While its business operations lie in bankrupt shambles, the National Rifle Association won the day in a Wisconsin courtroom this week. The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges related to the murder of two men and injury of a third during a racially charged rally reinforces the narrative the NRA has been hawking for years: Individual citizens need to be armed to protect both you and them.
What that means in this case is that a 17-year-old boy armed himself — illegally — with a semi-automatic assault weapon and appointed himself protector of people and businesses who never asked for his protection. And in the process, he killed two men and stirred a new national controversy.
To the NRA crowd, Rittenhouse is a hero and his vindication in court is “justice done.” And now he has become a poster child for the values the political right holds dear. He is, in their eyes, a “patriot.” Remember that the same folks who are hailing Rittenhouse also called the insurrectionists at the U.S. Capitol Jan. 6 “patriots.”
All this fits the NRA narrative that America will be strongest when individual “patriots” are armed on our behalf.
One of the problems with this narrative is that armed individual citizens rarely work for the good of the whole. Most often, they seek to protect themselves or their prejudices.
We cannot escape the parallel image of the three armed vigilantes in Georgia who shot and killed Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged — unarmed — through a neighborhood where they thought he didn’t belong.
Note that these three Georgia men also claim they were acting in self-defense. They hunted down a Black man they assumed to be a thief — because he was Black — and then claimed self-defense when he tried to protect himself against their unprovoked attack.
This is not a new story in American history. In fact, it is a tale as old as time. Most every lynching in American history has been motivated by alleged protection of white people against the suspicious but unproved aggressions of Black people.
“Most every lynching in American history has been motivated by alleged protection of white people against the suspicious but unproved aggressions of Black people.”
In modern times, we’ve traded nooses for assault rifles. Most often, innocent Black people become the victims of these self-appointed “patriots,” but when white people stand with oppressed Black people, they also become victims. That’s what happened in Wisconsin.
The NRA has attempted to justify its desire for guns at all costs by saying it favors existing laws. If that were true, surely the NRA and its supporters would have acknowledged that Rittenhouse was — let’s say this one more time — a 17-year-old who illegally obtained a semi-automatic weapon. If existing laws had been enforced, this tragedy in Wisconsin wouldn’t have happened.
Amid all the legal analysis of what happened in the Rittenhouse trial, one thing rises to the top: Wisconsin law strongly favors pleas of self-defense, regardless of circumstances. Even if you’re the person who stirred the pot, you can claim you were defending yourself when the pot boils over.
That’s just the way the NRA wants it. They have sold America such a perverted view of the Second Amendment that many others have come to believe the lie that our society will be better off with more armed individual “patriots.”
This narrative is not a story that leads to life. It is, instead, a story that leads over and over to death. There are no heroes in this story, just self-obsessed vigilantes.
And there is nothing in this narrative — nothing at all — that aligns with the values of Christianity or the teachings of Jesus. This is the Jesus who taught us to turn the other cheek, to value others above self, to serve the common good, to put away the sword.
America has become enthralled with the story the NRA has spun for years. It’s time now to follow a better story that leads to life, not death.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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