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Repeal of Open Carry Laws: The danger from white nationalist militia groups can no longer be ignored

Two people were killed and one injured overnight in Kenosha, Wisconsin after a white individual with a gun, who was arrested on August 26 by law enforcement in a nearby state, shot protesters who were demonstrating in the wake of the police killing of unarmed black man Jacob Blake.

Most of Tuesday evening, August 25, was spent in a shifting standoff between the police and protesters near the county courthouse in downtown Kenosha. The protesters were dispersed from the park to the city streets by tear gas and rubber bullets. According to the Times:

Many protesters left the area, but others lingered and walked to a gas station several blocks away. There, a group of men with guns stood outside, promising to protect the property and verbally sparring with the arriving protesters. As the night stretched on, the gas station became a tense gathering spot, with bystanders watching from parked cars and people milling around in the street, arguing and occasionally shoving each other.

Around midnight, shots were fired. Additional video taken by bystanders showed the suspected shooter fleeing the scene of the initial shooting as protesters attempted to apprehend him. After he tripped and fell, the gunman opened fire on multiple individuals, killing one and injuring another. Video also taken at the scene shows police officers drive past the armed vigilante.

According to public records, a 17-year-old from Antioch, Illinois, was charged with first-degree murder in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and labeled a ‘fugitive from justice’ who fled the state of Wisconsin with intent to avoid prosecution for that offense. The individual was arrested by the Antioch Police Department on Wednesday, August 26.

Some commentators on social media noted that several police officers had previously engaged a group of armed men in a seemingly friendly conversation, in stark contrast to the tense clashes with protesters earlier Tuesday night. In the video, police officers in armored trucks can be heard saying, “We appreciate you guys, we really do” to a group of self-styled militia members.

Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth was quoted as saying, “I’ve had people saying, ‘Why don’t you deputize citizens?’ This is why you don’t deputize citizens with guns to protect Kenosha.”

Criminal defense and civil rights attorney Rebecca Kavanagh argued that the Kenosha Police Department had effectively deputized the armed militia members with their tacit endorsement, though the statements made by a man in the video she shared had not been corroborated.

In a statement on Wednesday, August 26, Amnesty International’s End Gun Violence Campaign Manager Ernest Coverson argued that “open carry laws, especially where no permit is required to carry, endanger the public and should be repealed. The U.S. is failing to protect people’s right to live and to protest safely.” He added, “law enforcement officers should ensure that armed private individuals are not endangering public safety or targeting peaceful protestors.”

Lt. Governor Mandela Barnes made the case during an August 26 interview that the danger posed by white nationalist militias had been ignored for far too long.

“How many times across this country do you see armed gunmen protesting, walking into state capitols, and everybody just thinks it’s okay?” asked Lt. Governor Barnes. “People treat that like it’s some kind of normal activity that people are walking around with assault rifles… in many instances these people have been led on by various conspiracy theories that have ruminated on the internet, and these people are demanding to have their country back. To assume that nothing bad is going to happen, to assume that these people have the most fine intentions is completely ridiculous. We can’t even act surprised that this happened because this is what they’ve been saying that they’re going to do.”

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