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Politics & Government

Pittsburgh Mayoral Candidates Offer Opinions on Gun Laws

Emily Farah
90.5 WESA

On Thursday more than 100 events, organized by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, hoped to bring attention to the country's gun violence policies.

Twenty of those events were in Pennsylvania, including one in the Hill District, organized by advocacy group CeaseFirePA.

Credit Emily Farah / 90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh mayoral candidates Bill Peduto (left) and A.J. Richardson (right) gave their stances on gun violence and its impacts.

Rob Conroy, Western Pennsylvania's CeaseFirePA coordinator, said the group invited Pittsburgh's mayoral candidates to offer their opinions on what it considers "common sense gun laws," one being a background check for every gun purchase.

"Universal, comprehensive and enforceable background checks for every gun purchase," Conroy said. "It would include the same process that is already occurring for purchases of hand guns."

CeaseFirePA wants to mandate background checks for all gun buys, including rifles. 

"Right now we have an unbelievable amount of gun purchases that are happening without background checks, both in Pennsylvania and in the United States," Conroy said.

The Democratic candidates for Pittsburgh mayor at the event agreed that requiring a background check for all gun purchases was appropriate. They had similar but varying views on banning automatic or semi-automatic rifles.

Former Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner sent spokesman J.J. Abbott in his place and was the only Democratic mayoral candidate to do so. Conroy said the sole Republican on the ballot for Pittsburgh mayor, Josh Wander, was invited but had not responded to inquiries.  Wander contacted the WESA newsroom to say he never received an invitation from CeaseFirePA.

Abbott said Wagner has been a longtime supporter of "sensible gun laws."

"Jack supports universal background checks, and he urges all members that represent Pittsburgh at the federal level to support them as well," Abbott said.

Abbott added Wagner tried to pass an assault weapons ban for the city of Pittsburgh two decades ago, but it was ultimately overturned by the state. 

Community activist A.J. Richardson said he doesn't think more restrictions on purchases are needed because people find a way "around the law." He does however support universal background checks as long as it's a fair process.

"We certainly need universal (background) checks, (but) I don't want us to be biased in that," Richardson said. "The danger's in that certain communities can be targeted and certain communities overlooked."

Richardson added he supports stricter punishment for those who violate gun laws.

Michael Lamb said there should be a greater focus on wrongdoers too, but he also said he thinks there should be a limitation on assault weapons. He stressed that the present agenda should be on universal background checks and build from there.

"We have communities where people live in fear," Lamb said, "fear of violence caused by drugs, caused by guns, and if we can get together behind this kind of agenda and push this along, it's really going to be better for Pittsburgh."

State Rep. Jake Wheatley said requiring background checks for all gun purchases is a "sensible approach" for making Pittsburgh communities and families safer.

"I'm not a hunter, but I was a former active duty Marine, and I was given an M-16 only after they checked to make sure I was qualified to have one, and they trained me on it." he said. 

Wheatley confirmed he would like to see an assault weapons ban in place.

So would Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto. He said there are three things that can reduce gun violence in city and in the United States.

"Getting the assault weapons off the streets, cracking down on illegal gun trafficking and putting background checks into effect would greatly reduce the number of people being murdered needlessly throughout this country and in Pittsburgh," Peduto said.

Peduto added "great change happens from the bottom up," and he suggested that for the country to adopt a policy on gun control, it has to start with grassroots efforts.