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The Rittenhouse effect: send lawyers, guns and money

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When I was 17 I’ll admit I did a few stupid things. Once, I put salt into my coffee instead of sugar. Wasn’t thinking. How stupid was I?

Recently Donald Trump jnr also observed that 17-year-olds do stupid things.

Asked about the deaths of two men and the alleged shooter, Kyle Rittenhouse, aged 17, Trump jnr said: “If I put myself in Kyle Rittenhouse’s (shoes), maybe I shouldn’t have been there. He’s a young kid. I don’t want 17-year-olds running around the street with AR-15s.

“We all do stupid things at 17.”

 The interviewer replied: “I think it’s a little bit beyond stupid.”

“Really stupid, fine.”

Trump jnr likes guns, doesn’t mind visiting gun companies to fire off a few rounds. But he couldn’t comment on the Rittenhouse case because of “due process”.

 Maybe he should have observed that Rittenhouse shouldn’t have been toting an assault rifle around at all.

In her song Woodstock, Joni Mitchell sings of seeing “bomber death planes/riding shotgun in the sky/turning into butterflies/above our nation”.

What if the unseen hand that turned those death planes into butterflies could turn every gun in America into an electric guitar?

I know dreaming doesn’t make it so. The death planes didn’t transform back then and the ones now would swat like flies those of 50 years ago. But these are, dare we say it, no not unprecedented, but strange times. If we all pray hard enough maybe we can stop their reign.

It’s not presumptuous to ask of another country, how can it be seen as normal, and defendable that a 17-year-old boy can walk around with an assault rifle slung over his shoulder.

How can Rittenhouse, who is now charged with first-degree murder, able to be the subject of fund-raising efforts for his defence, in particular the Christian website GiveSendGo, which has raised more than $300,000?

How can Rittenhouse be included with Gandhi as a ‘‘hero for a modern age’’ essay assignment in the Dallas Independent School District? An apology has since been issued. Not so the National Foundation for Gun Rights, which has raised $50,000 for Rittenhouse because he was ‘‘defending himself and business owners’’.

And how can the US President Donald Trump not say something against guns?

The last part is easy. Guns are part of his constituency, and a domain of junior Trump, too. The President recently attacked his Democrat rival for the presidency Joe Biden as being untrustworthy because Biden was against God and guns. This is untrue. But that’s besides the point in Trump World.

It’s also easy to see as normal in America a teenager with guns, partly from history and the mass shootings in that country by young people, and by sheer dint of numbers, both for cause and effect.

About 14 million guns are sold each year in America. There are estimated to be about 400 million guns in a country of 330 million. According to a survey by the Pew Research Centre, almost half of the adult population grew up in a home with guns.

Each year, about 36,000 Americans die by gunshot – 100 a day. Of that figure just under two thirds are suicide, one third homicide. Police and accidents make up the rest. Another 100,000 are wounded. The riots are the result of police shootings involving a) an African-American who is b) unarmed.

Rittenhouse’s weapon was a Smith & Wesson AR-15 style .223 rifle, with a magazine that holds 30 rounds. He claims he was in Kenosha, scene of riots and not his home town, to protect the neighbourhood. His supporters claim his shooting was an act of self-defence.

The two people who died at his hands were Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber. Rosenbaum died from multiple shots. Huber died from one shot to the chest.

The AR-15 weighs about 3kg, another half a kilogram fully loaded. It can fire off a round that can travel close to a kilometre. Its sight may be good, but it’s more accurate, obviously, at close range.

It weighs as much as a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Like the Strat, it can be played rapidfire or slowly.

Its melody and scale, however, are best suited to destruction. Nobody fires off an assault rifle to create anything. It can scream at about 150 decibels, louder than any Strat and Marshall combo.

But a guitar would not have done much good that day for the purposes of the 17-year-old.

Like the Strat, the AR-15 doesn’t have a conscience. It’s not its concern. Leave that to whoever holds them in their arms. They are both merely the instrument of mortal design.

Two men would be alive now if that kid had picked up a guitar, or indeed a flute, instead of an assault rifle. Sure, his defenders would say he was just acting to protect. In America that translates to many as deadly force, and that’s OK. If the President thinks it’s OK, hey it’s OK.  

But if divine intervention were needed, then surely now is the time for those millions of guns to be transformed into instruments of creation. Take a shot everyone at playing something soulful, a slow blues, ala Stevie Ray Vaughan, rather than just taking a shot.

Then the world would be rid of praise such as this on a guns website: “My pick for this gun is the .357 Magnum cartridge because of its ultimate stopping ability.”

From his cell, where last Friday he notified court he would fight extradition to answer the charges, Rittenhouse earlier sent this message via his lawyer: ‘‘I just wanna thank every single one of you from the bottom of my heart for the underlying support. I just want to thank all of you for the mail I’ve been receiving. It’s been really helpful.’’ 

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