Given very similar facts to the Rittenhouse case, but where the other guy shoots first, could that guy as a defendant claim self defense and win?

Imagine two sides in a conflict which hasn’t resulted in much gunfire or death, in which a guy on each side carries a gun for protection. They encounter each other when each is leaning or reaching or tripping, or whatever it would take for them to unintentionally point their gun at your head. One of them reacts and raises their gun in defense, and the other one spots their move and points their gun at them. They both fire. They shoot each other and both are gravely injured (in fact, paralyzed).

It seems like both guys claim and win on self defense in the USA.

But if guns were illegal at that event, does then the violation of that open up the possibility of a different standard, or compounding crimes, which would find a conviction?

EDIT: edited to change the question because in my first hypothetical, both people died.

  • 1
    @RonBeyer lol yeah, I’m an idiot.
    – jqning
    Commented Nov 21, 2021 at 15:15
  • @Nike, while multiple questions should not be asked in the same post, a hypothetical with multiple options can be OK, and removing part of a question already addressed in an answer is usually a poor idea. I have restored the part about an event that banned guns. Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 0:55
  • @DavidSiegel My edit was made before any answer addressed the second question, it just took some time to get approved. This post has a question in the title, another one in the opening sentence of the body, then a detailed scenario which could require a third change to a potential answer, then it kept changing even more. OP added a question about if the mutual self-defenders accidentally killed a third bystander, which I took out and you kept out. Then, the issue with the yet further additional question, was that it was even more unrelated (it was off-topic in two different ways). Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 5:52
  • Similar question law.stackexchange.com/questions/55965/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Nov 22, 2021 at 20:38

2 Answers 2


You asked,

"could that guy as defendant claim self defense and win?"

First let's try to make it clear what is meant by "win". In the Rittenhouse trial, the defendant was charged of the following crimes:

  • First-degree reckless homicide
  • First-degree recklessly endangering safety (x2)
  • First-degree intentional homicide
  • Attempted first-degree intentional homicide
  • Possession of a dangerous weapon by a person under 18 (dismissed)
  • Failure to comply with an emergency order from state or local government (dismissed)

Rather than thinking of the defendant as a "winner", it might be more appropriate to say that he was "acquitted" of these charges.

If someone that was involved in the conflict fired first, as you described here:

"They encounter each other when each is leaning or reaching or tripping, or whatever it would take for them to unintentionally point their gun at your head. You react and you raise your gun in defense, he spots your move and points his at you. You both fire. You shoot each other and you both are gravely injured. Like, paralyzed",

then would they also be acquitted of all of the non-dismissed charges listed above? If everything was as you described ("unintentional", "reactionary", and "in defense"), then likely they would also not be found guilty of those crimes. It's not like they would "win", it's more like they will not be found guilty of committing one of those crimes.

The precise outcome will depend on all the facts involved in the case, and the jury's decision based on those facts. So there is no single answer that always applies to every situation, but it sounds like you're wondering about some hypothetical situation that appears to be paradoxical because in this case only one person was charged with crimes: if someone else was the first shooter, the sequence of following events would first of all depend on whether or not they got charged with a crime, and I wouldn't characterize the outcome as a "win" or "lose" but as an "acquittal" or "conviction", and yes it is possible to be acquitted if everything is "accidental" as you described, and presumably not "reckless" (often meaning that a reasonable person in the same situation would have done the same thing).

About your more broad question: "Is mutual self defense a thing?" It depends on what crime is being charged against the defendant. In the Rittenhouse case there was only one person that was charged. If you're asking about a hypothetical situation in which two people involved in a 1-on-1 conflict both claim self-defense, I hope I can assume that they were both charged with a crime against which to defend themselves in court in the first place. It is indeed possible for a State to prosecute both parties of a 1-on-1 physical conflict, and for both of them to successfully claim self-defense in order to eventually be both acquitted. It wouldn't be called "mutual self-defense", but each defendant would make their own self-defense case individually.


It is possible that two people who shot at and wounded each other to each have honestly believed that s/he was in danger and was acting in self defense. It is possible that, if those beliefs were held to be reasonable, that each would be acquitted. (I agree with Nike Dattani that it is misleading to describe this as "winning".)

Note that it is likely that these would be two separate trials, and there is no requirement that the outcomes of separate trials be logically consistent. For example there have been cases where a person was convicted of paying a bribe, but the other person was acquitted of receiving it.

That it was illegal to bring a gun to the place or event where the shooting happened would not automatically preclude a claim of self-defense, although it might well make it less likely to be accepted. It might also lead to conviction on the charge of unlawful possession of a firearm or something of the sort, even if the self-defense plea was accepted.

Much will depend on the factual details, and on the tactics of prosecutor and defense counsel.

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