(AP) — As Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted in two killings that he said were in self-defense, armed civilians patrolled the streets near the Wisconsin courthouse with guns in plain view.
In Georgia, testimony in the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers showed that armed patrols were commonplace in the neighborhood where Arbery, a 25-year-old Black man, was chased down by three white men and shot.
The two proceedings sent startling new signals about the boundaries of self-defense as more guns emerge from homes amid political and racial tensions — and laws advance in many states that ease permitting requirements and expand the allowable use of force.
In all, 30 states have enacted “stand your ground” laws, which remove a requirement to retreat from confrontations before using deadly force. Both gun sales and gun violence have been on the rise. Across much of the nation, it has become increasingly acceptable for Americans to walk the streets with firearms, either carried openly or legally concealed.
In places that still forbid such behavior, prohibitions on possessing guns in public could soon change if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a New York law in place since 1913. It says that to carry a concealed handgun in public for self-defense, an applicant has to demonstrate an actual need for the weapon.
The new status quo for firearms outside the home was on prominent display last week in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Local resident Erick Jordan carried a rifle and holstered handgun near the courthouse where Rittenhouse was tried for killing two men and wounding a third with an AR-15-style semiautomatic rifle during a protest last year.
“I got a job to do — protect these people. That’s it,” said Jordan, referring to speakers at a news conference that was held in the hours after the verdict arrived. Speakers included an uncle of Jacob Blake, the Black man who was paralyzed in a shooting by a white police officer that sparked tumultuous protests across the city in the summer of 2020.
“This is my town, my people,” Jordan said. “We don’t agree on a lot of things, but we fight, we argue, we agree to disagree and go home safe, alive. That’s real self-defense.”
The comments were a counter punch to political figures on the right who welcomed the Rittenhouse verdict and condemned his prosecution.
Mark McCloskey, who pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor charges from when he and his wife waved a rifle and a handgun at Black Lives Matter protesters outside their St. Louis home in 2020, said the verdict shows that people have a right to defend themselves against a “mob.” McCloskey is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri.
Ryan Busse, a former firearms-industry executive who supports moderate gun control, said the case reinforced the normalization of military-style weapons on city and suburban streets.
“Reasonable gun owners are freaked out by this,” Busse said. “How is it that we see this and people are just like, ‘There’s a guy with an AR-15.’ That happens in third-world countries.”