GOP congressman drops re-election bid after blowback over support for gun ban

On Friday morning, we reported that New York Rep. Chris Jacobs, a Republican from western New York who declared that he’d vote for a ban on so-called assault weapons, restrictions on magazines, and other gun control measures in the wake of the mass shooting at a Buffalo grocery store, was facing a sudden primary challenge over his about-face on the Second Amendment. Well, Jacobs no longer has to worry about fending off a primary opponent, because he’s not going to be on the ballot.

Friday was the deadline for Jacobs to drop out of the race, and yesterday afternoon the first-term Republican announced his decision to end his re-election campaign after the overwhelming response he received from constituents who object to his newfound fondness for criminalizing the right to keep and bear arms.

“We have a problem in our country in terms of both our major parties. If you stray from a party position, you are annihilated,” Mr. Jacobs said on Friday. “For the Republicans, it became pretty apparent to me over the last week that that issue is gun control. Any gun control.”

Citing the thousands of gun permits he had issued as Erie County clerk, Mr. Jacobs stressed that he was a supporter of the Second Amendment and wanted to avoid a brutal intraparty fight that would have been inevitable had he stayed in the race.

But he warned Republicans that their “absolute position on this” would hurt the party in the long run.

“Look, if you’re not going to take a stand on something like this, I don’t know what you’re going to take a stand on,” Mr. Jacobs added.

First off, Jacobs wasn’t just calling for “any” gun control. He was demanding Congress ban the most commonly-sold rifle in the country and magazines that are in the possession tens of millions of gun owners. And while it’s great that Jacobs approved “thousands of gun permits” while he was Erie County clerk, that was also his job. His current position includes an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and he ran for office and was elected two years ago on the promise of defending the right to keep and bear arms. He shouldn’t be shocked or surprised to learn that many conservatives in his district, who’ve seen the ineffectiveness of sweeping gun control laws like New York’s SAFE ACT firsthand, aren’t eager for Congress to replicate those mistakes and constitutional infringements on the federal level.

“His heart is in a good place, but he’s wrong in his thinking as far as we are concerned,” said Ralph C. Lorigo, the longtime chairman of the Erie County Conservative Party. “This quick jump that all of the sudden it’s the gun that kills people as opposed to the person is certainly not 100 percent true.”

Mr. Lorigo said he had vouched for Mr. Jacobs earlier this year when other conservatives doubted him. But this past Monday, he demanded the congressman come to his office and made clear he would encourage a primary challenge.

“He understood that this was potentially political suicide,” Mr. Lorigo said.

Even before he made his decision, several Republicans were already lining up to run against Mr. Jacobs, angered at both his comments and the way in which he had surprised fellow members of his party, including some who had already endorsed him.

“We deserved the courtesy of a heads up,” said State Senator George Borrello, a second-term Republican from Irving, N.Y., south of Buffalo, who said he did not believe that Mr. Jacobs’s remarks were “an off-the-cuff emotional response,” but were planned in advance.

Mr. Borrello, who said on Friday that he was now considering running for the seat, added that Mr. Jacobs’s actions were particularly galling considering the congressman had “actively and aggressively” sought out the support of pro-gun groups like the N.R.A. and the 1791 Society.

“And those people rightfully feel betrayed,” he said.

I honestly wish that Jacobs had decided to stay in the race, if only to finally demonstrate that the type of gun control laws he embraced aren’t nearly as popular with the electorate as public polling makes them out to be. If broad swathes of the electorate are truly eager to see bans on “assault weapons” and “large capacity” magazines, then Jacobs’ comments should have helped him with voters. Instead, his own internal polling apparently showed he “may have still had a path to re-election, though not an easy one,” according to the New York Times, which I translate as “he was going to get his butt handed to him”.

I guess we’ll never know for sure, but Jacobs certainly seems convinced that was what his future held if he stayed in the race. I have no idea who will be the Republican candidate for NY-27, but I guarantee they’re not going to be campaigning on turning tens of thousands of their constituents into criminals for keeping ahold of the guns and magazines they lawfully purchased and responsibly possess.

Aug 18, 2022 5:30 PM ET