Con­stituents ques­tion Andy Har­ris on guns at town hall

Kent County News - - NEWS - By KATIE TABELING kta­bel­ing@ce­cil­whig.com

JOPPA — U.S. Rep. Andy Har­ris’s im­mi­gra­tion town hall meeting was usurped with pointed ques­tions about gun con­trol from con­stituents March 1 at the Joppa-Mag­no­lia Vol­un­teer Fire Hall. The crowd’s mood was con­tentious even be­fore the con­gress­man took the mi­cro­phone, as one man in the au­di­ence crit­i­cized Har­ris, R-Md.-1st, when Press Sec­re­tary Jacque Clark an­nounced a change in the usual meeting for­mat. “His M.O. is that he shows us a Pow­erPoint and has a pre­sen­ta­tion that eats up time and leaves lit­tle time for a dis­cus­sion,” said Kevin Jones of North East. “That is not a town hall, that’s a sham. We have con­cerns as Amer­i­cans, I’m not talk­ing Repub­li­cans or Democrats.” Rau­cous ap­plause erupted af­ter he spoke, punc­tu­ated by boos from oth­ers in the au­di­ence. In­stead of a pre­sen­ta­tion, Har­ris opted to take ques­tions, mod­er­ated by a third party, on a call-by-num­ber ba­sis. Guests were asked to keep their com­ments civil, although the con­gress­man was of­ten in­ter­rupted by shouts and protest signs. Open­ing ques­tions prompted Har­ris to ex­plain his stance on a num­ber of gun-re­lated is­sues, as many con­stituents were con­cerned about semi-au­to­matic ri­fles in Mary­land af­ter the Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School shoot­ing in Park­land, Fla. last month. Jesse Was­mer of Kingsville, a for­mer coun­selor at Perry Hall High School, told Har­ris that he tack­led a stu­dent who had a dou­ble­bar­rel shot­gun in 2012. Robert W. Glad­den Jr., who shot one class­mate in the back, was sen­tenced to 35 years in prison. “The only dif­fer­ent about my ex­pe­ri­ence and Park­land was the type of weapon,” Was­mer told the con­gress­man. “If he had an as­sault ri­fle, I would have been in a much dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion, as would 500 stu­dents in a school in your dis­trict.” Har­ris ar­gued that as­sault ri­fles are banned in Mary­land, although sev­eral peo­ple shouted that there were ex­cep­tions. State law grand­fa­thers in long guns or copy­cat weapons that were pos­sessed be­fore Oct. 1, 2013. Li­censed firearm deal­ers may still sell long guns that fall un­der that cri­te­ria if they were pur­chased be­fore the cut­off date. The con­gress­man made it clear he does not sup­port an as­sault ri­fle ban that is “go­ing door-to-door” and col­lect­ing them. “It’s not the Bill of Needs, it’s the Bill of Rights,” he said among shouts. “The Sec­ond Amend­ment is a right guar- an­teed in the Con­sti­tu­tion. If you want to change it, con­vince enough leg­is­la­tors and states to change it. Un­til then, it’s a part of this coun­try.” Har­ris sup­ports en­forc­ing the gun con­trol laws that are al­ready on the books, ar­gu­ing that the 342 homi­cides in Bal­ti­more last year were not done with as­sault ri­fles. The prob­lem, he said, lies in the jus­tice sys­tem as 75 per­cent of those charged with pos­ses­sion of a gun in com­mis­sion with a crime were likely to serve un­der the max­i­mum sen­tenc­ing re­quire­ments. The re­main­ing 25 per­cent, Har­ris said, “had charges dropped.” “If you re­ally want gun con­trol, get the peo­ple who pick up a gun and use it against an­other hu­man be­ing and put them a way for a long, long time,” he said. For a time, the dis­cus­sion re­turned to the in­tended topic of im­mi­gra­tion. One man who op­er­ates a land­scap­ing busi­ness asked Har­ris for his sup­port be­hind the H-2B Visa pro­gram, which al­lows em­ploy­ers to hire for­eign work­ers on a tem­po­rary ba­sis, so he could con­tinue to work fullystaffed for the sum­mer. Re­ports put 100,000 ap­pli­cants for the H-2B visa, which dwarfs the con­gres­sion­ally-man­dated cap of 33,000 for this fis­cal year. Har­ris told the crowd that he would work to slightly in­crease the cap and fo­cus on rewrit­ing the im­mi­gra­tion rules to bet­ter suit the needs in his dis­trict, as sev­eral busi­nesses de­pend on these work­ers. “We know you can’t fill these jobs,” Har­ris said. “I sup­port le­gal im­mi­gra­tion. The rea­son why the (Trump) ad­min­is­tra­tion was so ret­i­cent was be­cause we sim­ply don’t have a mech­a­nism to en­force our visa sys­tem. Most of our il­le­gal im­mi­grants cross legally with a visa, and over­stay. Our sys­tem ac­tu­ally pun­ishes lawabid­ing busi­ness own­ers … and I’ll work on it.” Two high school stu­dents from Ce­cil County en­gaged Har­ris in a heated back-and­forth ex­change about gun vi­o­lence. Ali­son Kin­ney of Port De­posit ar­gued that as­sault ri­fles raised the body count in mass shoot­ings. She also asked how much cam­paign money had he re­ceived from the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion. “The fact of the mat­ter is deaths in Mary­land from AR-15s is al­most zero,” Har­ris said. “Gun vi­o­lence doesn’t hap­pen on the Eastern or western shore of Mary­land.” “I have raised $10 mil­lion over the last eight years,” Har­ris con­tin­ued, shout­ing. “Do you re­ally think my vote in Congress de­pends on $20,000 in do­na­tions (from the NRA)? No, they de­pend on my par­ents com­ing from com­mu­nist coun­tries where they were not al­lowed to have a firearm. Ali­son, you are lucky to be in Amer­ica.” Lind­sey Dar­ling of Ris­ing Sun asked what he was do­ing “to stop the Florida shoot­ing from ever hap­pen­ing again.” Har­ris told her that she was ask­ing the gov­ern­ment to solve this prob­lem, and it failed “mis­er­ably in Florida” as the school, the Broward County Sher­iff’s Of­fice and the FBI failed to act when oth­ers re­ported al­leged shooter Niko­las Cruz’ be­hav­ior. The con­gress­man would sup­port a “prop­erly-writ­ten red flag law” that would al­low men­tal health providers to re­port a pa­tient to a fam­ily mem­ber as a po­ten­tial danger to them­selves or oth­ers. That way, a judge could tem­po­rar­ily re­strict their Sec­ond Amend­ment rights. It would take “a few steps” be­cause of pri­vacy laws and Har­ris still wants to pro­tect con­sti­tu­tional rights. “Don’t you think he would have killed a lot less peo­ple with a knife than with an as­sault ri­fle?” Dar­ling asked. “Let me ask you, what’s an as­sault ri­fle? I’ve been in the mil­i­tary, so I’m kind of fa­mil­iar,” re­turned Har­ris, who served in the Navy Med­i­cal and the U.S. Naval Re­serve ac­tive-duty dur­ing Op­er­a­tion Desert Storm. The crowd heck­led Har­ris, some ask­ing why he was em­bar­rass­ing a teenager. “You want to re­strict some­one’s rights to ob­tain a firearm, but you’re not go­ing to know the dif­fer­ence?” Har­ris told the crowd. Af­ter an­other up­roar from the crowd, Har­ris then told Dar­ling that their dis­agree­ment is part of what “makes Amer­ica beau­ti­ful.”

PHOTO BY KATIE TABELING

Lind­sey Dar­ling, of Ris­ing Sun, cen­ter left, is joined by Ali­son Kin­ney, of Port De­posit, cen­ter right, and oth­ers at­tend Rep. Andy Har­ris at a March 1 town hall.

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