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April 20, 2009

"This Kid's Nothing But Trouble."

On April 4, 23 year-old Richard Poplawski shot and killed three police officers who were responding to a 911 call at his home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Poplawski, wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with a shotgun and an AK-47-style assault rifle, ambushed two officers who entered his house. He then managed to hold off police and SWAT team members who responded to the scene for four hours, firing approximately 100 rounds in the process. Poplawski has been charged with three counts of criminal homicide and nine counts of attempted homicide, including the wounding of a policeman who was trying to assist a fallen officer.

It was quickly learned that Poplawski is a White Supremacist with a long and disturbing history of violent behavior. He frequently visited, and posted messages at, the Neo-Nazi website Stormfront.org. Poplawski’s best friend, Edward Perkovic, stated that he “didn't like the Zionists controlling the media and controlling, you know, our freedom of speech.” On November 1, 2008, Poplawski wrote on Stormfront: “A revolutionary is always regarded as a nutcase at first, their ideas dismissed as fantasy ... If a total collapse is what it takes to wake our brethren and guarantee future generations of white children walk this continent, if that is what it takes to restore our freedoms and recapture our land: let it begin this very second and not a moment later.”

Poplawski’s problems date further back, however. He was expelled from North Catholic High School in his junior year for reasons that have not been fully disclosed. In 2004, Poplawski enlisted in the Marines and entered boot camp at Parris Island, South Carolina. He was discharged from the service just 23 days later, apparently for assaulting a drill sergeant. A year later, Poplawski’s former girlfriend, Melissa Gladish, received a protection from abuse order against him. “He was a violent, abusive man,” she said. “He dragged me by the hair, pulling me across the floor. I saw him choke his own mother. He was controlling.”

Despite this history, subsequent investigation has revealed that Poplawski passed the required background checks and bought his shotgun and two handguns at Braverman Arms Company in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. Poplawski’s best friend, Edward Perkovic, has also reported that Poplawski possessed a permit to carry a concealed handgun in the state of Pennsylvania. "I've seen it. He showed it to me. He said, 'Eddie, get one of these,'" remembers Perkovic. Poplawski also posted on the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association website under the username “RWhiteman” and in one thread complained that the state of Maryland did not recognize his concealed carry permit when he traveled there.

If Poplawski was dishonorably discharged from the military (citing privacy laws, the Marines have refused to divulge this information), then he would have been barred under federal law from owning or purchasing firearms. He also would have been barred under federal law from purchasing or owning firearms while he was the subject of Melissa Gladish’s protection order. It is unclear at this time exactly when Poplawski purchased his guns. It is also not known where he obtained his AK-47 assault rifle, although he frequently bought and sold guns online through unregulated private sales.

What is more baffling is how Pennsylvania authorities could have issued Poplawski a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Pennsylvania is a "shall issue" state, meaning that local law enforcement must issue a concealed weapons license if the applicant passes a computerized background check and meets certain basic qualifications. Nonetheless, these guidelines state clearly that an applicant should be denied a permit if he/she “has a character and reputation indicating the applicant would be likely to act in a manner dangerous to public safety.”

Poplawski not a threat to public safety? Even a cursory investigation into his background would have revealed that he was a violent individual with racist, anti-government views. In the words of one of Poplawski’s neighbors (whose stepdaughter was threatened by him), “this kid's nothing but trouble.” Why that wasn’t patently obvious to Pennsylvania authorities is worth examining.

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