Earlier today I published a piece over at The Atlantic that makes two arguments. First, Kyle Rittenhouse wasn’t a hero. He was remarkably foolish to grab a rifle and insert himself into Kenosha’s unrest. He had no business walking into that fray. Second, his foolishness did not eliminate his right to self-defense.
At a surface level, these assertions are both common sense and legally quite basic. American self-defense law is relatively simple and easy to understand. While there are state-by-state permutations and subtleties, it goes something like this:
If I’m attacked, absent a duty to retreat (which doesn’t exist in all jurisdictions and is subject to its own limitations), I can respond with proportionate force sufficient to address the threat. If someone punches me, I can punch back.
At the same time, regardless of the kind of weapon used against me (even if it’s just fists), I can use deadly force if I reasonably fear that I face imminent death or grave bodily injury.