How a 1991 gun law may have impacted Rittenhouse verdict

Midwest

KENOSHA, Wis. (NewsNation Now) — The not guilty verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial put a spotlight on gun laws and how they vary from state to state. The gun charge may have seemed like a slam dunk for the prosecution and some are wondering why it didn’t stick.

Most states, including Wisconsin, place a limit on the right to self-defense. Rittenhouse brought an AR-15-style rifle loaded with 30 rounds of ammunition to a volatile situation — and he used it to kill two people. But in Wisconsin, it all comes down to the length of the barrel.

Just hours before jurors received the case, Rittenhouse’s defense team dug up an exception. Under Wisconsin law, anyone under 18 who possesses a dangerous weapon is guilty of a misdemeanor. That’s punishable by up to nine months in prison.

However, the state law only applies to minors armed with rifles or shotguns with short barrels. The language stems from a 1991 law when lawmakers across the country were trying to find ways to curb gang violence. It was likely intended to prevent youths from carrying sawed-off shotguns.

Rittenhouse’s AR-15-style rifle was not short-barreled, and that is why prosecutors asked for the charge to be dismissed. Initially he refused, but Bruce Schroeder did ultimately dismiss the gun charge.

“I personally don’t like people carrying AR-15s around,” said defense attorney Mark Richards. “There was so much anger and so much fear in Kenosha on Aug. 25 that people did on themselves. We knew from the beginning that if you read the statute correctly, he was legal in having that firearm, and obviously once the evidence came in, the judge threw the charge. They threw the curfew and those were things the state wanted to kinda hang their hat on so they could argue he couldn’t be there, he couldn’t own the gun.”

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Civil rights attorney Ben Crump issued the following statement on the verdict:

“Rittenhouse, a self-declared white nationalist, crossed state lines with an unlawfully possessed AR-15 to be an instigator and provocateur in the anti-racism protests in Kenosha. By the end of the night, he had killed two people and left others injured in his wake. And instead of being arrested on the spot by law enforcement, he walked away scot-free.”

Prosecutors can ask a state appeals court for clarifications and rulings in the middle of a case; they don’t have to wait until a verdict comes down, but it is unusual. Judge Schroeder didn’t dismiss the gun charge until minutes before closing arguments began.

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