An Argument Against Unethical Carry
Rather than advocating for the ethical bearing of arms, gun culture is enabling permissive, reckless, and ill-considered behavior that's placing people in serious lethal and legal jeopardy.
What if things had gone differently that night in Kenosha on August 25, 2020? What if Anthony Huber had successfully incapacitated Kyle Rittenhouse with his skateboard? What if Gaige Grosskreutz had actually fired his pistol and struck Kyle Rittenhouse? How would the legal proceedings have concluded if Kyle Rittenhouse had been the one killed that night?
The answer that will probably displease those who are holding up Kyle Rittenhouse as some sort of hero is this: the legal result would probably have been the same.
One of the mistakes many rights advocates make in modern political dialogue, on all sides of the coin, is that they think in terms of “my rights” and not “our rights.” Specific to the right of self-defense, we too often ignore the reality that every American citizen has the right to self-defense and, crucially, that the right to self-defense in America is exercised based on a reasonable belief that someone’s life is in danger.
Reasonable belief is one of the lowest burdens of proof in criminal law. The relevant question is: what did you believe was happening in that moment. That’s it. The totality of circumstances is not a full consideration in a self-defense claim.
This is why, in the Kenosha scenario, if Huber had killed Rittenhouse with his skateboard or if Grosskreutz had killed him with his pistol, they would likely have been protected by the very same self-defense claim that Rittenhouse himself was able to use in his defense. Grosskreutz himself testified that he drew his pistol because he believed Rittenhouse was an active shooter. That belief itself legally justifies the use of force in self-defense.
The true motives of the people Rittenhouse killed that night don’t ultimately matter when it comes to considering his self-defense claim. But Rittenhouse’s true motives would not have mattered if someone who reasonably believed he was an active shooter had killed him. This is how the right to self-defense works, and everyone has that right. In America, you don’t have to second-guess yourself if you believe your life or the lives of others are in danger. You are empowered to act, and the law protects you so long as you acted in good faith and can defend your reasonable belief, in that moment, that you or others were in danger.
This is where the veneration of Kyle Rittenhouse has come to bother me so much. To me, rather than a patriotic hero, Rittenhouse embodies many things that are wrong in today’s gun culture. Rather than advocating for the ethical bearing of arms, gun culture is enabling permissive, reckless, and ill-considered behavior that not only places people in serious lethal and legal jeopardy but helps engender an image of gun owners as vigilantes looking for excuses to brandish and use their firearms.
Now, to be clear, I consider myself a part of gun culture. I’ve been around guns my whole life. I trained with them in the military and law enforcement. I’ve put more ammunition through my Glock in the last ten years than most people will put through a single gun in their lifetime. I’ve built my own AR-15. I carry a gun routinely. I’m a hunter. I’ve even engaged in amateur shooting competition. I will readily admit that I am what most would consider a “gun nut.”
But here’s what’s come to separate me from so many others: I believe wholeheartedly in what I call ethical carry.
Ethical carry begins with an understanding of rights that’s fundamental to the political theory of the Enlightenment and the American Founding: every right comes with a responsibility. And what is the first responsibility? It’s that the ethical exercise of a right isn’t about what I can do, but what I should do.
For example, most gun owners would agree with these points of ethical carry: I can purchase a firearm, but I should have a plan to responsibly store it and teach my children to respect it before I buy it. I can own a firearm, but I should consider my capacity to take another human life before potentially introducing it into a volatile situation. I can carry a firearm, but I should be proficient and well-trained in its use before putting it on my belt.
The points above are basic common sense regarding firearms, but they help make a crucial point: bearing arms is more than a consideration of rights, it’s a consideration of ethics. No law says anyone who owns a gun has to do any of these things. And yet, the broad firearm community looks down on anyone who doesn’t do them. Why? Because there is deeper reasoning when it comes to what we should do to be ethical owners of firearms. It’s not just about what’s legal. It’s about learning the proper and ethical way to go about bearing arms.
And this is where I’ve grown so frustrated with so many other gun owners and advocates for the right to bear arms in recent years. So many of us have become so entitled, so politically and socially immature that we’ve stopped considering ethics in how we exercise our rights and in how we advocate for our rights.
Too many of us fail to stop and ask ourselves if we should open carry a firearm when the more ethical choice might be concealed carry. Too many of us are carrying rifles in public at low ready and patrol carry as if we’re looking for terrorists in Kandahar when the ethical consideration is that these are American streets full of American citizens, citizens who have the same right to self-defense we have and who could reasonably conclude, based on our unethical behavior, that we are threatening them.
Too many of us are wearing military fatigues, adorning ourselves with body armor, and presenting a tactical demeanor when the ethical question is whether we are engaging in peaceful protest if we are dressing and behaving like militants and displaying and brandishing our firearms in ways that aren’t difficult to construe as signaling threats of political violence. Because too many of us are only thinking about what we can do instead of what we should do, we’re bringing the Left’s strawman arguments to life, and we’re sure starting to look like what they think gun owners are.
Rather than holding up Kyle Rittenhouse, and those like him, as heroes, these painful scenarios should be teaching us important lessons. Mainly, that bringing a gun into a situation in the wrong way, with the wrong demeanor, and in a manner that others can reasonably construe as threatening can and will make volatile situations worse and lead to tragedy. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Ethics and the responsible exercise of our rights are the callings of patriots, not unethical and irresponsible behavior that ultimately mirrors the entitlement of the Left we claim to oppose.
But, perhaps most important of all, gun owners across America need to be considering what our choices and our rhetoric are teaching the rising generation. Where did an untrained seventeen-year-old get it in his head that the responsible thing for a gun owner to do is pick up a rifle and cosplay as a soldier in the middle of a riot?
If Kyle Rittenhouse had died that night because his behavior led others to view him as a threat, his blood would have been on the hands of those who failed to teach him how to ethically exercise his rights. And, we need to consider whether the blood of those who did die that night is on the hands of the pro-gun community because we failed to teach Kyle Rittenhouse that just because you can doesn’t mean you should.