© 2024 Milwaukee Public Media is a service of UW-Milwaukee's College of Letters & Science
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Wisconsin law professor is worried about societal implications if jury acquits Rittenhouse

November 9, 2021, Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA: Defendant KYLE RITTENHOUSE, 18, after a break during his trial for murder in Kenosha Circuit Court Tuesday. Rittenhouse faces seven charges. (Credit Image: © Mark Hertzberg/ZUMA Press Wire)
Mark Hertzberg
ZUMA Press Wire
A twelve-person jury is trying to decide whether they think Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he shot three people, killing two, in Kenosha during a protest last summer.

A twelve-person jury is trying to decide whether they think Kyle Rittenhouse acted in self-defense when he shot three people, killing two, in Kenosha during a protest last summer. The jury heard closing arguments from the prosecution and the defense Monday, which shared diametrically opposed positions on the evidence. The prosecution called Rittenhouse a “chaos tourist,” who provoked people by pointing his AR-15 at others, and who shouldn’t have turned to gunfire to solve confrontations.

The defense maintains that Rittenhouse never provoked anyone and had reason to fear for his life and acted in self-defense when he opened fire. Ion Meyn, assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin, broke down his take on Rittenhouse’s self-defense claims.

Meyn said, in his mind, people who leave the house armed should not have greater protections to be able to use self-defense just because of the possibility that someone could grab their gun and use it against them.

“What’s the difference between disarming and taking someone’s [gun], I mean, this is the whole issue. I don’t know if this guy [Joseph Rosenbaum, the first man Rittenhouse killed] is wanting to kill [Rittenhouse,]” said Meyn.

Meyn gave an example of a bar fight, something that the prosecution also referred to in its closing argument in the Rittenhouse case. “We don’t allow bar fights immediately going to justified killing, right?” he said. “So, do we want people walking into bars now with open carry and then if they get hit, they get to shoot people?”

Meyn said he’s never going to support any kind of "wild west" rule. “That if you reach toward my area, and I have a gun I can shoot you. What is this? No, you run away. You’re the one who walked out with an open carry rifle. It didn’t give you special privileges to assume someone wants to use it against you and kill you.”

What about a heated situation in which someone runs after you and threatens your life? Meyn said he doesn’t think society should make it easy for people to reasonably assume you’re an imminent threat and turn to justified killing. He said for killing to be found reasonable, people should be in imminent threat of substantial bodily harm or death, as the law states.

“It better be something so serious like someone coming at you with a gun. But someone coming at you and you have the gun, you have no idea what their intent is,” said Meyn.

Meyn said if we think those are the same things because you have a gun, that’s crazy to him. And as to the idea that someone could get your gun, Meyn said he doesn’t want to be subject to other peoples’ “trigger fingers.”

“If I’m in the zone of privacy and somehow make an aggressive move toward them," Meyn said. "I’m now subjected to them reasonably thinking they can shoot me because I have their weapon within a half second before they can react?”

Meyn said he’s going to agitate and vote against a world with broader justified killings.

He said the first question is “why are we allowing people during a protest to walk around with AR-15s?” He said that puts everyone’s life at risk. The subsequent question is “if you just shot somebody and then you start running down the street with an AR-15, how safe do people feel?” Meyn referred to the aftermath of Rittenhouse’s first shooting of Joseph Rosenbaum, which led to Rittenhouse also shooting Anthony Huber and Gaige Grosskreutz who came after him.

“The most reasonable thing to assume is that they're trying to disarm you and stop you from killing more people,” said Meyn. ”And if you have an AR 15 point at someone, and the only thing you have, or the other person has is a skateboard in their hand. Don't point the gun at them. Put your hands up and see what happens. He wouldn't have got hit by a skateboard. His life wasn't in danger.”

The defense in the Rittenhouse trial has countered this position, arguing that Rosenbaum threatened Rittenhouse’s life, and that even though Rosenbaum was unarmed, Rittenhouse saw him with a chain earlier. The defense said Rosenbaum ambushed Rittenhouse, ran him into a corner in a car lot where rioters were hitting and damaging cars, and lunged at Rittenhouse, getting his hand on the barrel of Rittenhouse’s gun. Defense lawyers said Rittenhouse had yelled “friendly, friendly, friendly,” when he was approaching with a gun, and that he also had a fire extinguisher, which he had put down, but had first intended on using it to put out fires.

The defense also argued that subsequent attacks by Anthony Huber and an unidentified man they call “jump kick man” were dangerous, and that when Huber hit Rittenhouse on the head and shoulder with a skateboard, it could have been fatal attacks or ones that caused great bodily harm. Attorney Mark Richards said that Rittenhouse didn’t have to wait for death or great bodily harm to happen to him until he took action to protect himself.

The defense and prosecution have also clashed as to whether it was reasonable to consider Rittenhouse an active shooter. The defense said an active shooter is someone who goes into a situation with a plan to kill, unlike Rittenhouse, who the defense said killed reactively.

For his part, Meyn said, “look, if we allow this to be self-defense, this guy shot three people over the course of three minutes and we’re going to say this is privileged? This is a justified shooting? We might well stay indoors.”

Editor's Note: During the first broadcast of this story, an editor incorrectly indicated that Rittenhouse's defense team used a use of force expert to comment on whether Rittenhouse's actions were self-defense, the expert only testified to the timeline of events.

Maayan is a WUWM news reporter.
Related Content