At a news conference in his district last week, just miles from Buffalo, Jacobs took an unprecedented step for a Republican endorsed by the National Rifle Association by announcing he would vote with Democrats to ban assault weapons, limit high-capacity magazines, raise the age to purchase a gun to 21 and ban civilians from acquiring military-style armor.
Jacobs’s position amid a trio of mass shootings over the past week proved costly. Just seven days later, he said it would be best to suspend his reelection campaign in a district that had become more reliably GOP after redistricting.
“I truly believed I could win this election, but it would be an incredibly divisive election for both the Republican Party and the people of the 23rd District, many of whom I’ve not ever represented,” he said at a news conference Friday. “The last thing we need is an incredibly negative, half-truth-filled media attack funded by millions of spent dollars of special interest money coming into our community of guns and gun violence and gun control.”
The first-term congressman, who was elected during a special election in June 2020, will serve the remainder of his term representing New York’s 27th Congressional District. He was seeking reelection in the 23rd district after the 27th was eliminated due to redistricting.
Jacobs’s stunning decision to step aside rather than seek reelection proves how almost no room exists within the Republican Party for members who support banning assault weapons or limiting high-capacity magazines.
Though a bipartisan group of senators are negotiating modest changes to gun laws in the wake of the shooting at an elementary school in Texas, the quick dismissal of Jacobs is an indication of just how little appetite there is by Republicans to address modifications to gun use.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the No. 3 GOP leader in the House, quickly announced her endorsement of Carl Paladino to replace Jacobs without mentioning either politician’s views on guns.
“Carl is a job creator and conservative outsider who will provide Western New York and the Southern Tier with strong representation and leadership. Carl will be a tireless fighter for the people of New York in our fight to put America First to save the country,” she said in a statement.
In an interview with the Buffalo News last week, Jacobs acknowledged his change of heart happened after an 18-year-old used an assault weapon to shoot 13 individuals at a Tops Friendly Markets in his hometown. Of the 13 people shot, 11 were Black.
“I hope I’ve been compassionate when I read and heard about previous incidents like this that have happened over the years, but I guess there’s just something markedly different when it happens in your city, to people you know,” he said. “This has been a profoundly impactful event for me.”
The subsequent shooting at a Uvalde, Tex., elementary school, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed, shook him even further.
“Being a father and having young children and visualizing what those parents are going through and, I guess, being able to feel it more personally certainly has had an impact as well,” Jacobs told the Buffalo News.
His new position was too much for Republicans to handle, with many labeling him a Democrat for taking a position that strays far from the party’s norms.
“’Republican’ @RepJacobs already caved to the gun-grabbers whose proposals won’t do a single thing to protect our families & children from criminals & murderers. He knows this but he can’t resist getting a few glowing headlines from the mainstream media,” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted Sunday.
Jacobs told the Buffalo News on Friday that the writing was on the wall for him after “every Republican elected (official) that had endorsed me withdrew their endorsement.” He also alleged that someone had given out his phone number, making him the receiver of “an immense amount of calls and texts urging me to leave the race” which he described as non-threatening.
“And so obviously, this was not well received by the Republican base,” he said.
His announcement came one day after President Biden urged Republicans in Congress to end their decade blockade against supporting gun reform votes.
“How much more carnage are we willing to accept?” Biden asked during an evening speech Thursday.
House Democrats are set to vote on several gun revision proposals upon their return to Washington next week, including measures to raise the age to buy a semiautomatic rifle and ban high-capacity magazines, which Jacobs said he supports. It’s unclear if he would vote alongside Democrats on those proposals, however.
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has announced her intention for committees to hold hearings on banning assault weapons, its likelihood of getting a vote remains unclear as the issue also divides Democrats. A number of vulnerable Democrats facing reelection have expressed reservations about voting on such a proposal — even though several support it — because the issue has become so politically toxic.
The bipartisan group of senators continue to negotiate, but those changes are not likely to include a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines since it is a poison pill for many Republicans at the table. Negotiators are considering revisions to address mental health issues, expanding background checks and passing red-flag laws that would allow law enforcement and family members to take guns away from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or others.