Chris Jacobs doubles down on orders for high-powered guns

After back-to-back mass shootings last spring, including one that killed 10 people at a supermarket not far from his suburban Buffalo home, Republican U.S. Representative Chris Jacobs has come to a decision.

If an assault weapons ban made it to the House, he would support it, he told voters in his conservative congressional district.

“I could have said nothing,” Jacobs said. Silence would have allowed him to cross the Republican primary. But after 31 deaths in 10 days, including the murder of 19 children at a school in Uvalde, Texas, he felt he had an obligation to take a public stand.

“Having two young kids is really — you get a different perspective when, you know, thinking about going home with your kids when those 19 kids have perished,” Jacobs said.

A week later came another decision. With Republicans withdrawing their support en masse, Jacobs announced he would not seek re-election.

The expiration of his career is another sign of the growing polarization in a Congress where, as Jacobs said, “If you stray from a party position, you’re wiped out.”

“There are a lot of single-issue voters in the Republican Party on this issue, and on the other side, abortion,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press.

“The idea of ​​big tents for parties, I think, is very important. And right now it’s very shrill both ways, and I just don’t think that’s right,” he said. he declares. “The polarized nature is why you see a lot of frustrated members of Congress and not enough is being done.”

But if there are any regrets for the decision that abruptly interrupted his political career, it does not show. Coming out of Congress, the Republican, serving his first full term, doubled down on his support for regulating some high-powered firearms, proposing a licensing regime for people who want to buy them.

“Ninety-nine percent of people are very responsible gun owners. Sadly to say it’s only 1% (who aren’t) gives no comfort to someone who lost someone senselessly in Buffalo or in one of those mass shootings,” said Jacobs.

His federal assault weapons licensing law would require people to take a safety course, pass an FBI background check and submit their fingerprints before buying a ‘semi-automatic assault weapon’. . There are exemptions, including for current owners, active duty military and law enforcement.

The steps would be similar to those required for the thousands of gun permits Jacobs issued over five years as Erie County clerk, a process he sees as a reasonable balance between Second Amendment protections and ownership. responsible.

Many former Jacobs supporters see his position as a betrayal.

“It’s just not really tolerable,” said state Conservative Party chairman Gerard Kassar.

“In terms of unique issues, the Second Amendment in parts of upstate New York … is a very, very important unique issue and represents more than just the issue of guns,” Kassar said. “He represents the question of liberty, represents a question of constitutionalists, she represents the position of libertarians.

Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that Jacobs had “gave in to gun takers.”

Jacobs’ reputation as a moderate has so far worked to his advantage. He was the first Republican to be elected Erie County Clerk in 40 years and was accepted to the school board in the heavily Democratic seat of Buffalo County.

He was serving in the state Senate when, with the endorsement of President Donald Trump, he won a special congressional election in June 2020.

In Congress, Jacobs was endorsed by the National Rifle Association, voted against impeaching Trump and advocated strongly for the completion of the wall started by the former president along the southern border.

But his break from the gun party began when an 18-year-old shooter killed 10 black people and injured three victims at a Tops Friendly Market near the headquarters of his property development company.

“It was profound for all of us,” said Jacobs, a member of a prominent Buffalo family. His uncle is Jeremy Jacobs, the billionaire owner of the Boston Bruins and chairman of concessions giant Delaware North.

Two weeks later, another 18-year-old armed with a similar weapon opened fire on Uvalde Elementary School, killing 19 students and two teachers. This time, Jacobs’ thoughts turned to his own children, one aged 3 and the other less than a year old.

When the House voted in July to ban certain semi-automatic weapons for the first time since 2004, he was one of two Republicans to support the proposal, which had little chance in the US Senate.

Had Jacobs decided to run for office, he would have campaigned in a new, even more conservative district than the one he now represents in the suburbs and rural areas around Buffalo.

The new territory would have included six new, mostly rural counties along the Pennsylvania border in which it is largely unknown.

“Obviously if I showed up – and I thought I could have made it – but I thought the NRA would have been outside the money galore and I just didn’t think it was good for the district or the party,” Jacobs said, “and I just decided it wasn’t right to do it.”

Republican state committee chairman Nick Langworthy ultimately won the primary in the new district and will be the prohibitive frontrunner against Democrat Max Della Pia in November. Langworthy stepped in after saying he was surprised by Jacobs’ support for a ban on semi-automatic firearms.

“I think everyone was caught off guard by her taking the Democratic stance on gun control,” he said at the time.

If elected, Langworthy “would not support an assault weapons ban or any other legislation that limits the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans and has proven to be ineffective,” his campaign spokesperson said Tuesday. , Chris Grant, in a statement to the AP.

Andrea Nikischer, who co-founded a progressive group in today’s Jacobs District, has long criticized the Republican for his pro-Trump politics and votes. Nonetheless, she was disappointed in her decision to leave office after changing her stance on guns.

“I’m sorry he didn’t run away,” she said. “I think that would have been a very meaningful speech, and he could have pushed his party in a more positive direction. The power of the incumbent is strong, and I wish he had used that power to push this discussion further in his own party.

Jacobs has yet to find support for his assault weapons license proposal and does not expect to see it emerge with the election in a few weeks.

But he said he hoped more support could emerge after November.

“I’m going to put this out there,” he said, “and hopefully somebody picks it up.”

James V. Hayes