The Smith & Wesson M&P 15 semiautomatic rifle Kyle Rittenhouse shot three men with in Kenosha last year may be one of the most famous individual firearms in recent American history. And it’s probably going to be destroyed.
That’s what Rittenhouse wants.
“Kyle has requested that the firearm be destroyed. … There’s nothing to celebrate about that weapon; there isn’t. Kyle has no interest and no want to recover that weapon, and absolutely no interest to sell it or anything,” David Hancock, a former Navy Seal who serves as the Rittenhouse family’s spokesman, said in a phone interview Tuesday.
However, it may not be up to Rittenhouse.
Under Wisconsin law, firearms seized as part of an investigation are held as evidence by police until the investigation is over. Even if Rittenhouse’s trial is over, the case of Dominick Black — the now-20-year-old Kenosha man accused of purchasing the firearm on behalf of the then-17-year-old Rittenhouse — is ongoing.
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“Though the case involving Mr. Rittenhouse has been concluded, the firearm is still being held in evidence as Mr. Black’s property until the time his case is resolved,” Sgt. Leo Viola of the Kenosha Police Department said in an email Monday.
In the eyes of the Kenosha Police Department, the rifle is Black’s property — not Rittenhouse’s.
Rittenhouse has repeatedly called Black his best friend. They met when Black began dating Rittenhouse’s sister and became fast friends, calling each other brothers, Black said on the stand during the Rittenhouse trial.
Both Rittenhouse and Black testified that Rittenhouse, then 17, asked Black to buy him the gun when the two were at Black’s cabin in the northern Wisconsin city of Ladysmith. Rittenhouse, during a podcast interview made public Tuesday with conservative commentators Jack Posobiec and Charlie Kirk, attested this wasn’t illegal. Rittenhouse said that this was because Black planned to hold onto the firearm until Rittenhouse turned 18, when it would have been legal for Rittenhouse to buy a gun, even though Rittenhouse gave Black the money for the gun.
Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Bruce Schroeder ruled it was legal for Rittenhouse to carry the firearm he had as a 17-year-old last year, since a state law that allows teenagers to carry a firearm to hunt had the unintended consequence of allowing 16- and 17-year-olds to open carry many long guns at will in Wisconsin.
Rittenhouse got his hands on the firearm anyway the night of Aug. 25, 2020, when he was still 17. Black said on the stand that Rittenhouse got the gun out of Black’s stepfather’s gun safe in Kenosha before the two went out that night, intending to protect property — specifically the three Car Source locations along Sheridan Road, although the sons of the owner of Car Source dispute this.
Currently, Black is awaiting trial for two charges of intentionally giving a dangerous weapon to someone under 18, causing death.
On the stand during the Rittenhouse trial, Black and Kenosha County Assistant District Attorney Thomas Binger confirmed that Black is not getting a deal in exchange for his testimony in the Rittenhouse case.
“If Mr. Black is acquitted of the charges,” Viola said, “his firearm would be returned to him. If he is found guilty, the firearm would remain in evidence.”
According to Black’s attorney, Anthony Cotton, there has been no thought put into what to do with the gun if it is given back to Black.
“I do not have any comment I can make about this case right now. My client and I are closely evaluating all options, and we do not have any plans related to the firearm at issue,” Cotton said in an email Tuesday.
Should Black be found guilty, Viola said, “Ultimately, in a case such as this, the firearm would be destroyed.”
The Kenosha Police Department would not carry out the actual destruction, however.
To destroy a weapon
“If the law enforcement agency has determined that they will not retain a firearm and/or ammunition and intend for it to be destroyed or disposed of, the agency must surrender those items to the Division of Forensic Sciences at one of the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory Bureaus for final disposition,” Samantha Standley, deputy communications director for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, wrote in an email.
“Surrendered firearms will be dispositioned of in one of three ways: 1. Destruction; 2. Transfer to another government agency; 3. Retention in a Crime Laboratory firearms reference collection.”
Should the firearm be turned over to a state crime lab, there is no legal way for it to end up in anyone else’s hands.
“Firearms received at any of the laboratories are not retained for or distributed to any members of the public,” Standley said.
This would be done, according to the state Department of Justice website, by “using a gun shredder at the Milwaukee Laboratory.”
A shredder can pulverize virtually any item using two rows of heavy metal cogs spinning toward one another, pinching just about anything between its revolving teeth and reducing it to scrap.
In some other states, however, the gun could have been sold and the money added to public coffers.
TheDailyBeast.com reported earlier this year that law enforcement agencies “in Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, Texas, Tennessee, West Virginia and Kentucky are barred from destroying confiscated guns as their counterparts in the rest of the country routinely do. The New York City Police Department melts the thousands of guns it recovers into everything from manhole covers to coat hangers, while police in … (the aforementioned 12 states) are required by statute to sell them.”
In those states, confiscated gun auctions are common, with firearms being sold to the highest bidder.
In Arizona specifically, there is a law that requires weapons purchased via gun buyback programs to then be sold to a dealer instead of being destroyed. From 2013 to 2017, the Tucson Police Department destroyed nearly 5,000 guns until an August 2017 state Supreme Court decision “ruled the city of Tucson can no longer destroy firearms that have been confiscated by police or turned in by citizens,” the Arizona Daily Star reported at the time.
Such policies have been criticized for putting more guns on the streets.
“We didn’t want to be the agency that sold the gun to somebody who uses it in another crime,” Capt. Jeff Schneider of the Yakima (Wash.) Police Department, which sold guns until about a decade ago but now melts them down, told the Associated Press in 2018. “While there is almost an unlimited supply of firearms out there, we don’t need to make the problem worse.”
In the same Associated Press report, Sheriff Will Reichardt of Skagit County, Wash., was quoted as saying: “These guns are going to be out there. If I destroy them all, I’m just helping Remington or Winchester’s bottom line.”
Had Rittenhouse wanted to get the gun back, he could have made a pretty penny off of it.
Other guns in similar heavily scrutinized shootings have been sold for big money.
George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator in a gated community, reportedly made $250,000 in 2016 by auctioning off the handgun he used to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin, an African American 17-year-old who was in the neighborhood.
The website that hosted Zimmerman’s auction, UnitedGunGroup.com, was reported to have initially refused to host the auction but later changed its mind. The auction’s webpage described the gun as “a piece of American history.” The gun, a Kel-Tec PF9, typically has a retail price of less than $400.
After Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury in the killing, the Black Lives Matter movement was officially launched.
Rittenhouse, who was raised by a single mother, continues to seek donations from supporters. Hancock told Kirk that expenses include security costs that the Rittenhouses feel is necessary in “everyday life,” and continuing legal fees as they consider further lawsuits against media outlets and others for defamation.
Rittenhouse likely will not be getting the $2 million bond posted on his behalf, as the money was posted by his former lawyer, John Pierce, who Rittenhouse says is using the money for his own legal costs.
In multiple interviews with conservative outlets, Rittenhouse has blasted Pierce and another of his former attorneys, Lin Wood, for looking out for themselves and not their client’s best interests. Hancock, who previously led Wood’s FightBack Foundation, said in Tuesday’s podcast that Wood was more concerned with increasing his Twitter following (until he was banned after falsely claiming the Jan. 6 Capitol riot was “staged”) than actually helping Rittenhouse and other causes he ostensibly supported.
“There’s nothing to celebrate about that weapon; there isn’t. Kyle has no interest and no want to recover that weapon, and absolutely no interest to sell it or anything."
— David Hancock