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What possessed a CHILD to grab a gun he wasn’t trained in handling and take it to the streets to play hero?

by Paul Moomjean

How in the hell did an 18-year-old kid with an AR-15 become the symbol of right-wing justice and freedom in America? As we are now 11 months into a post-Trump-as-president world, the political landscape is drowning for new faces, and the Fox News tribe found one in Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old (at the time) Illinois resident who went to Kenosha, Wisconsin to protect a car dealership with his friend’s family gun. The facts were messy from the beginning. President Joe Biden wrongfully labeled him a white supremacist. It’s just a matter of time before Clint Eastwood makes a film, like he did with Richard Jewell. Yet in all this awful reporting and trial coverage, the greater question seems to be missing: What possessed a CHILD to grab a gun he wasn’t trained in handling and take it to the streets to play hero? 

When Rittenhouse went to a Black Lives Matter protest with a medic kit and desire to pick up trash and help, his opening good intentions were completely nullified when he grabbed a gun and roamed the streets of Kenosha. While I do not believe he thought he would use it, he obviously was mentally prepared to hold it and use it as a form of intimidation. This isn’t a properly trained member of the military or officer in training. This is a teenager with a 38-year-old mother who let him put himself and others in harm’s way. As my grandpa used to say, “If he was where he was supposed to be, he wouldn’t end up where he did.” 

Yes, he shot three awful men, and killed two of them. They were white felons, one a pedophile, the other with a criminal background, but his not guilty verdict is a simple vindication of vigilante justice. We have a police force, and while they were missing at that moment, we cannot simply take the law into our own hands. Life is not a comic book or 1970s Charles Bronson film. In fact, we know this method of justice doesn’t work, as we become exhausted by it. Death Wish 5 anyone? No. We want him to go home and let the professionals handle it. 

The reason a case like Rittenhouse captures our attention is because it encompasses all the titillating good and bad in American Wild West mythology. Either you view the man-boy as a Batman wannabe trying to protect his neighbors or you see him as an angry kid perpetuating the gun crazy culture Michael Moore warned us about 20 years ago. The Internet was calling him everything from a hero to a mass shooter. 

What we have is an ugly mess of a story where there are no winners. The story of a kid who thought he could play an adult; who, once confronted, ran away until he finally pulled the trigger, creating a domino effect of murder and bloodshed. He couldn’t handle himself in the situation. Had a police officer acted as such, we’d demand his badge be returned to his station and that he find a midnight security job protecting the produce for a Whole Foods market. So, if we would find Rittenhouse’s reaction to be unprofessional and irresponsible by a trained official, how can we let Rittenhouse off the hook for putting so many in danger with delusions of grandeur? 

The reason is because everything is a political symbol now. Masks. Vaccines. Kyle Rittenhouse. Pick your political poison and drink it. The culture no longer looks beyond the headlines, and instead of us asking how mentally unstable Rittenhouse is to “play savior” or how inept the parents are in supporting such behavior, we are arguing over when his situation moved from peaceful protest observer to self-defense. 

When I was a 17-year-old teenager I was waiting for college to start, for movies to see, for friends to hang out with. I could wait to be an adult. I didn’t have such an inflated ego that I felt it was my responsibility to take up arms and chase windmills of justice. 

In every conversation I’ve had or heard, everyone seems to have an opinion on what happened. Yet no one seems to be asking the question, “Should have this happened in the first place?” The reason vigilante films are made is to be a cathartic fantasy for boys to think they’re men. I hope the next time Rittenhouse thinks about picking up a gun he’ll just pick a Marvel film on Disney+ to watch instead.