Students walked out Wednesday at thousands of schools across the country, including Perry Hall High School in Baltimore County. They were demanding action on gun violence.
Perry Hall High is in Congressman Andy Harris’s district, and the incumbent congressman is being challenged on his record of being a strong supporter of gun rights.
Hundreds of students streamed out of Perry Hall High, which was the site of a school shooting in 2012. They included senior Manya Kaur.
“My cousins tell me every day they’re scared to go to school and they’re scared to come and get an education and that’s not how it’s supposed to be,” Kaur said.
Kaur said Congress needs to take action to tighten gun laws. But Harris opposes banning assault weapons like the one used to murder 17 people one month ago at a Florida high school. At a recent town hall in Joppa, Harris clashed with Allison Galbraith, one of the Democrats running in the party’s primary for the chance to challenge him in November.
Galbraith told Harris, “I want to know why somebody’s right to an arsenal trumps my child’s right to live while going to school every day.”
After the applause died down, Harris gave his answer.
Galbraith said most people support common sense gun laws, even in the conservative first district, which includes the Eastern Shore and parts of Carroll, Harford and Baltimore Counties.
“I had no intention of going anywhere near this,” Galbraith said. "But it came up and I’ll stand with the students any day of the week. They deserve for adults to support them. They’re scared. I understand it. I was a junior in high school when Columbine happened. We’ve had 20 years of gun deaths and nothing has been done about it.”
Harris declined multiple requests to be interviewed for this story. But at that same town hall, Harris defended his position. In a recording of the town hall made by the Baltimore Sun, Harris said the founders put the second amendment in place to provide defense from enemies of the state, including governments
“My parents came from Eastern Europe, from communist countries, where in the last century, 70 years ago, they took the guns away from people,” Harris said. “In a communist nation only the government can have a gun.”
Harris is Maryland’s only Republican congressman. He also is the only one who receives money from the National Rifle Association. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, a non-partisan research group, Harris has collected around $22,000 from the NRA since 2008, $1500 of that this year. Washington College political science professor Melissa Deckman said that NRA backing helps to shore up Harris’s conservative reputation.
“He’s probably likely to wear that as a badge of honor, which is counter to the narrative that we often see on TV right now with respect to guns,” Deckman said. But I think Andy Harris getting money from the NRA, having a strong A rating from the NRA actually benefits him.”
During redistricting, Democrats packed the first district with Republicans, taking conservative voters out of other districts to make them more winnable. Two years ago, Harris won with 67 percent of the vote. Deckman said it will be difficult to unseat Harris, but she added it may be a more competitive year if this shapes up to be a wave election year for the Democrats.
“What I’ve found interesting about this Trump presidency and what I would call ‘The Trump effect,’ is that you’ve inspired a lot of political activism on the left or the left of center,” Deckman said.
So much so that half a dozen Democrats, including Galbraith, are vying for the party’s nomination to take on Harris in the fall.