Pa. lawmaker seeks task force on mass shootings
House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer of Md. gestures during a news conference in Washington, Capitol Hill, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, where he urged House Republicans to end the pro forma session and call the House back into legislative session to negotiate a solution to the fiscal cliff. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
HARRISBURG – A Pennsylvania state senator began seeking Senate support Thursday to create a gun violence prevention task force in the wake of the deadly Connecticut elementary school shooting.
A memorandum issued by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, said his proposed resolution would allow the task force experts to examine issues surrounding gun violence.
Those include any proposals to strengthen firearms regulations, mental health laws and efforts to fight bullying.
Greenleaf said the Senate’s Republican leadership supports the idea and that it made sense to create a task force to assess lawmakers’ various proposals together and consolidate them into recommendations on how they could best respond.
“I think it was important that, if we were going to do this, to do it comprehensively and not piecemeal,” Greenleaf said in an interview.
Appointments to the task force would be made by Gov. Tom Corbett and legislative leaders, Greenleaf said.
Further regulation of firearms, however, is only part of the issue and is not a “failsafe solution” to prevent mass shootings, Greenleaf said in his memorandum.
“Firearms are not the cause of violence; they are the instrument that is used,” Greenleaf wrote. “Ironically, Connecticut has some of the toughest gun laws in the nation, but those laws did not prevent the Sandy Hook school tragedy.”
Common themes in many mass shootings include mental illness and a history of being bullied, Greenleaf wrote.
“So, in addition to looking at the gun regulation proposals that are being introduced, I believe that we must look at proposals to strengthen our mental health laws so that people receive treatment before they commit criminal acts, and we must see if there is more that we can do to combat bullying, including cyberbullying,” he wrote.
The Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., left 20 first-grade students and six school professionals dead, making it the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
The Sandy Hook gunman had killed his mother at home before going to the school, and he later committed suicide.
The task force will be asked to report recommendations to the Legislature in a matter of months – perhaps September – so they can be considered in 2013, Greenleaf said.
Other proposals have surfaced in the Legislature to address the same issues.
For instance, Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, wants to ban assault rifles and high-capacity ammunition magazines. Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, supports tougher prison sentences for felons who illegally possess firearms and a requirement that state police share records with a national clearing house to prevent state residents with serious mental health records from buying guns in other states.
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