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Local View: Rittenhouse epitomizes irresponsible gun ownership

From the column: "A teenager who killed two people has now become a hero to some. It’s a dangerous precedent."

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Adam Zyglis / Cagle Cartoons

Guns and hunting are common in Minnesota. Most Minnesota gun owners practice responsible gun ownership.

But when those same people see a young man openly carrying an assault-style rifle strapped around his shoulder, they rightly believe he could be dangerous. Why? Because in America, teens who shouldn’t be able to access assault-style rifles get them anyway and shoot up schools and other public places.

The situation Kyle Rittenhouse created in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was the definition of irresponsible behavior and gun ownership. A 17-year-old whose brain has not yet fully developed simply has no business being armed with a military-style weapon, much less being transported by his mother across state lines with that weapon to protect property that wasn’t his to protect.

Why bring a lethal weapon to the streets of Kenosha during the unrest following the shooting of an unarmed Black man by Kenosha police? The answer to that question is all about the gun culture in our country.

Gun carnage is real and, unfortunately, happens too often. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Aurora, Red Lake, Accent Signage, Las Vegas, Virginia Tech, El Paso Walmart, and Pulse Nightclub, to name just a few deadly shootings, have numbed us to our national public health epidemic of gun violence.

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One hundred Americans a day and 500 Minnesotans a year die from gun violence.

People of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence, and the “victim club” grows larger every day.

When we talk about the tragedy in Kenosha, it is essential that we center on the victims. Regardless of the verdict, the family and friends of Joseph Rosenbaum and Anthony Huber will have an empty seat at their holiday tables this year. Gaige Grosskreutz and the others who were at the protest will live the remainder of their lives with the trauma of what happened to them.

As victims/survivors of gun violence that took the lives of a daughter and a sister, we were disturbed by the not-guilty verdicts in the Kenosha shooting case. The trauma of so many shootings can bring back our own experiences. Almost everyone knows someone affected by devastating gun violence. That is why we are working for stronger laws and other measures to keep people from being shot. Most Americans — even gun owners and NRA members — agree with us.

We are concerned that the Rittenhouse verdict further encourages irresponsible gun ownership by demonstrating that vigilantes, militia groups, or impressionable young people can show up at demonstrations, inflict mass casualties, and get away with it.

A teenager who killed two people has now become a hero to some. It’s a dangerous precedent, and unless we decide this is not what America should be, it will continue.

We believe there can be a balance between responsible gun ownership and less gun violence. There are steps we can take that have proven to be successful, including background checks for all gun purchases, including online buys; extreme risk protection orders; helping parents and guardians ask about loaded, unsecured guns in a home before their children visit that home; and practicing safe storage of all guns.

We oppose gun violence in all of its forms. If you feel the same, join gun violence prevention organizations to make America safer from shootings. Donate, volunteer, support, send letters and emails to elected officials, make phone calls, and attend events. If you’ve had enough of the carnage, speak out and speak up loudly against the noise of those who believe more guns make us safer. They don’t.

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Mary Streufert and Joan Peterson are leaders of the Northland Brady Chapter and Protect Minnesota (protectmn.org) volunteer group.

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