Gun Rights A Hot Topic At Congressman’s Town Hall Meeting

Gun Rights A Hot Topic At Congressman’s Town Hall Meeting

BERLIN – Citizens shared concerns over gun rights, renewable energy and immigration at a town hall meeting hosted by Congressman Andy Harris last week.

With little preamble Friday evening, Harris, Maryland’s 1st District congressman, jumped straight into answering questions from his constituents at Stephen Decatur Middle School. Early on, it was obvious that gun rights would be a hot topic.

Berlin resident Gail Jankowski told Harris her family owned guns but supported a ban on assault weapons.

“Why did you vote for and help to pass the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act which will allow people from other states with other rules to bring those kinds of weapons into Maryland?” she asked.

Harris said people with concealed carry permits committed crimes at a very low rate. He compared the permit to a driver’s license, pointing out that driver’s licenses from one state were recognized in other states.

“The difference between a permit to own and carry a handgun and a driver’s license is the constitution gives you a right to keep and bear arms,” he said. “They don’t give you a right to drive a car.”

He said that while the nation needed to have a discussion about gun control, changes had to be supported by evidence.

“The evidence shows that people with concealed carry permits are not the problem,” he said.

When asked how much money he received from the National Rifle Association (NRA), Harris said that in four campaigns he’d received about $20,000. He said that would not influence his decisions on gun control issues.

“Let me tell you what influences my decision,” he said. “We have to get to the basis of how we’re going to solve the problem of gun violence. We have to be fact based. The fact of the matter is the NRA exists to protect the Second Amendment right. Not everybody agrees with the Second Amendment right. There are probably tens of millions of Americans who think we don’t need a 2nd amendment. I’m going to disagree I think we do…. I’m a life member of the NRA because I believe the 2nd amendment is worth protecting. Every law-abiding citizen in America has the right to bear arms. If you break the law you should be punished and you should not be allowed to have a gun.”

He told the crowd that in Baltimore City, handguns, not assault weapons, were being used to commit murders. He said that the average sentence given in the city on gun charges was only 16 percent of the maximum sentence.

“We must punish that behavior,” he said. “Honestly we’re not doing it. If the prosecutors are too busy in Baltimore City lets have the Department of Justice assign a special prosecutor only for gun laws.”

One woman told Harris that even trained police officers struggled to hit targets in active firefights. She asked why he would support arming teachers when that was the case.

Harris said arming teachers would be a deterrent to criminals. He said shooters targeted gun free zones and that even a school with an armed security guard armed was at a disadvantage.

“They’re a target because…the person coming in knows if I get past that person nobody else here is going to stop me,” he said.

One constituent pointed out that mental health was also an issue with gun violence. She said there was a need for additional access to counselors. Harris said that there simply weren’t enough mental health professionals to address the growing need.

Jake Burdett, a 20-year-old Salisbury University student, questioned the use of natural gas in Maryland. He said that while it was better than coal or oil, it was still a fossil fuel.

“My question is why are we taking this half measure toward green energy and sticking with a fossil fuel when you have a perfectly good green energy wind turbine project being offered,” Burdett said.

Harris said wind energy would be fine if it was 30 miles off the coastline.

“I think that’s reasonable given that the most impacted jurisdiction is Ocean City,” he said. “Ocean City pretty adamantly doesn’t want it. We should listen to the people who are most directly affected.”

Harris said the country wasn’t ready to move to renewable energy. He said natural gas was the cleanest fossil fuel that could be used and that with horizontal drilling it was now the cheapest.

“Renewables run into three categories—water energy, hydroelectric energy, which Maryland is just not situated well for, you have solar energy and you have wind energy,” he said. “We know very well the sun doesn’t shine every day and the wind blows a lot but it doesn’t blow all the time and we can’t generate all our power from that. We have to generate power from something.”

He said basic science research would lead to energy sources in the future.

“We’re going to get to the next level, which is going to be completely clean energy, but solar and wind don’t get us there,” he said, adding that supporting research would be more effective than subsidizing solar panels. “I don’t think that’s the future. I think the future is something that is just on the drawing board now.”

Immigration also came up at Friday’s meeting. Pittsville resident Nathan Valdes asked Harris what could be done to make the process less costly for those trying to get into the country legally.

“The trouble is the legal immigrants got caught up with this whole illegal immigrant question,” Harris said.

He said that half of the country’s illegal immigrants came to America legally and then overstayed their visas.

“Anything we do to deal with immigration…just the border wall’s not going to do it,” he said. “Even if we build the wall you only stop half that way. The other thing you have to do is interior enforcement.”

When Valdes asked if there was a way for those with visas to extend their stays legally, without having to return to their native country, Harris said that would not be fair.

“People have waited years in line legally to come to America,” Harris said.

Constituents also asked Harris for his views on social security. He suggested increasing the full retirement age from 67 to 70.

“We are going broke. Everyone who’s at retirement or near retirement, people over the age of 50, you have to keep the system the way it is. You planned your life around what the federal government’s going to do. If you’re younger than 50, we have got to come up with a different system.  “

He said those workers should “choose to have a supplemental retirement.” When questioned about his plan’s impact on minimum wage workers, Harris said people didn’t have minimum wage jobs their entire lives.

“I urge anyone who disagrees with that, give your name to my staff and we will get you the data,” he said as members of the crowd murmured in disagreement.

He added that something had to be done because the country was going broke.

“You did not elect me to go to Washington and make easy decisions,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.