Gov. Tom Corbett says lawmakers should focus on mental health services in Pennsylvania, not gun control, when looking for ways to prevent future acts of senseless violence.

 

The shooting deaths of 26 women and children at the elementary school 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 Corbett, a former state attorney general, says such a law is really an issue for Congress, since the federal ban expired in 2004.

He says he's not sure reinstating it would help.

"The assault weapons are already out there. A new ban isn't going to make them safer," he said.

The governor, who said he doubts the state's Constitution would allow the commonwealth to ban assault weapons, says attention to gun control is misplaced.

"It doesn't matter if it's an assault weapon or a handgun," he said. "It's a mental health issue that we have to work as hard as we possibly can."

He says Pennsylvania should focus on how to better address the needs of those with mental illness, like the Newtown shooter. But Corbett says 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.