Rittenhouse Verdict Leaves Gun Control Advocates 'Enraged,' Gun Rights Groups 'Thrilled'

The verdict delivered in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has renewed the debate on the Second Amendment among gun control advocates who described themselves as "enraged" and gun rights groups who are "thrilled to see that he is now a free man."

On Friday afternoon, a jury in Kenosha, Wisconsin, found Rittenhouse not guilty on all five charges, allowing the 18-year-old to walk free after he fatally shot two and wounded another in August 2020.

Gun control advocates expressed their disappointment in the jury's decision, calling Rittenhouse an embodiment of "the very danger posed by a toxic mix of a white supremacist culture that values property over human life."

"Young people are enraged watching this trial, and we refuse to accept this as our normal," youth-led gun violence advocacy group the March for Our Lives said in a statement.

"There's no world where a minor should be able to carry a high-powered firearm, period. And yet even on that charge the judge let him loose. Our jaws are dropped," the group added.

Gun control advocate and survivor of the Pulse nightclub shooting Brandon Wolf described Friday's verdict as "heartbreak."

"For those who had to bury the ones they loved. For those who get nothing from this horrific tragedy but empty chairs at the dinner table and gravestones to litter with flowers," Wolf tweeted. "I know it well and I wouldn't wish it on anyone."

On the other hand, the National Foundation for Gun Rights (NFGR), which raised over $50,000 for Rittenhouse last year to help pay for the teen's legal fees, celebrated the verdict.

"When we saw the video evidence of Kyle defending himself and others in Kenosha, WI, NFGR made the decision to support him right away, and we're thrilled to see that he is now a free man," NFGR Executive Director Dudley Brown said in a statement.

Without naming Rittenhouse directly, the National Rifle Association tweeted, "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed," shortly after the verdict was read in Kenosha.

Kyle Rittenhouse Guns Control Second Amendment Verdict
Kenosha Police detective Ben Antaramian prepares to show Kyle Rittenhouse's AR-15 rifle to State Crime Lab firearms examiner Heather Williams and the jury during the Kyle Rittenhouse trial at the Kenosha County Courthouse on November 8, in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Mark Hertzberg/Getty

Both sides have used the verdict as a way to push for policy change.

Gun control advocacy group Giffords accused Rittenhouse of benefiting from weak gun laws and argued that the shootings in Kenosha disputed the claims by gun lobbyists that firearms make communities safer.

"Our nation is built on laws—not vigilantism. Murder, racism, and hate-fueled violence should be condemned, not celebrated," the group said in a statement. "Too often, our legal system protects the right of white Americans to take the lives of others, especially people of color. Kyle Rittenhouse wielded his whiteness as a shield and his AR-15 as a weapon in the streets of Kenosha, where police officers thanked the self-styled militia members, including Rittenhouse, and let him walk away after killing two people."

The group called the verdict a "perversion of justice."

But legal experts argue that the questions before the jury were not about the Second Amendment. Moreover, the gun possession charge against Rittenhouse was dismissed by the judge before jury deliberations.

"The case––legally––is about the shooting deaths of two individuals, the wounding of a third person with a weapon and the reckless endangerment of others. Self-defense is the legal justification for those actions. The evidence and the jury instructions don't address or refer to race or the Second Amendment," former federal prosecutor and former elected state attorney Michael McAuliffe told Newsweek.

"Criminal juries shouldn't be making larger policy statements when determining the potential criminal culpability of a defendant," he added.