I'm 66 years old and was a hunter of squirrels, deer and grouse in Wisconsin. I took a National Rifle Association hunter safety class in eighth grade so I could go hunting with my buddies. I'm familiar with hunting situations and the use of firearms.
Whenever I went into the woods with a loaded gun, I expected and in fact hoped to shoot whatever I hunted. If I did it well, then I'd bring something home for dinner. I learned to identify my target and make a shot that killed cleanly and quickly so the animal didn't suffer.
I was thankful for what I brought home and used as much of it as possible. I never considered hunting a “sport” but rather a connection to the life cycle that had provided food up until the modern age. Hunting isn't for everyone, but it was for me in that time and place.
A loaded firearm carries with it a great responsibility. A responsibility to use it safely. To prevent injury to the user or others. To identify a target and know what's behind that target. In other words – to know how to use it.
If the firearm is being used for personal protection, as in the case of law enforcement, the user knows their target will probably be another human being. When that is the case, a great deal of time and training is invested in that person to educate them in solutions that will make firing the weapon a last resort and not the first in a confrontational situation. This is to try to ensure the person who is armed and the other person involved can both live to see another day.
When untrained civilians walk into protest situations brandishing a loaded weapon, do they actually understand what they're doing? I don't think so. Are they there to protect me? If so, I don't feel protected. I feel threatened. Are they there to protect property? At what cost? Do they plan on being the judge, jury and executioner in a split second?
This is what Kyle Rittenhouse chose, consciously or unconsciously, when he decided to interact with people in a highly charged situation. Some walked away; some confronted him verbally and chased him, even though some didn't even have a weapon. After he shot someone, they tried to hit him when he tripped and fell running down the street.
So is Rittenhouse a protector or a perpetrator?
What was his trained response in each of these situations? He didn't have any training, so his response was to shoot. Did he fear for his life? Most definitely.
His preconceived notion of going to Kenosha to protect property was falling apart with the reality unfolding on the ground. Naive and untrained, he couldn't understand why people were confronting him because he was carrying a firearm. He couldn't understand why he was perceived as a threat. He couldn't understand why people who didn't even carry a weapon would be bold enough to confront him.
In other words, he was in over his head while carrying a lethal weapon.
I'd say that of the many appalling events that occurred in the Rittenhouse case, the footage of a police officer in an armored personnel carrier thanking armed civilians for being there was definitely disturbing. Why the police would even want them out on the street is beyond me. They're untrained, they're armed, and their motives and identities are unknown. As a police officer, how would I know I wouldn't be the one to get shot when they end up in a confrontation they couldn't handle?
Years ago, I remember asking a fellow I worked with if he'd like to go out grouse hunting. He was a first rate hunter and guide. He was kind of reluctant, though I didn't know why at the time, but agreed after a few invitations.
I suggested my hunting grounds, he suggested another, and we settled on his. When I got to his house, I pulled my 12-gauge shotgun out of my car to transfer it into his vehicle when he asked, “Is it unloaded?” I assured him it was, and pulled it out of the case and opened the breach for inspection. No problem.
When we got to the hunting grounds, we both loaded our shotguns. But before we headed out, he wanted to make sure we were on the same page and said, “Just a couple things before we go: I got peppered with buckshot last year by a couple of yahoos when I took them out pheasant hunting. I don't want it to happen again. If your gun barrel passes through any area of my body, we're done. If you shoot at something I think is too close to me, we're done. If I feel unsafe because of something you're doing, we're done. Are you OK with that?”
“Of course,” I replied. I needed the same from him.
I don't like armed civilians at protests. I don't know whether I can trust their judgment in the situation or their ability to handle firearms. In my opinion, armed civilians at a protest should be escorted to a location where they can't hurt themselves or somebody else.
I also don't like heavily armed police response to civil protest by unarmed civilians. I think it's over the top.
In my boyhood days, I had a BB gun. I envisioned myself as a great hunter, or maybe a cowboy like I saw on television, and would plink tin cans off a fence but longed for bigger game.
One day, I lay waiting on the ground when a robin landed. Taking aim and sighting, I squeezed the trigger and the robin fell. I walked up to it and knelt down. The bird was dead.
That's when I realized my fantasy had real consequences. What had begun as a game ended in death. It wasn't like TV or the movies at all.
Buildings can be rebuilt and cars can be repaired or replaced. Streets can be closed. But when a person is shot and killed, that life is over.
Does anyone really believe armed and untrained civilians should be present in protest situations? I certainly don't.
Carl L. Peters is a Fort Wayne resident.