The Kyle Rittenhouse trial has dominated the news this week. And, of course, alongside the coverage of the proceedings and acquittal have been the hot takes. Overheated and uninformed opinions have dominated much of the conversation surrounding the case.
I founded The Reload to be different from the norm, though. That’s why I decided to have an actual expert, lawyer John Monroe, on the podcast this week to discuss the case. Instead of talking about the culture war aspects of the case, we talked about why Rittenhouse was able to convince a jury he acted in self-defense based on the actual laws in Wisconsin.
If you want to hear extreme takes about why Rittenhouse is a hero or a villain based on a random person’s feelings, there are a billion outlets you can turn to for that. If you want to hear from a self-defense law expert about why Rittenhouse carrying a gun wasn’t illegal or how two different “reasonable” standards played a role in his successful defense, The Reload is one of the only places you can go for that.
Of course, the Rittenhouse trial was not the only big news this week. We also saw some significant new movement in gun polling and the culmination of a long-term trend that’s gone largely unnoticed over the past several years. Contributing writer Jake Fogleman takes a look at that too.
This week, I’m joined by gun lawyer John Monroe to discuss Kyle Rittenhouse successfully claiming self-defense during his murder trial.
Monroe practices gun law in Wisconsin. He has argued similar cases in the past and is even appearing before the state’s supreme court soon. His experience gives him specialized insight into the case against Rittenhouse and why the jury came down on his side.
We discuss the details of Wisconsin’s self-defense laws. Monroe says the case hinged on reasonableness. Specifically, whether Rittenhouse reasonably feared for his life and whether the force he used in response was reasonable.
Monroe gives an in-depth explanation for how the video evidence in the case helped Rittenhouse convince the jury his actions were reasonable in the moment. And he discusses some of the erroneous claims made by the prosecution. He details why Rittenhouse carrying a gun did not mean he forfeited his right to claim self-defense and why he wasn’t required to use a lower level of force in the altercations.
We also talk about the parallels and key differences between the Rittenhouse case in Wisconsin and the Ahmaud Arbery case in Georgia where Monroe also practices. While both cases involved a struggle over a gun, Rittenhouse only shot after being pursued and attacked while Arbery was shot after he was pursued and attacked. Monroe said Travis McMichael, who shot Arbery, is less likely to be successful in his self-defense claim.
You can listen to the full podcast on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.
You can also watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel.
Questions for David French
Now that we’ve dealt with the legal details of what happened in the Rittenhouse trial, I’m planning to have The Dispatch’s David French on to discuss what the fallout of the case should be. While he believes Rittenhouse was legally justified in the shootings, he’s concerned about how some on the right have made the 18-year-old into a hero. He has also suggested changing open carry laws to prevent similar situations in the future.
His suggestions have garnered a lot of fierce criticism. So, I’m going to have him on to discuss his ideas and some of the pushback on them.
I want to open up the floor for you guys to ask questions as well. What would you want to ask about the Rittenhouse trial or open carry, especially in politically charged environments?
Much of the recent focus on the successes of the gun-rights movement has been on the liberalization of right-to-carry laws. And there is good reason for that. Public perception and legislation around the practice of concealed carry have changed dramatically over the last few decades.
However, another major shift in public opinion has been largely taken for granted: the normalization and acceptance of handgun ownership.
It may seem trivial now, but handguns used to be public enemy number one in the American gun debate. The latest Gallup poll showing declining support for gun control also tracked a historic low in support for banning handguns, at 19 percent. But in 1959, the first year Gallup began polling the issue, 60 percent of people said the federal government should ban handguns for everyone except the police.
It can seem like a novelty now that such a question would even be asked by pollsters, given that no prominent politician or gun control organization even talks about a handgun ban as a policy proposal anymore. But that’s precisely the point. It’s no longer considered a serious policy proposal even among those more hostile to guns. The same poll found that even though 91 percent of Democrats say gun laws should be stricter, only 40 percent now support a handgun ban.
But just a few decades ago, it was a completely different story. Even prominent Republicans expressed support for handgun regulation. In 1972, then-President Richard Nixon reportedly expressed a desire to ban all handguns to his aides, saying “I know the rifle association will be against it, the gun makers will be against it, but people should not have handguns.”
Later that same year, he publicly supported a bill that sought to ban “Saturday night specials”—inexpensive handguns often used in crime—before it ultimately died in the House after passing the Senate.
But, as time went on, sensibilities around gun regulations began to change. Prominent politicians stopped calling for handgun bans as they continuously declined in popularity among the general public, and the gun-control organizations were also forced to shift focus. The National Coalition to Ban Handguns became the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and Handgun Control, Inc. became today’s Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Major gun control priorities shifted to things like “assault weapons” and magazines holding more than ten rounds. At the same time, handguns quickly became the most commonly-owned type of firearm in the country. Finally, public acceptance of handgun ownership culminated in the landmark 2008 Supreme Court decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, where the court ruled that Americans had a constitutional right to own a handgun for self-defense.
Over the course of a few decades, the policy landscape has gone from one where three out of every five Americans was ready to completely ban the private ownership of handguns to one where less than one out of every five is in favor of such a proposal. Now 72 percent of all gun owners say they own a handgun, and it is recognized as constitutionally protected conduct.
Over the past week, we have seen new data that validates a continued theme: Americans are turning against gun control.
The latest Gallup polling shows support for stricter gun control at a seven-year low, fueled largely by a 15-point cratering among Independents. Plus, a recent Morning Consult poll shows registered voters trust Republicans over Democrats on the issue of gun policy by seven points. Furthermore, Republicans’ advantage on gun policy increased to ten points when just suburban voters were polled.
Public opinion on gun control is historically volatile. Americans’ support for stricter gun laws has typically risen after high-profile mass shootings and fallen during periods without such events. But, a few recent major events have actually caused Americans to sour on the prospect of new gun control.
One obvious factor is simply the fact that record numbers of Americans have become gun owners in the last two years. We know from polling data that gun owners are far less likely than non-gun owners to favor gun control, and that likely explains why a significant drop in support for gun control has coincided with record numbers of first-time gun buying.
However, an underappreciated element is not just the fact there are new gun owners but that millions of them were forced to experience gun laws in practice for the first time. It’s a distinction with an important difference.
For many among the uninitiated, their conception of gun laws is formed by the media they consume. When prominent figures go unchallenged publicly saying things like “it’s easier to buy a gun than a beer,” or “in a majority of states, new voters are able to obtain a rifle quicker than they’re able to cast their first ballot,” it’s easy to see why many are left with a distorted sense of just how many gun control laws are already on the books.
Confronted with this reality when they took the steps to get a gun, some probably concluded that further restrictions were unnecessary.
Indeed, there was some evidence of this early on in the pandemic when prospective gun buyers saw the utility of armed self-defense for the first time but found themselves delayed by existing regulations they were unaware of.
“In the past, I wasn’t against owning a gun,” Brian, a first-time gun buyer from Florida, told the Washington Free Beacon last May. “However, I did think that we had suffered enough as a country from school shootings, and something needed to be done. I was for stricter gun laws—no ARs, close the gun-show loophole, better mental health regulations, etc. I would now oppose stricter gun laws.”
Another driver of this trend is crime. In 2020, the same year that a record number of Americans became first-time gun owners, the country also experienced a record single-year increase in murder and an increase in other types of violent crime. And preliminary data from 2021 shows that murder continues to increase, albeit at a slower rate than the previous year.
According to the latest polling from Gallup, a record-high 88 percent of gun owners now cite protection from crime as the number one reason for owning a gun, up from 67 percent in the mid-2000s. And while previous years’ survey data showed periods of high crime coinciding with high levels of support for gun control, that no longer appears to be the case.
In 1990, for example, when the nation’s crime rate was near its peak, a record 78 percent of Americans supported stricter laws for gun sales. Now, even with concerns over crime on their radar, Americans seem to have more of an appetite for guns than gun control.
It’s difficult to say how long this trend will continue if it does at all. It could very well be a thermostatic response to a Democrat-controlled White House and Congress, and we could see a reversal in the trend the next time Republicans take power. But the fact that it’s a trend occurring on the heels of record gun sales to first-time buyers, absent any major push for new federal legislation, suggests that it could have some staying power. For the time being, at least, many Americans have lost their desire for new gun control.
That’s it for now.
I’ll talk to you all again soon.