Judge says Rittenhouse rifle will be destroyed by crime lab

Sean Krajacic/The Kenosha News via AP, Pool

Kyle Rittenhouse won’t be getting his rifle back, but his wish to see the firearm destroyed will be granted by Judge Bruce Schroeder, who on Friday approved Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger’s motion to have the state crime lab dispose of the rifle.

Rittenhouse’s attorney, Mark Richards, filed a motion Jan. 19 asking prosecutors to return Rittenhouse’s rifle, his ammunition, his face mask and other clothing he was wearing the night of the shooting to him. Richards and David Hancock, a spokesman for Rittenhouse, said last week that Rittenhouse, who is now 19, wanted to destroy the rifle and throw the rest of the items away so nothing can be used as a political symbol or trophy celebrating the shootings.

Destruction of the gun will be recorded as part of the agreement that was approved Friday. The rest of Rittenhouse’s property has already been returned to him, Binger told the judge.

The decision to have the state crime lab destroy the rifle is an interesting twist, but it also allows the judge (and virtually everyone else involved) to sidestep a somewhat thorny question: does the rifle in question actually belong to Kyle Rittenhouse in the first place?

Remember, Rittenhouse gave the money to purchase the rifle to his friend Dominick Black because Rittenhouse was only 17-years old at the time. That’s why Binger originally charged Black with making a straw purchase; buying a gun that he said was for him, when his intention was to purchase it for someone else.

But Black didn’t go to trial for the alleged straw purchase. Instead, Binger offered Black a deal to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. As I wrote at the time, proving that this was an actual straw purchase wasn’t going to be as easy as Binger claimed.

Typically in a straw purchasing case, the person who purchases a firearm for another actually turns that gun over to the other individual. That didn’t happen here.

After Rittenhouse, who was then 17-years old, gave Black the money to purchase the rifle, Black maintained possession of the gun at his home. The idea was that he would keep ahold of the rifle at his home in Kenosha until Rittenhouse turned 18 and could take legal possession. On August 25th of last year, however, Rittenhouse did take the rifle with him as he and Black went to stand guard over a local car dealership. As we learned at trial, though, Rittenhouse didn’t commit a crime by doing so, and if Rittenhouse hadn’t been forced to act in self-defense it’s almost certain that at the end of the evening he would have once again left the AR-15 at Black’s home when he headed back to his own house in northern Illinois.

This was never a standard “straw buy”, in other words, and there’s no guarantee that Binger would have been able to convince a jury that the purchase of the rifle should result in a felony conviction and a prison sentence. In that regard, the deal makes sense not only for Dominick Black, but for the prosecution, who now get to avoid the prospect of another embarrassing defeat in open court.

Dominick Black never gave Rittenhouse the rifle permanently, which begs the question: could Rittenhouse have had the rifle “returned” to him by the court when he never legally owned it? It seems to me that the ownership of the rifle still rests (or rested) with Dominick Black, though he doesn’t appear to have raised any objection to the rifle’s destruction.

I suppose it’s a moot point now, and I’m glad that all parties appear to be satisfied with the resolution. Honestly, I hope this is one of the last times I have to write about Kyle Rittenhouse; not because I have any animosity towards him but because it would be great if he could move on with his life without a constant media circus surrounding him every step of the way. That may be a tall order, particularly in the era of obtrusive social media, but it looks to me like Rittenhouse is taking at least some of the right steps to fade from the public’s consciousness and try to get back to some semblance of a normal life (though I reserve the right to change my opinion if he keeps making high-profile appearances at conservative conferences).