The mass shooting in Orlando, Fla. earlier this month spurred the national discussion on gun control yet again.
U.S. Senate Democrats led a successful filibuster and in Allegheny County, two of the nine state representatives are pushing legislation on the issue, Democrats Jake Wheatly and Ed Gainey.
While both representatives said they are passionate about gun control, they’re trying to tackle the issue and curb violence in different ways.
Rep. Gainey is pushing legislation that would implement universal background checks. He initially co-sponsored House Bill 1010 in October of 2015. Though, he said the legislation took on a new, personal meaning after his sister was killed in a January homicide. He's also supporting a ban on assault weapons, but Gainey said it’s about safety, not taking away people's guns.
“There is just no conscious reason to have assault weapons in the street,” he said. “Especially getting in the hands of our children.”
Rep. Wheatly, on the other hand, said that the issue of gun violence needs to be looked at in a more holistic way.
“It’s a public health issue, not just an issue about guns,” he said. “It’s an issue about unmet needs.”
Wheatley said those “public health” issues can be identified by five categories, including financial safety, environmental safety, mental and behavioral health, physical health and spiritual needs.
“Problems in these areas, when not addressed, can lead to destructive activities,” Wheatley said.
His office has partnered in the past with several organizations—including UPMC and Highmark—to develop the Health and Wellness Weekend, a program that works with communities to address those issues. Wheatley said that he is supporting other legislation also concerning those issues.
Party Caucus Chairman Dan Frankel, also of Allegheny County, is not drafting any new legislation, but is turning to advocacy and citizen engagement in an effort to move bills regarding gun control that are stuck in committee. Frankel has shown support for Gainey’s legislation banning assault weapons and is also a supporter of House Bill 1010, which proposes to expand background checks.
“We are trying to build some momentum around this with advocacy groups like CeaseFirePA and Moms Demand Action, to hopefully stir things up and put some pressure to have these bills actually considered,” Frankel said.