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December 28, 2012

Seanator seeking task force on mass shootings

HARRISBURG — A Pennsylvania state senator began seeking Senate support yesterday 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. He said those include any proposals to strengthen firearms regulations, mental health laws and efforts to fight bullying.

Greenleaf said that further regulation of firearms is only part of the issue and is not a “failsafe solution” to prevent mass shootings.

“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.

Greenleaf said appointing a task force makes sense because gun violence prevention is a multipronged issue. 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 so they can be considered in 2013, Greenleaf said.

Other proposals have surfaced in the Legislature to address the same issues.

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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