BURRILLVILLE, R.I. — His family was concerned about his deteriorating mental health and explosive temper. He had been arrested for drugs and admitted struggling with addiction, yet also possessed a medical marijuana card. He was seeing psychiatrists, and his social media posts had become increasingly paranoid, focusing on alt-right conspiracy theories.
And when Ronald Armand Andruchuk decided to start buying masses of guns last year, two police departments made different decisions about whether he qualified.
In spite of those factors, police in the city of Cranston approved his background checks, and Andruchuk went on a gun-buying spree, purchasing at least 169 firearms in just five months. He bought so many, so quickly, that a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms started investigating.
Then, in December 2021, Andruchuk moved with his wife and three young sons from the city of Cranston to rural Burrillville, drawn there by its symbolic designation as a “Second Amendment Sanctuary City.” The family settled into the secluded house at 1746 Tarkiln Road. He applied to buy more guns — but the police chief in his new hometown rejected his applications.
When Burrillville police arrested Andruchuk on Feb. 24 for shooting off his property, agents from the ATF got a search warrant. They reported finding more than 200 firearms, including ghost guns, strewn inside the house, as well as a rifle that Andruchuk apparently tossed into the yard when police arrived. He greeted officers while wearing what he called his “battle belt” that held four handguns, knives, and illegal drugs, according to court documents.
Andruchuk, 37, is facing federal charges alleging that he lied on his applications to buy firearms. A federal magistrate judge refused to release him from the Wyatt Detention Center last Friday, citing Andruchuk’s “incredibly troubling” problems with drugs and mental health, explosive rage, and an obsession with firearms.
Andruchuk waived his right to a preliminary hearing Friday afternoon, and his new lawyer, Providence criminal defense attorney John L. Calcagni III, told Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan promised to return to court to challenge her decision not to release him on bail.
Andruchuk’s case raises questions about how one person was able to accumulate so many firearms in such a short time -- and showed how different police departments could come to different conclusions about whether someone should be allowed to buy a gun.
After a deadly mass shooting in Westerly, R.I., in December 2019, the General Assembly passed a law to have the applications for firearm purchases submitted to the police department where the buyer lives, instead of the town where the seller is located. Attorney General Peter F. Neronha had pushed for the so-called “hometown chiefs” law, on the theory that the police in a buyer’s hometown would know more about the applicant and be better able to consider any safety issues.
Andruchuk had lived for years in Cranston. He was a drummer in a black metal band, GravesideService, which performed at small venues around Providence. He had a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Rhode Island College and was in the master’s program for social work. Until the pandemic hit, he was a per diem substitute teacher at Central High School and, though he was not licensed, he was later hired as a counselor at the DaVinci Center, where the executive director praised his patience with people who were homeless or in need of services.
He launched a campaign as a Republican for the House District 14 seat in Cranston in 2018, but his nominating papers were rejected. Many of the names on the papers belonged to voters in other districts, and blocks of signatures appeared to be all signed by the same person, according to documents obtained by the Globe.
Around that time, his social media posts show a descent into alt-right conspiracy theories, nationalist propaganda, and memes of former president Donald Trump carrying machine guns and eagles. He started referring to himself as “Reverend Ron Andruchuk” and said he was an ordained minister in the “messiah movement.”
In 2020, he started his own YouTube show, “The Rhode Island Freedom of Information Initiative,” wearing a black cowboy hat and reading aloud articles from The Epoch Times and banned posts by survivalist blogger Mike Adams of Natural News. He talked about the “progressive teachers” he worked with in Providence and their “indoctrination” of children, ranted about the Bidens, and spoke of his allegiance to Trump.
“I’ve been trying to wake people up for 20 years,” Andruchuk said during one episode. “Ask anybody I’ve been around. It always leads to a deep discussion, philosophical debate.”
Around this time, the Cranston police also got to know Andruchuk.
Local officers stopped him in 2018 after seeing him driving around with a flashing strobe light, which Andruchuk claimed for his job as a part-time security guard. He also claimed to be a teacher rushing to work at Central High School. An officer noted that Andruchuk had marijuana and a medical marijuana card with him, according to court records.
Cranston police arrested him in 2019 after he bought oxycodone outside a gas station and admitted to being a drug addict. His sentence was deferred for two years and the charge was expunged, according to court records.
Then, in May 2021, Andruchuk’s wife, Jennifer Rose Andruchuk, called Cranston police about his mental state. She said that he became argumentative for hours, and she wanted to document her concerns. She told police that he had been seeing two psychiatrists; her father said Andruchuk needed psychiatric help, according to court documents.
Andruchuk told police there was friction, but denied any physical confrontation or intent to harm himself.
In July 2021, he started applying to buy multiple firearms at a time.
Cranston Police Chief Colonel Michael Winquist told the Globe that they approved the applications because Andruchuk met the standards in the background check. Rhode Island doesn’t restrict the number of guns anyone can buy, as long as they can pass the background check.
The firearms transaction record, known as ATF form 4473, asks buyers questions to determine whether they are prohibited from buying firearms. Those include whether the buyer is under indictment or has been convicted of a felony, has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution, or is an unlawful user of or addicted to drugs, including marijuana.
“The laws are pretty specific, and some are easy to determine — if someone is convicted of a felony, or if there’s a restraining order. But then there are other aspects of federal law [such as] if somebody is addicted to a controlled substance,” Winquist said. “That’s tough to determine if someone is addicted. We believe it’s a pretty high threshold. We’re not physicians. And the mental health competency, if a person is mentally incompetent or confinement, or in treatment, we interpret that as a court-order situation.”
Winquist acknowledged that Andruchuk’s family told police he was having mental health problems and was in treatment. Andruchuk’s drug arrest went through a diversion program and had been expunged, so it wasn’t considered a conviction, Winquist said and the officers didn’t have evidence that he was currently an addict.
“We did weigh that, but it wasn’t enough to deny him,” he said. “Another police chief may determine that differently, out of caution, but they could get sued. It’s very difficult. It’s not one of those clear-cut convictions.”
A captain and inspectors handle the background checks of about 2,000 applications from Cranston residents each year, he said. They run checks through federal and state databases, and across other agencies in Rhode Island, and review whether officers have had encounters with the residents.
Their judgment calls ultimately must fit the law.
“We do make some judgment decisions, we have been challenged on some, and we can get sued,” Winquist said. “We try to do our due diligence.”
Burrillville Police Chief Stephen Lynch saw Andruchuk’s background in a different light when his application was submitted in December 2021. He noted that Andruchuck’s family had told Cranston police in May 2021 that Andruchuk was seeing psychiatrists, but “on the application he checked ‘no’ on whether he’d been treated for mental health,” Lynch said.
If he had checked “yes,” Lynch said, the police would have called him to discuss the application. But it appeared that Andruchuk wasn’t being truthful, so the chief rejected him.
“He never responded back to us to question it or provide an explanation, so the denial stands,” Lynch said.
Andruchuk applied to buy more firearms the day after police Massachusetts discovered that he allegedly hid two handguns and flashlights containing cocaine, oxycodone, and amphetamines in the ceiling of a men’s bathroom at the Tractor Supply Co. in Millbury, Mass. But Lynch said the investigation into the incident was just beginning, so it wasn’t considered as part of his reason to reject Andruchuk’s application.
Over the next three months, Burrillville police were called to Andruchuk’s home nine times. Some calls were about shots fired, possibly from Andruchuk’s property, but either police couldn’t determine the source or no one answered the door at Andruchuk’s house. Officers were asked to be present when Andruchuk’s father-in-law went to retrieve a vehicle.
But on Feb. 23, after a neighbor called in a complaint about gunfire, police were standing in the neighbor’s driveway when bullets cut through the branches right over their heads.
One officer ran to Andruchuk to get him to stop, but the police chief said, even then, they weren’t sure that Andruchuk was committing a crime. They measured the distance from where he was shooting to where the bullets were landing, to see if he violated the law of firing within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling. The distance was 580 feet, Lynch said.
So, they left. But the next day, after speaking with the attorney general’s office, the Burrillville police drew a warrant to arrest Andruchuk for firing in a compact area — a misdemeanor charge used more often in cities, because it means one can’t fire onto another person’s property without permission.
An officer was on the way to arrest Andruchuk when a 911 call came in about gunfire, again.
That night, while Andruchuk’s wife was at the Burrillville Police Department to pay his bail, ATF agents arrived with warrants of their own. Lynch said he later saw the inside of the house. “It was overwhelming the number of AR-15s, hunting rifles, assault rifles, handguns, you name it. They were in batches on floor, and there were firearms secreted throughout the house,” he said.
Andruchuk is charged with possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, because of his alleged drug use; making false statements to purchase firearms; and causing false records to be kept by licensed firearms dealers.
He is also facing charges from authorities for the incident at the Tractor Supply Co. in Millbury, Mass. Burrillville police are charging him with firing in a compact area, and he is expected to face a felony charge of possessing a ghost gun and several kits.
Andruchuk’s neighbors told police they are afraid of his return.
“The fear is incredibly real, and I have a lot of empathy for them for what they are going through,” Lynch said.
Some residents who’d opposed the “Second Amendment Sanctuary City” designation said that Andruchuk’s case was an example of what they’d worried about. “One of our concerns when we spoke out at the Town Council meeting was that it would attract people to town who feel like the law didn’t apply to them when it came to guns,” said Betsy Alper, who lives a few miles from Andruchuk.
Town Council President Donald Fox, who’d advocated for the designation, disagreed. He said he didn’t know Andruchuk and couldn’t speak to Andruchuck’s reasons for moving to town.
“As far as the resolution, it was written to protect to law-abiding gun owners and protect their constitutional rights, under the US Constitution and the Rhode Island Constitution,” Fox told the Globe. “So, there is no connection between our resolution and what Mr. Andruchuk was doing. He violated gun laws.”