Cop deaths fuel gun control debate

Gov. Ed Rendell is taking on one of these issues, gun control, and using the other issue to do so.

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


  1. Interesting editorial. Too bad it’s poorly researched. Poplawski had a semi automatic civilian rifle based upon the AK-47 (Probably based upon the stamped sheet metal AKM actually). It was not a machine gun, and is not the type used by militaries around the world who do in fact use fully automatic versions. His AK type rifle operated the same as any semiautomatic sporting rifle like a Ruger 10/22, Remington 7400, etc.

  2. First the AK-47 in the Pittsburgh incident was not automatic. It was a standard semi-automatic, “one pull one bullet”, configuration. Fully automatic machine guns have been heavily regulated since 1928 and banned since 1986. Private ownership of bona-fide automatic machine guns is rare and of all the registered machine guns none have been used in a crime since the 1986 ban.

    Second, there are plenty of legitimate uses for an AK-47. In the mid-West AK-47’s are used to hunt small varmin and small game. Also, it is a popular rifle to use for target and competition shooting.

    Third, there are more powerful rifles on the market than an AK-47. Many standard hunting rifles are more accurate and shoot larger rounds. The only reason people pick on AK-47’s and AR-15’s is because their physical characteristics make it look like a military rifle. Functionally, however, there is very little difference between those rifles and standard hunting rifles.

    Please research your op-eds before publishing them.

  3. Local control ALWAYS means more control and greater restriction on our rights, not to mention a patchwork of laws across the state that could result in a law-abiding citizen literally becoming a criminal just by crossing the street into the next county or township. (at least borders between states are usually well marked).

  4. Why is it that modern journalists are incapable of doing the most basic research on a subject? As several people have already said, the gun was NOT an “automatic AK-47”. And if he had a bit of knowledge of the subject, he would know that the AK and its clones do NOT shoot a high power round; it is no more powerful than the 30-30 used for hunting deer. If you are going to write an editorial, you can at least write something that doesn’t make you look like a babbling idiot.

  5. There’s no legitimate reason? There’s no legitimate reason for someone to have a Lamborgini that will drive 230 miles per hour, but I don’t see any Anti-Lamborgini laws. There’s no legitimate reason for someone to have a 5,000+ square foot house, but there are no anti-mansion laws. The list goes on and on, and I’m tired of hearing people ranting on and on about something they have no idea about and have never been around. Let me ask you this Mr. Zook, have you ever been around a AK-47, ever held one, have you ever even been in the same room as one? Well I have, I’ve shot one, and it was a lot of fun. No different than someone having a car that goes faster than you could drive it anywhere in the county, or having a house big enough for 4 or 5 families. It’s not the guns that are the problem, people are the problem.

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