While his business lies in bankruptcy, The National Shooting Association won this week in a courtroom in Wisconsin. The acquittal of Kyle Rittenhouse on all charges related to the murder of two men and the wounding of a third during a racially charged rally reinforces a narrative that the NRA has been promoting for years: Individual citizens must be armed to protect both you and them.
This in this case means that the 17-year-old boy armed himself – illegally – with a semi-automatic assault weapon and set himself up as a protector of people and companies who never sought his protection. And in doing so, he killed two men and sparked a new national controversy.
For a bunch of NRAs, Rittenhouse is a hero and his acquittal in court is “justice served.” And now it has become a poster for values dear to the political right. He is, in their eyes, a “patriot.” Remember that the same people who greet Rittenhouse also called the rebels at the American Capitol on January 6 “patriots”.
All this corresponds to the NRA narrative that America will be the strongest when certain “patriots” arm themselves in our name.
One of the problems with this narrative is that armed citizens rarely work for the good of the whole. They usually try to protect themselves or their prejudices.
We can’t escape the parallel picture of three armed avengers in Georgia shooting and killing Ahmaud Arbery as he ran – unarmed – through a neighborhood where they thought he didn’t belong.
Note that these three men from Georgia also claim to have acted in self-defense. They caught a black man who they assumed was a thief – because he was black – and then took him into self-defense when he tried to protect himself from their unprovoked attack.
This is not a new story in American history. In fact, it’s a story as old as time. Most of every lynching in American history is motivated by the alleged protection of whites from suspicious but unproven black aggression.
“Most of every lynching in American history is motivated by the alleged protection of whites from the dubious but unproven aggression of blacks.”
In modern times, we have changed the nooses for assault rifles. Most often, innocent blacks become victims of these self-proclaimed “patriots”, but when whites stand by oppressed blacks, they also become victims. It happened in Wisconsin.
The NRA tried to justify its desire for weapons at all costs by saying it favored existing laws. If that were true, the NRA and its supporters would surely admit that Rittenhouse was – let’s say this once again – a 17-year-old who illegally acquired semi-automatic weapons. Had existing laws been applied, this tragedy in Wisconsin would not have happened.
In the midst of all legal analysis from what happened at the Rittenhouse trial, one thing rises to the top: Wisconsin law strongly favors pleas for self-defense, whatever the circumstances. Even if you are the person who mixed the pot, you can claim to have defended yourself when the pot boiled.
That’s exactly the way the NRA wants it. They sold America such a perverted view of the Second Amendment that many others believed the lie that our society would be better off with more armed individual “patriots”.
This narrative is not a story that leads to life. Instead, it is a story that leads to death again and again. There are no heroes in this story, only self-obsessed avengers.
And there is nothing in this narrative – nothing at all – which is in line with the values of Christianity or the teachings of Jesus. It is Jesus who taught us to turn the other cheek, to value others above ourselves, to serve the common good, to cast down the sword.
America became thrilled with the story the NRA had been spinning for years. Now is the time to follow a better story that leads to life, not death.
Mark Wingfield serves as CEO and publisher of Baptist News Global.
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