rittenhouse trial

A gun rights organisation is “awarding” Kyle Rittenhouse with an AR-15-style rifle following his acquittal at trial on homicide charges for fatally shooting two men and injuring another with a similar weapon.

Gun Owners of America – which claims to represent 2 million gun owners in the US – “will be awarding Kyle Rittenhouse with an AR-15 for his defense of gun rights in America,” according to a post on the group’s Twitter account.

“Join us in saying THANK YOU to Kyle Rittenhouse for being a warrior for gun owners and self defense rights across the country!” the post states.

Mr Rittenhouse’s attorneys successfully argued to jurors that their client fired his AR-15-style rifle to protect himself against a violent mob that chased after him on 25 August, 2020, in the aftermath of police brutality protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The verdict has exposed deep partisan divides on issues related to the Second Amendment and whether it was appropriate for a teenager with a high-powered rifle to insert himself into a volatile scene stemming from racial justice protests.

Erich Pratt, senior vice president for Gun Owners of America, wrote in an editorial for USA Today that “the simple fact is that if deadly force is justified for self-defense, the type of weapon used is irrelevant”.

Prominent right-wing figures have pointed to the verdict as vindication of their views on gun rights and Black Lives Matter protests. Gun control advocacy groups argue that it underscores the dangers of the permissiveness of guns across the US and failures in the criminal justice system to prosecute gun violence.

Donald Trump Jr tweeted, and then deleted, the offer from Gun Owners of America, along with a card in “support of Kyle”.

Mark Richards, a defense attorney for Mr Rittenhouse, called Mr Trump Jr “an idiot”.

“He’s an idiot. I don’t have to expand on that because it speaks for itself,” he told Insider in an interview following the end of the trial.

The weapon used by Mr Rittenhouse, who lived in nearby Antioch, Illinois, was stored at his friend’s home in Kenosha. Mr Rittenhouse testified that his friend, Dominick Black, bought the gun in Wisconsin in May 2020 and agreed that it would be stored at Mr Black’s home until he turned 18. Mr Black has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges for giving the gun to Mr Rittenhouse, who was too young to buy the rifle legally at the time.

Kenosha County Judge Bruce Schroeder dismissed a misdemeanor charge against Mr Rittenhouse for possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18. Legal experts contended the charge was likely the best chance for prosecutors to convict Mr Rittenhouse, as there was no dispute that he possessed the gun that night.

Judge Schroeder argued that the charge, which is punishable by up to nine months in prison, was drawn from poorly and confusingly written open-carry law in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin law prohibits minors from arming themselves, but defense attorneys pointed to an exception in the law that allows minors to possess shotguns and rifles as long as they’re not short-barreled. Hunting laws around rifles and shotguns allow minors to carry rifles that fall outside of the permitted length.

The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle used by Mr Rittenhouse is 35 inches long with a barrel length of 16 inches – falling outside the legal dimensions for a short barrel, defined as 16 inches or an overall rifle length of less than 26 inches.

The Independent has requested comment from Gun Owners of America.