Slate Takes Issue With Armed Self-Defense

Mark Hertzberg/Pool Photo via AP

The trial of Kyle Rittenhouse is, as of this writing, in the jury’s hands. However, the media has made it very clear where they stand on the issue. In their mind, he’s guilty and they will claim as much until their very last breath, just as they claim he didn’t act in self-defense for various reasons.

They’ve used what happened in Kenosha to make any manner of argument to try and vilify both him and their opponents.

But as idiotic as some of those arguments have been, Slate apparently decided to look at them and announce, “Hold my beer.”

The jury in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has begun its deliberations. As we wait, it is worth acknowledging that this trial has come to stand for what may well be the future of criminal defense law in America. Put aside the tactical errors of the prosecutors and the trial antics of a flamboyant judge and even the radicalization of the vigilante right—what is left is a snapshot of what will happen every time jurors contemplate how guns, protests, and hair-trigger self-defense combine in public spaces. And it looks very much like passing judgment over a shootout at the O.K. Corral.

Indeed, once everyone in public spaces is armed and operating under a sprawling regime of “stand your ground” and citizen’s arrest statutes plus a mushrooming mistrust of law enforcement, how will courts ever sort out who instigated and who responded? As Ferzan put it in her law review article: “What is defense? What is reasonable? When may one stand one’s ground and when must one retreat? And, when is a citizen entitled to step in as an aggressor in the name of the state?” If you can arm yourself because you have declared yourself a substitute for law enforcement and then you claim people were grabbing for your weapon so you killed them with it, are you always justified? Must we always assume that the dead victim, who cannot testify, was the aggressor?

All of this is terrific news if one thinks every public gathering, indeed every public space, is enhanced by the presence of more guns. As the majority of the Supreme Court seems to have confirmed in this month’s oral arguments for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, such a world is A-OK by them. Justice Samuel Alito, for example, demonstrated his boundless concern for, as he put it, “law-abiding citizens” in New York City who are forced to “commute home by subway, maybe by bus,” and are unable to carry guns to protect themselves in a shootout, which would presumably occur on a crowded train or platform. Yes, this is the world the current court seems likely to create, and it will leave the details of who intended to kill and who was just defending himself and who merely killed someone out of fear his gun would be wrested from him to any number of future juries. (In case you were looking for predictions, I’m betting the data will hold and that white people will claim self-defense and their Black victims will be dead and thus unable to testify.)

The author invokes the Ahmaud Arbery trial and the civil trial of some who took part in the Charlottesville protest in 2017 to try and make the bizarre case that somehow, armed self-defense is a bad thing, apparently.

Later in the piece, the author invokes the Trayvon Martin trial, claiming that Stand Your Ground, while never invoked, still played a role in Zimmerman’s acquittal, but fails to acknowledge the role of evidence showing that Martin was trying to cave Zimmerman’s head in by pounding it into the concrete sidewalk.

And that’s really the problem with this piece.

See, when you pick and choose what rules apply and when, you have a tendency to ignore things that hurt your narrative, like Martin’s attempt to make Zimmerman one with the sidewalk.

What the author seems to prefer is a world where everyone has to worry about whether they, too, will be put on trial for acting in self-defense under even less ambiguous circumstances, simply because some prosecutor has decided that they could have fit through a window and thus could have retreated.

Because that is what’s on the table when you try to talk about the evils of Stand Your Ground.

That law doesn’t give anyone the power to kill simply because they say they’re afraid. Folks like the people at Slate have claimed it over and over again, but that’s an outright lie that has been perpetuated.

No, Stand Your Ground laws simply remove the duty to try and get away from your attacker, not necessarily because killing them is a good thing, but because it means a prosecutor can’t play Monday morning quarterback and decide the person in question could have scaled a fence to try and escape their attacker or something.

But again, since the author clearly isn’t a fan of self-defense at all and sees a world in which such laws exist as a horrible thing, of course she’d feel that way.

Which really says more about her than about self-defense laws in this country.

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET