Ocean City Today

Rep. Andy Harris draws cheers, jeers in Berlin

Gun control, green energy, Russia interference, cyber security hot topics of forum
By Greg Ellison | Mar 22, 2018
Photo by: Greg Ellison Congressman Andy Harris (R-1st) listens to concerns from a small group of constituents at the closing of a Town Hall meeting at Stephen Decatur Middle School last Friday.

(March 23, 2018) Congressman Andy Harris (R-1st) drew cheers and jeers while responding to a range of topics during his Town Hall meeting at Stephen Decatur Middle School last Friday.

Addressing the issue of gun control because of recent pleas for change by students nationwide following the murder of 17 high school youths in Parkland, Florida last month, Harris acknowledged that a serious dialogue is needed, but also proposed easing state restrictions on concealed carry permits.

“It’s very difficult to get a concealed carry permit in Maryland,” he said. “I think much more difficult than it ought to be.”

Harris said statistically speaking concealed permit holders rarely commit crimes.

“They are not the criminals,” he said.

In that vein, Harris said there should be federal reciprocity for concealed permit holders, much as a Maryland driver’s license is acceptable outside the region.

“The constitution gives you a right to keep and bear arms, [it does not] give the right to drive a car,” he said. “I think they should be allowed to have that federally constitutionally guaranteed right in every state.”

In response to questions about financial support from the National Rifle Association, Harris said of roughly $8 million in past campaign contributions approximately $20,000 came from the firearm advocacy group.

“The NRA exists to protect the Second Amendment right (to keep and bear arms),” he said. “There are probably tens of millions of Americans who think we don’t need the Second Amendment.”

Harris argued that in colonial times, and in totalitarian regimes, citizens were often disarmed, which is why the founding fathers supported a well-regulated armed militia.

“Back then, they were just groups of citizens who armed themselves to defend their communities,” he said. “The purpose of this is to defend against anyone who is going to take your liberties, including the government.”

Despite widespread calls to reduce the proliferation of assault rifles, Harris countered that of more than 300 murders committed in Baltimore last year, none involved high-capacity firearms.

“They were done by handguns … so the real problem is handguns,” he said.

Admitting American society needs to seriously consider a course of action to address the string of mass shootings, Harris questioned the impact of gun-free school zones.

“Their object is to kill as many people as possible and the way you do it is find a place where you know no one is going to have a gun,” he said. “They want to reap the most havoc they can and they know if it’s gun free they can.”

Although opinions differ on how to institute gun control measures, Harris said educators should focus on detecting and treating individuals beset by mental health issues.

“The school nurse is nice ... but is not trained to deliver mental health care,” he said. “The key is we need to ramp up the number of [mental health] professionals we have [in schools].”

As for fiscal issues, Harris also proposed increasing the full retirement age to 70 because of uncertain social safety net programs.

“People who are 20 or 30 in this country, if they think Medicare and Social Security are going to exist the way they do now, when they turn 65 [they] got another thing coming,” he said. “For younger people, we should increase the full retirement age because life expectancy is much higher than when we established Social Security.”

In the absence of change, Harris said by 2030 the programs would experience across-the-board cuts of 20 percent.

“They don’t trust the federal government to have that money when they grow up,” he said. “The reason is the federal government took everybody’s money and put it in a big pot and borrowed the money.”

Questioned about support for developing renewable energy sources, Harris said further technological advances are needed to transition off traditional fossil fuel sources.

“We know very well the sun doesn’t shine everyday,” he said. “The wind blows a lot, but it doesn’t blow all the time, and we can’t generate all our power from that.”

In addition to renewable energy sources like wind, solar or hydroelectricity, Harris also touted nuclear power as an alternative to fossil fuels.

“Even people who are environmentally sensitive are split on this,” he said. “Some people say it’s great because we’re not burning fossil fuels [but] on the other hand they worry should we have an accident.”

As for fossil fuels, Harris favors using natural gas in lieu of oil or coal.

“Until we get there, I favor using the fossil energy that has the least amount of carbon release and that’s natural gas,” he said. “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 now.”

Questioned about the Trump administrations response to allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, Harris said action has been taken.

“The president announced today sanctions on Russia for both cyber violations against our energy plants and elections,” he said.

Although the U.S. is adequately prepared for warfare with conventional arms, Harris said future battlefields might require different tools.

“The next war may well be fought in the cyber world,” he said. “Everything we depend on as a nation, from our electricity to our banking, depends on an intact Internet and cyber security.”

While China and Russia top the list of nations proficient in computer hacking and cyber security, Harris said the U.S. barely cracked the top 30.

“We better beef up our ability to provide homegrown cyber experts,” he said. “We lack at least a million people trained in cyber.”

In closing, Harris welcomed the wide range of opinions expressed during the nearly two-hour gathering.

“This is what’s great about America,” he said. “The countries where my parents came from you couldn’t come to a … town hall meeting and disagree with a government official because you wouldn’t be going home now, you’d be going to jail.”

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