The time-honored right to use a weapon to defend against imminent harm is being redefined by two key legal cases. Self-defense, a doctrine that is particularly cherished in America but ill-equipped to handle an era of expanded gun rights, growing political extremism, violent threats and a strong vigilante strain, all in a country where the perception of threat is heavily influenced by race.
In one case, Kyle Rittenhouse fatally shot two men and wounded a third in the unrest following a police shooting in Kenosha, Wis. In the other, Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man, was shot after a pursuit by three white men who said they suspected him of a series of break-ins in the neighborhood. In both cases, the defendants claim they were entitled to start shooting because the victims were trying to take their guns.
“In other words, their own decision to carry a gun became a justification to use it, lest it be wrested away from them,” said Eric Ruben, an expert on the Second Amendment at the S.M.U. Dedman School of Law in Dallas.