Public opinion on gun control and police officers tends to run in stark contrasts. Either gun control is absolutely necessary, or it is unconstitutional. Police officers are either heroic saviors who risk their lives to keep us all safe or are little more than uniformed thugs.
Gov. Ed Rendell is taking on one of these issues, gun control, and using the other issue to do so. Rendell has renewed his attempt to create stronger gun legislation – or at least give cities the ability to do so themselves. One of his arguments has been the deaths of police officers, many of whom were killed by assault rifles much stronger than the police officers’ own weapons.
A specifically harrowing incident was the shooting of three Pittsburgh cops who were responding to a domestic disturbance call. When they arrived, they were ambushed by Richard Poplawski, a paranoid 23-year-old who believed the government was controlled by Zionists and wanted to outlaw guns.
When the police officers showed up, they were already out-gunned. In addition to a long-range rifle and a pistol, Poplawski had an AK-47, an automatic weapon used by militias and small armies around the world.
Rendell has used this instance to highlight the need for tougher gun control laws. During a press conference, he stood next to Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper Jr. and said the triple homicide should, if nothing else, make people understand the need for stronger gun laws.
Rendell’s argument has some merit. Poplawski didn’t do drugs, wasn’t involved in a gang and wouldn’t have been deterred by the traditional solution argued for by gun-rights advocates, which is that tougher prison sentences and better enforcement is the real cause of America’s crime problems. Poplawski didn’t have a lengthy list of prior convictions, so the toughest law wouldn’t have stopped him.
Rendell is facing criticism, despite his support from Pittsburgh police brass. Critics say he is politicizing the tragedy of the Pittsburgh cops’ deaths.
This argument, that Rendell is politicizing a tragedy, may convince some people, but it doesn’t have a whole lot of substance. The police officers shouldn’t be used as pawns for political causes, but their deaths are relevant to gun control. It makes no sense that military weapons are floating around the gun market, waiting to be bought or stolen by a criminal who is looking for an edge.
Police officers can’t be expected to win the fight against crime when they are using handguns to take on machine guns. There is no legitimate use for a functioning AK-47, especially considering the horrendous task Poplawski used his for.
Stephen Zook can be reached by firstname.lastname@example.org.