The election is Tuesday: Where do candidates on the Allegheny County ballot stand on gun violence after synagogue attack?
Nov. 1, 2018
After the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday that left 11 dead, the gun control debate loomed.
Some politicians immediately began calling for gun control measures, while others said that it was, and is, too soon to politicize the tragedy. Some sitting politicians and hopeful candidates have called for increased efforts to tackle hate violence, and some have said nothing public at all.
This Tuesday, the synagogue shooting will likely still weigh heavily on the minds of voters. At the polls, they will have a chance to vote on who they want leading the debate on gun laws and hate crimes. PublicSource emailed the following question to all 51 candidates who will appear on the Allegheny County ballots on Tuesday:
Following the mass shooting in Squirrel Hill, what legislation do you plan to introduce or support to keep Pennsylvania residents safe from gun violence?
We gave the candidates a day and a half to respond and received 21 responses. We will add additional responses that we receive as they come in, leading up to the Nov. 6 election.
Race — U.S. Senate
Bob Casey, Jr., Democrat
I have supported and will continue to support legislation which will require universal background checks when a weapon is sold, a ban on assault weapons so that shooters are not armed with military style weaponry, and a ban on high capacity magazines. I introduced the Disarm Hate Act, which would stop those convicted of violent misdemeanor hate crimes from buying guns, and I support closing the Charleston loophole, which puts thousands of guns into the hands of people who can't pass a background check. I also support banning those on the terror watchlist from purchasing firearms. In this campaign, I'm proud to have the endorsement of the Everytown for Gun Safety, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and other organizations around Pennsylvania who are leading the fight to reduce gun violence.
Lou Barletta, Republican
The attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill is an attack on everything America stands for. To target the Jewish Community in any way disregards each and every value we hold dear as Americans, and to do so with such a cowardly and heinous attack is an act of pure evil. That’s why I have supported the to help Jewish Community Centers combat terrorism. I will fight for a substantial increase in security grant funding to ensure that the Jewish community can worship and gather in peace. There is no place for anti-Semitism or any similar hatred in our society and I strongly condemn the evil that led to this attack.
Dale Kerns, Jr., Libertarian
The tragedy in Squirrel Hill further reinforces that there is immense hatred, racism, and xenophobia which continues to embed itself in our culture. We must not let this terrorist's bigotry push lawmakers into making drastic decisions which prove unwise in the long run.
As President Trump signals desire for armed guards in places of worship and expansion of the death penalty, my opponents have called for new restraints on the rights of innocent, law-abiding people to own firearms.
I am supporting none of these haste-filled proposals. This is not because the tragedy at the Tree of Life is not worthy of a response. Rather, it is too important a moment in our nation's history to rely on government to lead.
New laws will do nothing to stop another such occurrence. Moreover, we will sacrifice our citizens' liberty for a false sense of security. History shows that when we look to politicians for protection, we often receive far less than promised, and at a heavy price.
I understand the instinct to look toward government when such heinous acts take place. However, our true answers always lie first within ourselves and our communities. Those within Pittsburgh and across the country, in rejecting hate and fear in favor of hope and love, have shown just that.
To quote Mr. Rogers, who lived just three blocks from the site of this catastrophic event, in times of chaos and uncertainty, we must "[l]ook for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping."
Neal Gale, Green
I don’t believe assault weapons have a place in civilian society. Although I understand there are collectors and enthusiasts who claim their right to shoot them on target ranges, or simply display them in their collections, I believe they present too great a threat to the rest of the population. There is too much potential for unbalanced individuals to gain access to these weapons.
Consequently I will support Universal background checks, to provide an effective screening out of individuals who should not be allowed to own a firearm. All gun sales must be subject to rigorous background checks, and I will also support requiring mandatory, standard training for anyone, prior to receiving a firearm.
I will also support legislation which represents a straightforward judicial process designed to take guns out of the hands of those who have been identified by law enforcement officers and/or family members, as posing a threat to themselves as well as to others. Passage of such legislation is extremely important, given the very high percentage of deaths due to suicide (approximately twice the number of murders).
I can see no justifiable reason for after-market products, such as bump-stocks, to be available for any purpose whatsoever. I will support legislation that would ban their sale, possession and manufacture in the United States.
I believe that Concealed Carry Reciprocity, mandating that each state recognize concealed carry permits from every other state, does not recognize the differences among states where concealed carry permits are more easily obtained and those where such permits are more restricted. Those differences need to be respected as a matter of public health, which gun violence is. States with lower population densities and long standing traditions of gun ownership may determine that concealed carry permits do no harm in their jurisdictions, whereas states with more densely populated areas may have concerns.
I believe legislation that allows teachers and other school personnel to be armed in the classroom is attempting to create a false sense of security in our schools. Even where teachers have firearms training, increasing the number of guns in our schools also increases the opportunity for access to those same weapons by those who would do harm with them.
Race — U.S. House of Representatives, PA-18th
Mike Doyle, Democrat
I’ve been a vocal advocate for common-sense bills to reduce gun violence for many years. For example, in the current Congress, I am a co-sponsor of legislation to re-instate the assault weapons ban, close the gun show loophole, enhance background checks for gun purchases, prohibit the transfer of high-capacity ammunition magazines, prohibit the transfer of guns to anyone convicted of a hate crime and prohibit bump stocks, among other bills. I have supported many of these bills for years and have urged the Republican majority in the House to allow votes on these measures. To date, they have never allowed votes on these bills. I believe that the time for moments of silence is long past and that Congress must take action on these issues immediately. I will continue to push for votes on these and other reasonable measures to reduce gun violence.
Race — Governor
Tom Wolf, Democrat
Governor Wolf has pushed for decisive action on gun safety to keep the people of Pennsylvania protected. Just recently, he signed a bill into law that takes guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. The governor has also pushed for legislation to close the loophole that allows people who buy guns at gun shows to bypass the proper background checks, and he's called on the federal government to ban weapons of war like AR-15s, bump stocks, and to stop people on the no-fly list from obtaining firearms.
Paul Glover, Green
Pittsburgh and our nation need far more than hopes and prayers. We need extensive background checks for purchase of any weapons with ammo clips of eight rounds or more. We need to limit ammo sales. We need to shut down straw purchases. Preventing more bloodshed also requires deep shifts in American culture and economy. That's because hate crime follows frustration fed by job pressures, costs of living, racial and religious bigotry.
Kenneth Krawchuk, Libertarian
Regarding the recent synagogue shooting, my heart goes out to the victims and their families and friends. The urge to do something to prevent future shootings is very strong, but we must be cautious. More important than solving the problem correctly is making sure we solve the correct problem.
Are guns the problem? President Obama commissioned the Center for Disease Control to investigate gun violence, and they found some interesting results:
- There is no evidence that gun restrictions reduce gun violence.
- There is no evidence that right-to-carry laws increase violent crime.
- Gun turn-in programs are ineffective.
- Most importantly, guns are used defensively far more often than used in crimes. In other words, guns save lives.
[Some of Krawchuk’s takeaways are disputed; this is .]
John Lott, , studied the issue and found the same results. He also found that cities with the strongest gun control had the highest gun crime rates. Further, he found that if a woman resists an attacker, she’s twice as likely to be seriously injured. But if she resists with a handgun, she’s half as likely to be seriously injured. In other words, handguns are a girl’s best friend.
That said, it’s unfortunate none of the congregation were armed. They could have taken swift action and reduced the carnage significantly.
In this world there will always be hateful people with no respect for their fellow citizens. The best way We The People can stand ready is to respect the right to keep and bear arms.
Race — Lieutenant Governor
John Fetterman, Democrat
I wholeheartedly support the work that Gov. Wolf has already done to keep the people of Pennsylvania protected and his continued advocacy. Recently, the governor signed a bill into law that takes guns out of the hands of domestic abusers. He has pushed for legislation to close the loophole that allows people who buy guns at gun shows to bypass the proper background checks. Personally, I believe we must ban assault rifles like AR-15s and keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of those on the no-fly list.
Race — State Senator, 38th
Lindsey Williams, Democrat
While the mass shooting in Squirrel Hill on Saturday was tragic, it did not change my position that we need to support common sense gun safety legislation such as universal background checks, closing online and gun show loopholes on the sale of firearms, and improve our efforts to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, particularly those convicted of domestic violence.
Race — State Senator, 42nd
Wayne Fontana, Democrat
Far too many times, we have all watched in horror as mass shootings play out across our nation. That nightmare has now come to pass in our own backyard. Earlier this year, I introduced a package of gun violence legislation. SB 17 would institute the Pennsylvania Assault Weapons Ban. These military-grade weapons have no place in civilian life; they were made to kill quickly and efficiently, as seen Saturday. The second measure (SB 18) would implement Extreme Risk Protection Orders empowering those who are close to an individual exhibiting dangerous behavior to ask a judge to temporarily remove the person's guns.
I am also co-prime sponsor of SB 1266 which would ban the production of 3D firearms in Pennsylvania.
I also support measures such as universal background checks and closing gun show loopholes.
For those who might say that I am politicizing a tragedy, I say that your resistance to improvements in our laws is politics at its very worst. I do not wish to infringe upon law-abiding citizens’ rights; but the perpetrator of this shooting was the one who infringed upon the constitutionally protected rights of the First Amendment.
We must do something. To continue to sit by and do nothing is a dereliction of duty. We cannot let the aftermath of this event become another blindly complicit stain on our nation. I intend to reintroduce my bills in the new legislative session when it begins in January.
Race — State Representative, 21st
Sara Innamorato , Democrat
My heart breaks for the 11 lives lost and those injured in the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. I am inspired by the power of Pittsburgh to stand in solidarity against hate and bigotry. We are all in shock of being the latest city to be the site of the mass murder and must look at how we can end mass shootings in America. This lens must also not be the only one we use to address the gun violence epidemic. In order to end gun violence, we must look at designing policies understanding that the majority of gun deaths are suicides and single-person homicides. For many communities, gun violence is a daily occurrence. I believe in common sense gun regulations that will keep our families and communities safe while allowing responsible citizens to own and keep guns. I support the legislation (HB 2060) recently passed by the General Assembly that tightens gun laws to protect victims of domestic violence.
Our campaign supports the following types of legislation that will:
- Require gun owners to report lost and stolen guns.
- Close the loophole in background checks to ensure that the private sale of long guns in Pennsylvania is the same as the private sale of handguns to make sure that guns are not available to those with histories of domestic violence, felony convictions, and severe mental illness.
- Allow law enforcement or family members to initiate a process to confiscate firearms from any person (deemed by a judge) who represents an extreme threat to themselves or others. This legislation mirrors other “Extreme Risk Protection Order” laws passed in Texas, Calfornia, and Indiana.
- Regulate the sale of ammunition.
Beyond purely regulating firearms and accessories, we must also design an economy that works for us, not corporate interests, by addressing the growing income inequality and ending poverty.
Race — State Representative, 23rd
Dan Frankel, Democrat
My first year in office, I watched the Columbine nightmare unfold on TV. That set my course in the legislature and for decades, I’ve fought to close dangerous gaps in our national and state firearm regulations. I could have never dreamed that it would become our own nightmare here in Pittsburgh 20 years later.
As co-chair of the Pa Safe Caucus, I will continue to fight for universal background checks, raising the age minimum to purchase guns to 21, empowering family members and law enforcement to petition to temporarily block a person from having guns if they pose a danger to themselves or others, recognizing that responsible gun ownership includes locking up one’s guns and keeping them out of the hands of children, and banning sales of assault-style weapons.
We will look closely at this horrific tragedy, as we have for countless others throughout our country, and learn everything we can from it. But today, we take care of our neighbors and we grieve.
Jay Ting Walker, Green
To address mass shootings, I would support to ban military style assault weapons and large magazines. I would support legislation to require background checks for all private gun sales and not just handguns. I would vote against legislation that preempts local gun control ordinances. I also oppose stand your ground legislation and arming teachers or school guards. I support on this issue.
The recent shooting was an anti-Semitic hate crime which requires solutions beyond improved gun control. Our state making it harder for us to catch bigots sooner. We need to treat documented hate very seriously. Our hate crimes law should also be expanded to protect LGBTQIA+ people and people with disabilities.
Mass shootings in our state make up a small portion of gun homicides. Pennsylvanians killed by guns are and disproportionately live in low income communities. Addressing a legacy of poverty and systemic racism will take a lot more than simple legislative fixes. We need to end the war on drugs and treat addiction as a public health issue by decriminalizing drugs and utilizing harm reduction strategies. We also need to drastically reform our criminal justice system and eliminate the school to prison pipeline. In addition, we need to address our state's massive income inequality by raising the minimum wage, enacting a statewide single payer health care system, and using a fair funding formula to bring quality education to all Pennsylvanians.
Race — State Representative, 27th
Dan Deasy, Democrat
I support efforts to expand background checks for firearm purchasers and sellers.
I support a ban on the sale of assault weapons – the general public should not have access to weapons that are not accessible to even trained law enforcement officers.
I support legislation that would impose harsher penalties on gun owners who fail to properly store and secure firearms and ammunition safely away from children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 2007 and 2011, an average of 62 children ages 14 and younger were accidentally shot and killed each year. And, other studies suggest that these numbers may be drastically underreported. This effort is but part of the work to reduce teen suicides. In 2012, 64% of all gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides.
I supported the passage of House Bill 2109 this session which was signed into law and is now Act 79 of 2018. Among other things, this law requires the court to issue a firearm restraining order in conjunction with a protection from abuse order.
Act 79 of 2018 was passed in a very bipartisan manner. It is my hope that this effort is an indication of what is to come in the 2019-2020 legislative session.
It is my hope that we can work as a collective body toward common sense solutions to this growing and devastating problem.
Race — State Representative, 28th
Emily Skopov, Democrat
The mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue was beyond tragic. What makes the loss of eleven innocent individuals’ lives so heartbreaking, is that it was completely preventable. The failure of Congress and our state legislature in the aftermath of so many previous mass shootings demonstrates the need to act to make us safer.
Nearly every mass shooting has one thing in common – the attacker used a military-style assault weapon. If elected to the State House, I will support a complete ban on assault weapons that serve no purpose other than to kill. I will also support expanding background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and those with mental illnesses to purchase firearms.
I believe it is possible to protect the 2nd Amendment while enacting these commonsense reforms to make all of us safer. If I am fortunate enough to serve, that is exactly what I will work to do.
Race — State Representative, 30th
Betsy Monroe, Democrat
No single action will end gun violence, we must recognize that there is no simple one-step solution that will keep our families safe. But we can’t continue to do nothing, especially since there are several straightforward actions we can take to dramatically reduce gun violence.
One immediate step we need to take is to pass legislation for universal background checks. That’s supported by the vast majority of voters, and will make it harder and more expensive for criminals to obtain firearms. Another gun-related measure we need to take is to require safe storage of weapons. In a world where firearms are the second leading cause of death for children age 1-17 after auto accidents, legislation requiring all firearms to be stored with a lock in place is clearly necessary.
Behavioral health must be a second area of action, because most deaths from firearms are suicides. We need to expand access to behavioral health in schools for our adolescent kids and as basic coverage in all health plans.
Finally, we need to improve reporting and accountability for hate speech and hate crimes. Enhancing training for police and other first responders and improving public awareness are areas where Pennsylvania could make some real improvements.
This combined approach including gun legislation, behavioral health, and improving reporting of hate crimes would make our community safer for everyone.
Race — State Representative, 36th
Harry Readshaw, Democrat
After the November 6th election takes place I prefer Allegheny County State Officials cooperatively and jointly develop legislation to address the situation. This cooperative decision making would require joint sharing of concerns and provide a solution/solutions to address the problem. Cooperating on one introduction of legislation as opposed to many would enhance and facilitate the process. This mode of operation would simplify the introduction process as the identical legislation could be introduced in the House and the Senate simultaneously.
I would look forward to meetings being facilitated among Allegheny County State Representatives and Senators so that hopefully a joint product would be agreed upon and introduced after we are sworn in on January 1, 2019. Hopefully, we can partner on this initiative and move forward.
Race — State Representative, 40th
Sharon Guidi, Democrat
I was sickened by the violence at Tree of Life this past weekend. No one should ever fear for their safety anywhere in our country, but most especially in the sacred space of their house of worship. These inhumane, senseless murders have no place in Pittsburgh and no place in our society. We must continue to push for common-sense gun reform that keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. This means requiring universal background checks that 90 percent of the country and 74 percent of NRA members also support. This means championing programs like BeSMART (a program run by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America), which teaches responsible gun ownership to adults and children alike. This means passing red flag laws that allow law enforcement to act on tips received from family members about people in crisis. We must also create a culture of inclusiveness and show that hate and bigotry have no place in our society.
Race — State Representative, 42nd
Dan Miller, Democrat
When the shooting occurred I was in a Halloween Parade handing out candy to the kids and had a chance to talk to the police, and I asked them: What do we have to do? The three officers overwhelmingly spoke about mental health.
I don’t know if the shooter had a mental health issue or not. Sometimes I think it gets jumped on, as a catch all, almost blaming it more than it should be. I’m concerned by the stigma of it.
The big thing is mental health capacity: Do we have enough? And are they accessible? What an officer said to me is there are times when I would rather drop someone off at a mental health facility rather than the county jail but they are limited in their options.
So I have submitted for legislative review our mental health bed situation: 40 years ago we shut down our mental health hospitals and largely that was a good thing. I keep hearing people saying we don’t have enough beds and the largest mental health facilities that we have are our jails. So I’m not clear what we should be asking for. What do other states do? Have they found a private sector fix? Are there state mental health hospitals? That is what I am reviewing.
I have supported a variety of gun control bills in the past and voted for all the gun control bills last year, only one of which passed.
Race — State Representative, 44th
Michele Knoll, Democrat
As a member of the General Assembly, I would introduce and cosponsor legislation that would require comprehensive universal background checks that would include private sales of long guns, shotguns and rifles. I would support banning bump stocks as well. A statewide system of gun registry that is connected to a national registry is necessary to protect vulnerable citizens worshiping, studying, and going about their daily lives.
Oliver Morrison is PublicSource’s environment and health reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ORMorrison.
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