Will Rittenhouse really destroy the AR-15 type rifle he used to kill two people or will he raffle it off. If anything, he’ll need to auction off the t-shirt to afford the legal defense in a wrongful death suit.
KENOSHA, Wis. (AP) — Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois man acquitted of fatally shooting two men and wounding a third during street protests in Kenosha in 2020, is seeking the return of the gun and other property that police seized after his arrest.
Rittenhouse’s attorney Mark Richards filed paperwork with the Kenosha County Circuit Court on Wednesday seeking the return of the items, explaining that Rittenhouse wants the AR-15-style rifle back so that it can be destroyed, the Kenosha News reported. He also wants the clothing he was wearing the night of the shootings returned.
Law enforcement has had the gun since the day after Rittenhouse shot three men, two of them fatally, on Aug. 25, 2020, during a night of protests and unrest in the southeastern Wisconsin city of Kenosha over the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a white police officer.
Rittenhouse’s request does raise some interesting questions about the market for murder weapons.
Fifty years ago today (1 August 2016), Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student and former Marine armed with a small arsenal of weapons, killed 13 people and wounded over 30 more during a shooting rampage atop the University of Texas Tower in Austin. The episode casts a long and complicated shadow. It is considered by some to have marked the beginning of the era of mass shootings; for others, the armed civilians who engaged Whitman that day suggest one way to limit the scope of such attacks. (As survivors and mourners gather to mark the anniversary on Monday, a campus-carry law that allows firearms in university buildings in Texas will also go into effect.)
For some hobbyists and weapons collectors, the anniversary might inspire different feelings and thoughts than it does for most people. Less than two years ago, the Remington 700 rifle used by Whitman that day went up for sale with an asking price of $25,000. According to reports, at least three bids for the rifle were issued. And though its sale to a private collector didn’t come without some outcry, it was at least the third time that the rifle had changed hands.
One person whose work requires navigating the murky waters of commerce and crime is Wes Cowan, an appraiser and auctioneer in Cincinnati and the host of PBS’s History Detectives, which ran from 2003 until 2014. “We don’t sell, quite frankly, and we have rejected selling firearms that were used in the commission of any modern crime,” Cowan says when I ask him about the auctioning of Whitman’s rifle.
But what happens once a crime ceases to be modern? As an example, Cowan offers that if weapons used in the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre became available, he would probably facilitate their sale. “It’s a very, very squishy area,” Cowan says. “How much time is enough time? There is the passage of time that takes place when one of these weapons that was used in some heinous crime could become more historically significant than sociologically significant.” In other words, there is no formula to determine whether or when an item is more meaningful in a historical sense than it is a relic of tragedy or trauma. “I think the bottom line is that it’s fairly subjective,” Cowan says.
As a gauge, I ask Cowan about the hypothetical sale of the Charter Arms .38-caliber pistol used by Mark David Chapman in the murder of John Lennon, which happened over 35 years ago in 1980. “I’m not sure we would do it,” Cowan offers, “but I guarantee some auctioneer would do it.” It’s unlikely that such a sale will take place in the foreseeable future; Chapman’s firearm is currently held in a ballistics cache at a Queens police facility.
The fate of Chapman’s weapon is revealing of how the rise of certain police procedures has reduced the accessibility of firearms used in modern crimes. “I think it’s important to realize that most of the historic outlaw or criminal weapons that appear on the market were also guns or weapons that were collected before there were such a thing as police evidence rooms, where stuff disappeared into and never came out of.” Cowan explains. “I think it would be very unlikely that a weapon that was used in a modern crime would ever get out of a police evidence room.”
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.