Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro talks gun violence, tourism and tolerance in interview with Don Bell

Gun Rights

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s been about a year and a half since Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro took office. He is considered a rising star in the Democratic party, and polling shows he has some bipartisan support in the state. He recently launched a new tourism campaign in Pennsylvania and visited Philadelphia to help unveil the city’s plans for 2026, when the country will celebrate its 250th anniversary. 

Shapiro sat down with CBS News Philadelphia Sports Director Don Bell for a wide-ranging conversation about tourism in Pennsylvania ahead of 2026, gun violence, racial and religious tolerance, his political future and more. 

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Don Bell: When I ask you about the commonwealth and what’s happening in July of 2026, I know you’ve mentioned that there are 74 million people that live within four hours of the commonwealth. What is it you want people to experience when they come here to celebrate?

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Gov. Josh Shapiro: Look, 74 million people live within a four-hour drive of Pennsylvania, and as a result of that, we’re really into tourism. We’re really into promoting the wonderful outdoor spaces, museums, restaurants, bars, sporting events that happen right here in the commonwealth, and it’s huge business for us.

We generate $77 billion of economic activity every year from tourism; 500,000 of our fellow Pennsylvanians work in this sector, and that’s just on a normal year. Now, wait till 2026 comes. The 250th anniversary of the nation and all eyes are going to be on Pennsylvania, and we’ve got it all — from the FIFA World Cup to TED Democracy, a wonderful conversation about freedom and democracy that’s going to be going on here in Pennsylvania. 

If you’re into golf, we’ve got the PGA Championship. We’ve got all kinds of cool museum exhibits, and so we’re hoping to take that $77 billion economic activity and grow it. We’re going to hire more people. We’re going to see more visitors come, and whether you come here on a plane, whether you come here on a train, or even if you come here on 95, you’re going to be able to get here and you’re going to be able to enjoy an amazing experience in 2026.

Bell: I know that you’re a history buff. Thinking back almost 250 years, it’s interesting to me that a conversation like this could not have happened. A Black journalist talking to an elected official of Jewish faith in a city with a Black woman as the mayor. So we’ve come a long way in terms of equity, but we have a long way to go. What would you say is the biggest obstacle for us to improve on that front?

Shapiro: I think if I can respectfully reframe the question a little bit instead of as a negative, as a positive, you do point out correctly that a journalist who looked like you or a person who worshiped like me would never have been in these positions years ago.

But if you think about the founding of this commonwealth by William Penn, he wanted to build a place that was tolerant and inclusive, a place where people could worship freely and people from all different walks of life could come. And maybe he never imagined this conversation happening, but he imagined a place where conversations with people who were different than him could take place.

That spirit has been infused not just in Pennsylvania, but in this nation. And the real story of this nation over the last 250 years is ordinary folks like you and me rising up, demanding more, seeking justice, getting engaged and involved, and creating opportunities for more freedom where conversations like this could happen, where someone like you could achieve the success that you’re achieving, where someone of my faith could be elected to the highest office in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

I share that with you because this has been a nation where we’ve always made progress, where we’ve tried to live out that vision of Penn, where we’ve tried to live out the vision of our founding fathers who signed those documents right here in Philadelphia. And we’ve always gotten better. We’ve always gotten stronger. We’ve always gotten a bit more tolerant. So, yes, there are challenges … but don’t ignore the fact that we’ve made some incredible progress. And the progress we’re going to make in the future is going to depend on ordinary Americans continuing to rise up, demand more, seek justice and make change.

Bell: Now, anytime you get together to celebrate a birthday, you have time to reflect … on where you’ve been, where you’re going. And, you know, one thing that’s a hot-button issue in Philadelphia is gun violence. And so I think about the Second Amendment. Our forefathers could not have imagined that, say, for example, we have teenagers with ghost guns or imagine what happened in 2018 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. It appears that something has to give. What are your thoughts on gun violence throughout the Commonwealth? 

Shapiro: The level of gun violence that we are seeing and we’ve experienced over the last number of years in particular is absolutely unacceptable. The level of violence we see on our streets or, as you mentioned, at a synagogue in Pittsburgh or in school buildings here in Pennsylvania or throughout the country, it’s unacceptable and it doesn’t have to be this way.

Look, I’m the former attorney general of Pennsylvania. I’ve prosecuted people for gun crimes. We’ve taken over 3,000 illegal guns or crime guns off our streets. There has to be a strong, robust law enforcement response. We’re investing more in hiring more police, over 400 new state troopers we’ve hired, and I’m trying to hire 400 more. I share that with you because I want you to understand law enforcement is an important piece of this, but it’s one piece.

We also have to change our laws, and we can change our laws and still respect people’s Second Amendment constitutional rights. Here’s one example: Why should we allow criminals to get their hands on guns? The laws already say criminals can’t own them, but because we have a porous background check system, we don’t have laws that cover background checks for all gun sales.

Criminals get their hands on guns. Juveniles who aren’t permitted to own them get their hands on guns. So how about we just agree on a universal background check system to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, guns out of the hands of people who can’t legally own them? We can protect the Second Amendment. We can make our communities safer. And yes, we’ll continue to have a police and law enforcement response.

We’ve got to update our laws, and we can do that without running afoul of the Constitution. 

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Bell: Why haven’t we been able to do that so far? 

Shapiro: I have been for that for many years. We’ve passed it, at least in Pennsylvania, out of the House of Representatives controlled by Democrats. The Senate, controlled by Republicans, has refused to bring it up. 

I don’t know if that’s because they’re scared of the NRA. I don’t know if that’s because they buy into the false charges that come from the gun lobby. I don’t know. But here’s what I do know. We can’t accept the level of violence as it is, and we need lawmakers of both parties to understand we can make people safer and protect people’s constitutional rights at the same time. 

Bell: I saw a recent poll in the New York Times … and it said that you were popular with a third of Trump supporters in the state of Pennsylvania. Why do you think that is? 

Shapiro: Look, I try and work with people of all parties, people from all different walks of life, rural, urban, suburban, Pennsylvanians.

I show up where they are and meet them in their communities. I listen to the challenges they face. And then, most importantly, I go and I execute. I get stuff done. That’s literally the mantra of our administration: GSD. This is a family program, so it’s “get stuff done.” Because I think what folks really want from their elected officials is they want you to put points on the board for them every day.

It doesn’t mean that they agree with me on every issue. It doesn’t mean that we share the same views on every issue. But I think they respect the fact that I show up and I get stuff done for them. 

Bell: As I mentioned earlier, I know you’re a history buff. In the 70s, the first Jewish governor of the commonwealth, Milton Shapp, his original name was Shapiro.

At one point in his life, he changed his name to avoid prejudice. So as you think about that, and we move forward as a country, is this country ready for the first Jewish president? 

Shapiro: Well, I think this country is ready to elevate people who look different than them, who maybe worship different than them.

And we’ve got proof of that in Barack Obama, people coming together from all different walks of life to elevate a black man to the highest office in this nation because they looked at him not based on the color of his skin, but as Dr. [Martin Luther] King wanted folks to do, the content of his character. And I think the American people are good people who will always rise above that.

Now, I think it’s also important to note that here in Pennsylvania, we have a history of tolerance and making progress. Consider this for a moment. You mentioned before in one of your previous questions about the most horrific, most violent, most deadly antisemitic attack in our nation’s history, which occurred in Pittsburgh about five years ago.

And about three and a half, four years after that happened, this commonwealth went to the polls and voted for a person of Jewish faith. I’m someone who speaks very openly about my faith to assume the governorship of this commonwealth, even in the wake of that antisemitic attack. … Because this is a commonwealth that wasn’t going to be defined by one of its darkest moments, but rather by the principles of Penn, the principles that I think are infused here in Pennsylvania and all across this country as a place that is willing to look at people for the content of their character, as a place that’s not going to be defined by antisemitism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, but instead is going to be defined by a place that is inclusive and tolerant. 

I get the fact that antisemitism is on the rise. I get the fact that Islamophobia is on the rise, but we are not going to be defined by that.

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Bell: I saw your most recent speech, and you described yourself as being competitive as hell. So what’s it going to take to get you to run in 2028?

Shapiro: Run for what? 

Bell: President.

Shapiro: No. Listen, man, I’m governor, and I’m proud to be governor. God willing, I’m going to be governor for a long time, as long as the good people of Pennsylvania will continue to have me. I’ve got a lot of work to do here, and I’m focused on doing that work.

Gov. Josh Shapiro, wearing a retro 76ers jacket, rings the bell at the Wells Fargo Center before a Philadelphia 76ers game
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro rings the bell before a game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat at the Wells Fargo Center on March 18, in Philadelphia.

Getty Images

Bell: Well played. Last question for you. I know you’re a Sixers fan, and when they played the Knicks, Tyrese Maxey was under the weather, and you said, you tweeted out that your wife would be happy to make him some matzo ball soup. … I need to know what’s up with this matzo ball soup and its curing power.

Shapiro: It’s proprietary, man. I can’t tell you what the first lady puts in her matzo ball soup. Let me tell you something: It would have made Tyrese Maxey feel better. I love that kid. He’s amazing, and he’s a great Sixer. He’s got a great spirit. And at the end of the day, he went that night. He didn’t go with the benefit of her matzo ball soup, but he still had a hell of a game.

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