Kyle Rittenhouse’s Trial Zeroes in on the Semiautomatic Rifle

Kyle Rittenhouse has pleaded not guilty, but it remains to be seen how his lawyers will try to defend him from a charge of illegally possessing the gun he used.

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At the center of the Rittenhouse trial is a military-style rifle in a teenager’s hands.

Nov. 10, 2021, 12:09 p.m. ET

Nov. 10, 2021, 12:09 p.m. ET

By Dan Hinkel

A Kenosha detective holding the gun used by Kyle Rittenhouse.Credit…Pool photo by Sean Krajacic

Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial has returned again and again to the semiautomatic rifle he used to kill two men and wound a third during the unrest in Kenosha, Wis., last year. The gun — a Smith & Wesson M&P 15 — and the decisions he made while carrying it in a chaotic protest zone figure prominently as the defense offers its case and Mr. Rittenhouse testifies.

One of the six criminal counts he faces is possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 (he was 17 at the time of the shootings). He has pleaded not guilty, but it remains to be seen how his lawyers will try to defend him from that charge.

The jury has seen plentiful video images showing Mr. Rittenhouse walking the streets of Kenosha on the night of Aug. 25, 2020, with the rifle dangling by the sling he bought at a sporting goods store that day.

Mr. Rittenhouse spent that evening with a group of people who said they had gone downtown to try to guard businesses from vandalism and arson. Several people in the group carried similar guns, which generally is legal for adults to do in Wisconsin, an “open carry” state.

That added to the peril in Kenosha, according to a witness who testified in the trial last week: Richie McGinniss, a videographer for the conservative website The Daily Caller, who visited a number of cities roiled by protests that summer.

“Any time that there are guns, that elevates the level of danger in my mind,” Mr. McGinniss said on the stand.

A friend of Mr. Rittenhouse’s, Dominick Black, was carrying his own semiautomatic rifle in Kenosha that night. Mr. Black testified that he used Mr. Rittenhouse’s money to buy a comparable rifle for him at a hardware store in northern Wisconsin in May 2020, when Mr. Black was 18 but Mr. Rittenhouse was underage. They took target practice together on land owned by Mr. Black’s family, Mr. Black testified.

Mr. Black is charged with two felony counts of providing the gun to Mr. Rittenhouse. He acknowledged on the stand that he was testifying for the prosecution in the hope of a lighter sentence on those charges.

Mr. Black testified that he kept Mr. Rittenhouse’s gun stored at his family home in Kenosha. When the unrest broke out in Kenosha, Mr. Black said, his stepfather took guns out of a safe in the garage and moved them into the house in case of a break-in. On the day of the shooting, before Mr. Black and Mr. Rittenhouse went downtown, Mr. Black saw his friend come upstairs with the rifle, Mr. Black testified.

Though Mr. Rittenhouse had not asked permission to take the gun along, Mr. Black said he did nothing to dissuade Mr. Rittenhouse from doing so when they went downtown, intending to help guard several used-car lots.

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