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Democrat Conor Lamb says new gun laws not needed to prevent violence

Wes Venteicher
| Friday, Feb. 16, 2018, 4:42 p.m.
Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb appears at a campaign event in carnegie on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.
WES VENTEICHER | Tribune-Review
Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb appears at a campaign event in carnegie on Friday, Feb. 16, 2018.
Pennsylvania State Rep. Rick Saccone listens during a small-business roundtable discussion at Potomac Mineral Group in Mt. Lebanon on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.
Kristina Serafini | Tribune-Review
Pennsylvania State Rep. Rick Saccone listens during a small-business roundtable discussion at Potomac Mineral Group in Mt. Lebanon on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2018.

Democratic congressional candidate Conor Lamb said Friday that new gun laws aren't the answer to preventing more mass shootings like the one at a Florida high school this week.

Lawmakers should instead improve the effectiveness of existing background-check laws, said Lamb, 33, of Mt. Lebanon, who is campaigning for a March 13 special election in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I believe we have a pretty good law on the books and it says on paper that there are a lot of people who should never get guns in their hands,” Lamb said at a campaign event in Carnegie. “And we know that the background check system is not achieving that result. What I think it's going to take is people in Congress who are willing to do more than just talk, who are willing to actually work together and stay late, if it requires that, and do some things that would really produce change.”

He didn't provide specifics on what he thinks might produce that change.

When asked whether he would support background checks for people who buy weapons at gun shows and online — checks are not currently required for all private sales in those situations – he said, “I'd be willing to look at proposals that would strengthen our background check system, but I want to start where the broad agreement already is, and the broad agreement already is that we're not doing a good enough job keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental health conditions and with criminals.”

Nikolas Cruz, 19, is charged with killing 17 former classmates Wednesday at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. He bought a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle after easily clearing a background check at a gun shop despite having undergone mental health treatment and making violent comments, according to the Miami Herald.

Lamb said changing individual laws — such as a proposed ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines — isn't the place to start addressing gun violence.

“I think that the emotions that a lot of us are feeling right now are very raw because we know that there's not one thing we can do with the stroke of a pen or one thing you can ban,” he said. “We need a comprehensive answer on mental health.”

Lamb, a former prosecutor and Marine, has been quiet on the issue of guns as he campaigns in the Republican-leaning 18th Congressional District, which includes parts of Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland and Greene counties. He said early in the campaign that his Marine service taught him to like guns, and he has released a campaign ad featuring him shooting what appears to be an assault-style rifle.

Lamb faces Republican Rick Saccone, 60, a state representative from Elizabeth, in the election. Saccone did not return voicemails or emails left on his phone and with his campaign requesting an interview on gun violence.

A campaign spokesman sent the following statement from Saccone and his wife, Yong.

“Yong and I's thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this senseless tragedy and their families. This is every parent's worst nightmare and I can't imagine the loss they're going to have to live with for the rest of their lives. We must come together as a nation to have a serious discussion about how to address these senseless acts of violence. Schools should be a safe place where we send our kids to learn without fear.”

The National Rifle Association, which fights against new gun regulations, endorsed Saccone last month and has given him an A+ rating based on his votes in the state House. He received $1,750 in campaign donations from the NRA Victory Fund from 2010 through 2014, according to state campaign finance records. He received about $5,700 in that time from the group Firearm Owners Against Crime, which has also donated $750 to his congressional campaign, according to the records.

Saccone has cast himself as a candidate who will support President Trump's agenda. Trump, whom polls show is viewed more favorably in the 18th District than he is across the country, didn't mention guns in his televised address to the nation after the Wednesday shooting.

Lamb, when asked whether Trump should have mentioned guns in the address, said, “I'm not going to comment on what he should have said. He's the commander in chief and he gets plenty of advice on that. He doesn't need it from me.”

Lamb was more willing to criticize Republican Paul Ryan over the U.S. House speaker's proposed changes to Medicare and Medicaid. Lamb accepted the endorsement Wednesday of the Social Security Works PAC, whose president, John Bauman — a former member of the band Sha Na Na — praised Lamb's dedication to preserving the federal health care programs.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com, or on Twitter at @wesventeicher.

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