By Tony Norman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Several of Richard "Pop" Poplawski's old friends are probably feeling sick to their stomachs about now. Caught up in the excitement and the crush of publicity that came with knowing the accused killer of three Pittsburgh police officers, they described "Pop" as just another kid in the neighborhood.
Sure, he was a little lost after he got kicked out of Marine boot-camp for assaulting a superior, but boys will be boys. Pop is one of the smartest high school dropouts around, his friends assured us. All the shooting and carrying on in the neighborhood was so unlike Pop.
Except it wasn't "unlike Pop" who managed to have several feuds running in the neighborhood. The testimonials that made it to local and national television on Saturday morning during live coverage of the standoff were particularly embarrassing.
Pop's charged with laying siege to an entire neighborhood, causing the single largest loss of police lives in a single day in the city's history, but people who claimed to know the 22-year-old shooter trotted out the dumbest cliches possible as the cameras rolled. No one had a theory about what could make an apocalyptic-minded individual with lots of guns and ammo at his disposal "snap."
"He wasn't a racist. He was a cool person," a 23-year-old black friend of Pop told a Post-Gazette reporter. "He thought he was losing some of his rights. He said he'd be ready if there's ever an invasion of the United States and that he had stockpiled foods and guns."
I know we can set the bar for a "cool person" a little too low around here, but describing a tightly wound gun nut who believes an invasion of the United States is imminent as just another kid from the neighborhood is ridiculous by any metric.
Now it turns out that Pop was a regular habitue of white racist Web sites where he regularly posted anti-black, anti-Semitic rants that left little doubt that he wouldn't be contributing to the United Negro College Fund anytime soon.
Pop wrote about the "Zionist takeover of America" and the dangers of race-mixing. You'd think a 23-year-old black guy living in Pittsburgh would be able to sniff out Pop's racial animus without too much trouble. Alas, even the heated debates they had about Barack Obama didn't provide a clue. Apparently, there's nothing odd about a "cool person" hanging out at white supremacist Web sites, either.
Charged with murdering three Pittsburgh police officers and attempting to kill several others trying to rescue their fallen comrades, Pop knows he'll get as fair a trial as the community he assaulted can tolerate. Unlike his buddies from around the way, a jury of his peers won't be as inclined to consider extremist views just another neighborhood eccentricity.
Beginning with his sacred and inviolable right to bear arms, the shooter knew exactly what his rights were when opening fire on Officers Stephen Mayhle, Paul Sciullo and Eric Kelly. After all, they were agents of a Zionist conspiracy that installed a mongrel president intent on confiscating his AK-47 assault-style rifle, his .357 Magnum revolver, his .22 caliber rifle, his .380-caliber handgun and his .45-caliber handgun.
I imagine that five or six decades from now, in the isolation of his prison cell, Pop will still be muttering about his right to own guns though it will have been half a century since he last touched one. His passion for guns is deeper than his regard for the right of other people to draw breath. Pop loved his right to bear arms so much, he gave up every other freedom he had for one last orgiastic explosion of violence.
Apologists for the gun industry will argue that the spate of murders in recent weeks has more to do with the mental and emotional instability of individuals caught up in difficult economic times than it does with the country's liberal gun laws.
They insist that the laws aren't liberal enough and that the government imposes too many restrictions on who can own or buy a gun. Most gun laws are totalitarian and anti-American, as far as they're concerned. Ordinary citizens should have the right to own AK-47s no matter their politics, criminal record or mental infirmity. The Second Amendment even trumps the 10 Commandments.
Imagine whole neighborhoods full of Richard Poplawskis shooting at neighbors and cops at the slightest provocation. It would be the end of civilization as we know it, but at least the Second Amendment would remain firmly ensconced in our cold, dead hands.