One plans to put an armed police officer in every school statewide. Another wants to eliminate the state background check system. A third is the only one to say she would turn down money from the NRA.
Since the Parkland, Fla., school shooting in February, gun control has been hotly debated around the nation — including in the Pennsylvania legislature, where House members spent six days discussing proposals for tackling the issue.
But in the contested Republican race for governor, the debate has only reached lukewarm temperatures. While gun control hasn’t been a defining issue leading up to Tuesday’s primary election, it’s likely to have a greater role in November’s general election, when the Republican will look to unseat Gov. Wolf, a Democratic incumbent who has argued that tougher laws are the best way to end a wave of gun violence.
On the campaign trail, each of the candidates — Laura Ellsworth, a Pittsburgh lawyer; Paul Mango, a former health-care consultant from Allegheny County; and Scott Wagner, a state senator from York County who won the state GOP’s endorsement — has described a personal connection to firearms and pledged to protect the right to bear arms. But the specifics of their plans vary.
Wagner, who has an A rating from the National Rifle Association and a 100 percent pro-gun voting record in the state legislature, according to the Firearm Owners Against Crime PAC, says that current gun laws need to be better enforced and that more mental-health funding is needed to reduce gun violence.
He supports state funding to prevent gun violence, has a school-safety plan that includes putting an armed officer in every school, and has proposed a bill mandating the death penalty for anyone convicted of killing people at a Pennsylvania school.
“Our schools have to be safe, and our children have to be safe in those schools, and our teachers have to be safe, but the answer is not more rules and regulations regarding firearms,” Wagner said during a candidates’ forum in Venango County in March.
Summing up his remarks there, he added, to laughter and cheers: “I have a concealed weapons permit. If you break in my house tonight and you’re uninvited, you’re going to have a bad evening.”
When it comes to the gun-control measures proposed in the Statehouse, Ellsworth and Mango oppose measures to ban semiautomatic weapons or large-capacity magazines. But they differ in other ways. Ellsworth supports banning bump stocks and conversion devices, and requiring background checks for the private sale of long guns; Mango does not.
Wagner did not answer questions from the Inquirer and Daily News about those measures. Instead, his spokesman said: “Scott wants to make sure all current background checks are being conducted appropriately and that we keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them. He wants to focus on that task before looking at further gun restrictions.”
Ellsworth, who would be Pennsylvania’s first female governor, said during one debate that she would refuse donations from the NRA. (Mango and Wagner both said they would accept money from the gun-rights group.) However, Ellsworth has also described herself as “a rule-of-law person” who supports the state and federal right to bear arms.
She says schools can be made safer immediately by adding security measures common in many office buildings. Arming teachers, she said, should not be required, but teachers who are trained should be allowed to carry weapons if they choose. She also supports state funding for “evidence-based community initiatives” to reduce handgun violence.
“We need to focus on educational and job opportunities that would put a diploma or paycheck in someone’s hand instead of a gun,” she told the newspapers.
Mango, a veteran of the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, has promised to veto any gun-control legislation that comes to his desk, eliminate the state background-check system so only the national system is used, and enhance the Castle Doctrine, which protects property owners who use deadly force against intruders.
He has also pledged to increase funding for school security — though he believes schools should determine their own safety plans — and said he would “support tailored funding based on specific threats (like in schools) for strategies that work.” He told the Inquirer and Daily News he supports gun education offered through the private sector and nonprofits, and wants to keep the mentally ill from obtaining guns.
In a recorded live chat with the Rev. Hyung Jin “Sean” Moon, the pastor whose Poconos church has drawn national attention for blessing couples who carried AR-15s, Mango said said all citizens should know how to use firearms.
“People say, ‘Why do you need a semiautomatic weapon to kill a deer? It’s not to kill a deer. It’s to defend ourselves,” Mango told Moon in their January talk. “And, by the way, defending ourselves from potentially an overreaching government, right? That’s what Second Amendment rights are all about.”