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A right-wing protester at a Trump rally in Kenosha, Wisconsin, Sept. 1, 2020. Source: Wikipedia.

Farhad Manjoo, in a column this morning in the New York Times, draws attention to a novel right-wing claim of self-defense, in which a right-winger with a gun points the gun at unarmed people, then claims self-defense out of fear that an unarmed person might take away the gun. Manjoo writes:

“And Rittenhouse’s gun was not just a danger to rival protesters. According to his own defense, the gun posed a grave threat to Rittenhouse himself — he said he feared being overpowered and then shot with his own weapon.”

This has come up again this week, in the trial for the shooting of Ahmaud Arbery, who was killed by vigilantes after they saw him jogging and assumed he was a criminal. The Washington Post writes, “Travis McMichael testified that he raised his shotgun first to ‘de-escalate’ and scare Arbery off, drawing on his use-of-force training while employed with the Coast Guard. But he said that as Arbery ran toward him and finally made physical contact, he fired, afraid the man would get control of the weapon.”

With no verdicts as of today in either case, we don’t yet know whether juries will accept this kind of perverted logic. It would be a horrifying precedent. If a man with a gun points the gun at an unarmed person, doesn’t the unarmed person have a right to self-defense? Lacking a weapon, what are the options other than trying to grab the gun before the guy with the gun can shoot? The claim, clearly, is that the person with the gun has a right to self-defense, but the unarmed person does not have a right to self-defense.

Probably this question has come up before in other court cases. I don’t know. But it does seem clear that there is a connection to vigilantism. Police have the authority arrest and detain people. Vigilantes do not. This is a question that everyone who owns a gun should think about. It’s a question that should be discussed in every concealed carry class. Let’s hope that the courts will provide some clarity.

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