Can We Find a Positive Way Forward after the Rittenhouse Decision?

This is a tough one. It’s possible to reflect on the jury decision in the homicide case of Kyle Rittenhouse and come to the conclusion that the prosecution failed to successfully plead its case. It’s surely possible to look at the antics of the judge and his siding with the defendant and understand why the jury would be positively inclined toward finding the 18-year-old not guilty. But it’s hard to see how the jury finding Rittenhouse not guilty on all nine counts doesn’t give a green light to radical extremists determined to pursue vigilante justice with a gun. That means, despite the right of peaceful assembly protected by the First Amendment, we may witness a growing population of armed extremists who believe that gun laws (open carry and right of self-defense) give them the ability to threaten, intimidate and even kill. That makes our public square more dangerous.

There’s a deeper human level here, a tragedy that will continue to play out in the days and weeks ahead: A teenage boy who killed two human beings with an AR-15 assault rifle is being hailed like a hero and celebrated by some members of Congress and on Fox News and other right-wing media. He’s even been offered an internship to Congress by GOP extremists. It doesn’t take much insight to suggest that this is a sign of sickness in the soul of America.

So here we are. There are tough days ahead. But we must go forward and find positive responses. Will this inspire new forms of peaceful protest? Will it intensify the commitment of the nation’s majority that rejects lax gun laws to demand change? Will it expand the population of people who care about justice—particularly racial justice—to work for legislative change? In short: Can we find a positive way forward? Or does this decision cause you fear and doubt?

I look forward to learning what you all have on your minds today. As always, this is a chance for us to share with each other, so I ask you to be thoughtful in your responses and considerate of each other.

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PHOTO: Former Congresswoman and shooting survivor Gabby Giffords speaks during a Nov. 3, 2021, demonstration with victims of gun violence in front of the Supreme Court as arguments begin on a gun rights case involving a New York law that limits the carrying of guns outside the home. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Getty Images)