The verdict is in. The vigilantes are celebrating. Kyle Rittenhouse is free. The postmortem predictions of what it will mean for us as a society begin, as does the fear for our future as we face a freefall into more violence while our country descends into the depths of depravity acted out on the streets.
It is now possible to kill someone in the name of self-defense and literally get away with murder. It’s a field day for open carry laws that make going to a public event or riding the subway or simply walking down the wrong street at the wrong time a determining factor in whether you live or die.
It is a dark day in America.
Gun violence was bad enough before Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people and walked away a free man. But as a recent New York Times piece about the proliferation of “ghost guns” — untraceable guns that can be assembled from online purchases of components — has made clear, America’s gun problem has reached epidemic proportions.
These lethal weapons are within easy reach of people legally barred from buying or owning guns which, as the Times article revealed, “helps explain why since 2016 about 25,000 privately made firearms have been confiscated by local federal law enforcement agencies nationwide.”
Earlier this year the Children’s Defense Fund issued a report about the epidemic of gun violence affecting children. It revealed, among other statistics, that gun violence has killed more than 200,000 children and teens since the 1960s. “That’s more than the number of soldiers killed in Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf and Iraq combined,” with Black children suffering the highest gun death rates.
In 2019, according to the report, they accounted for 43 percent of child and teen deaths even though they constituted just 14 percent of all children and teens that year.
Women are also among those most vulnerable to gun violence. According to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, “nearly 92 percent of all women killed by guns in high-income countries were American women, (who are) 21 times more likely to be shot and killed than women in other high-income countries.”
Further, “around one in four women in the United States have been threatened with a gun and nearly 1 million women have been shot or shot at by an intimate partner. Over half of all intimate partner homicides are committed with guns and a woman is five times more likely to be murdered when her abuser has access to a gun.”
According to everytownresearch.org, every month an average of 57 women are shot and killed in America by an intimate partner. Black, Indigenous and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by gun violence, along with members of the LGBTQ community and people with disabilities. That’s why Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) has introduced several relevant bills, including H.R. 1441, the No Guns for Abusers Act, designed to help states enforce existing laws against people who try to purchase firearms without the legal right to do so.
The epidemic gun violence affecting women and children are part of the entire fabric of gun violence in this country, a phenomenon that other developed countries simply cannot fathom. Ghost guns, and now the exoneration of Kyle Rittenhouse, are connected like the parts of a quilt, similar to those that have woven into them pieces of history.
One of the pieces of our history is the outdated Second Amendment, meant to arm militias in the 18th century. It’s an amendment no longer relevant, and a shield behind which gun enthusiasts hide. It’s an amendment that fuels the likes of open-carry advocates, eager vigilantes and people comfortable with and prone to violence all too eager to claim self-defense, often a defense rooted in racism.
It’s an amendment that allowed Kyle Rittenhouse to be exonerated.
So far, according to a September CNN report, “2021 is likely to be the worst year for gun violence in decades.” What’s more, in October The New York Times revealed that a significant number of travelers have been stopped at U.S. airports trying to board planes with loaded guns. Transportation Security Administration officers report stopping nearly 5,000 passengers from carrying firearms onto flights by October this year.
Now comes the conservative Supreme Court, which recently heard a gun rights case where the majority could make it easier for people to carry firearms in public. According to Time Magazine, “Justices could loosen or strike down a century-old provision in New York that requires people to prove they have a special need for self-protection if they want to carry a concealed handgun outside of their home.”
The challengers in the suit — backed by the NRA-affiliated New York State Rifle & Pistol Association — argue that the restriction violates the Second Amendment.
As we await the SCOTUS decision, the Rittenhouse verdict has already added immeasurably to America’s growing gun violence epidemic. It has effectively declared open season on the gunning down of America. It fuels an unchecked impetus toward violence and vigilantes and increased an escape valve when gun violence occurs.
Elayne Clift writes about social issues from her home in Vermont.