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Politics & Government

Corbett: Mental Health Programs Should be Part of Newtown Response

Gov. Corbett said Thursday that lawmakers should study available mental illness services, not gun control, when looking for ways to prevent future acts of senseless violence.

The shooting deaths of 26 women and children in Newtown, Connecticut a week ago prompted a small flurry of promises from state lawmakers in Pennsylvania to push for more restrictions on firearm sales and a ban on assault weapons.

But Gov. Corbett says the attention to gun control is misplaced.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s an assault weapon or a handgun,” he said at an unrelated press conference. “It’s a mental health issue that we have to work as hard as we possibly can on.”

Authorities say the shooter at the Newtown school had a history of mental illness.

Corbett said that doesn’t mean his administration is going to push to reprioritize funding for the Department of Public Welfare. Mental health advocates have criticized the governor’s administration for cutting by 10 percent county-administered programs, including one that serves the mentally ill. The governor defends the state budget as one that keeps Pennsylvania living within its means.

He’s also all but ruled out a ban on assault weapons in the commonwealth, which at least two state lawmakers have announced they’ll introduce as legislation next year. Corbett said such a law is really an issue for Congress, since the federal ban expired in 2004, and he added that he’s not sure reinstating it would help.

“The assault weapons are already out there,” said Corbett. “A new ban isn’t going to make them safer.”