Opinion: CJ Opinion

Kyle Rittenhouse and our long tradition of self-defense

The Kyle Rittenhouse trial in Kenosha, Wisconsin, has quickly morphed into a defining cultural moment. The opposing sides are cheered on by cable talking heads, legal experts, political ideologues, and even the U.S. president. In a potential return to the mob rule that kicked off the shooting saga, some are threatening more violence if they don’t receive the verdict they desire. Even the judge and his family are facing violent threats to their lives. Many see the trial as a broader threat to self-defense laws, and they may have a point in an era where everything is now politicized.

Killing in self-defense embodies the “primary law of nature,” according to William Blackstone, the notable 18th-century scholar of English law. John Locke echoed those sentiments proclaiming self-defense as “a fundamental law of nature.” In the Western tradition, self-defense is fully understood as an inherent right that governments can’t rescind.

One’s home is their castle is embodied by state Castle Doctrine laws. Many states have expanded the interpretation of the Castle Doctrine through Stand Your Ground laws, including North Carolina in 2011. Most of the states have some form of Stand Your Ground protections.

In North Carolina, that law is bolstered by the ability to stand your ground not only in the home but in a vehicle and one’s workplace. There is no obligation to retreat from a serious threat in those instances, and, broadly speaking, the use of force is allowed anywhere to prevent imminent death or significant bodily injury as long as there’s a legal right to be present on a property.

Wisconsin is not a Stand Your Ground state. Still, it matters little in the Rittenhouse trial since video evidence reveals, at the very least, that he could have easily discerned he was in imminent threat of being seriously injured or killed. Granted, his decision at the age of 17 to be present and armed to defend private property in Kenosha may reflect poor judgment on his part, but that still doesn’t negate the fundamental rights of self-defense. The prosecution’s argument largely hinges on provocation, meaning Rittenhouse provoked the now deceased assailant Josep Rosenbaum by pointing a rifle at him, as one video allegedly suggests.

The media coverage of Rittenhouse has been so lopsided against him that famed legal commentator Alan Dershowitz noted that Rittenhouse “should be acquitted” and then he should turn around and sue certain media outlets for their “deliberate and willful lies.”

Yet, there is an even broader problem for the nation: the emerging threats to judges and juries by mob tactics and threats of violence. Mobs were empowered by the lack of the rule of law during Black Lives Matters protests and riots; now, they are setting their sights on influencing jury trials if they don’t get their way regarding a decision.

Some urban mayors willingly turned over their cities to the mob during Black Lives Matter protests and riots, which resulted in theft and death — allowing those conditions to fester into chaos in the streets. If not snuffed out, this perverse behavior not only threatens order on the city block, but mob rule could unravel America’s long-standing system of constitutional rights and justice.

If the lives and the lives of family members of jurors are threatened, how will society have confidence in the decision-making process of jurors when it comes to verdicts? Furthermore, if the use of self-defense becomes increasingly politicized by mobs and woke prosecutors, another inherent right is in peril. These kind actions not only erode our right to self-defense but will replace justice with a new woke justice. Rittenhouse may have a strong defense, but one is left to wonder how much more will that even matter?

Ray Nothstine is opinion editor of Carolina Journal and a research fellow on Second Amendment issues at the John Locke Foundation.