A House Republican finds a line his party won’t let him cross

Gun Rights

In the wake of recent mass shootings, Rep. Chris Jacobs said he’d seen enough. The New York Republican, who was endorsed by the National Rifle Association just two years ago, surprised many by saying he’d support new measures to prevent gun violence, even if his party would not.

According to a Buffalo News report, the New York lawmaker, not quite two years into his congressional tenure, said, “If an assault weapons ban bill came to the floor that would ban something like an AR-15, I would vote for it. So I want to be clear: I would vote for it.”

Jacobs added that he’s also prepared to raise the age minimum for some gun purchases to 21.

“Individuals cannot buy beer, they cannot get cigarettes until 21. I think it’s perfectly reasonable that the age limit at least for these highly lethal, high-capacity, semi-automatic weapons should be 21,” he said.

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The congressman made the comments the afternoon of Friday, May 27. By Monday, May 30, conservative leaders in the Buffalo area said that Jacobs’ willingness to support popular gun measures was “unsatisfactory” and launched new efforts to find a primary challenger. Four days later, having been abandoned by his ostensible allies, the Republican incumbent announced his retirement. NBC News reported on Jacobs’ comments, explaining his decision:

“If you stray from a party position, you are annihilated,” Jacobs said. “For the Republicans, it became pretty apparent to me over the last week that that issue is gun control — any gun control.” … “This requirement of 100 percent fealty or else is not good for our democracy, and certainly is one reason not much gets done in Washington, D.C.,” Jacobs said Friday.

The GOP lawmaker will serve the remainder of the year, and between now and his departure from Capitol Hill, he’s apparently prepared to support Democratic legislation intended to prevent mass shootings.

Jacobs’ congressional career did not begin in the usual way. In August 2018, in this same New York congressional district, then-Rep. Chris Collins was arrested and faced corruption allegations. The Republican was soon after re-elected to Congress anyway, but his career was cut short: Collins ultimately pleaded guilty and resigned in October 2019. (He later received a pardon from Donald Trump, whose tolerance for corruption is limitless.)

This led to a special election, which Jacobs won two years ago this month.

These details, however, are more than just a historical curiosity: When Collins ran for another term in 2018, he was a suspected felon, facing credible criminal allegations. He nevertheless maintained Republican support — at the local and national level — en route to his re-election victory.

Jacobs, however, faced a very different set of partisan circumstances. Collins may have maintained GOP backing after facing felony corruption charges, but Jacobs found himself without Republican allies after expressing support for potentially life-saving gun measures.

Indeed, what’s perhaps most striking about Jacobs’ decision is what we’re learning about the uncrossable lines in GOP politics. Republican members get arrested and are charged with corruption? “Let’s not be too hasty,” the GOP says. Members associate with white nationalists? “They probably didn’t mean anything by that,” the GOP says. Members refuse to honor the results of free and fair elections? “No problem at all,” the GOP says.

But it’d be an overstatement to argue that the contemporary Republican Party will tolerate literally everything. For example, much of the party will turn on their own members if they denounce Donald Trump.

And as Jacobs can attest, the GOP will also abandon members who have the audacity to want to prevent mass shootings.

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