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Republican Rep. Jacobs won't seek reelection after he changed his stance on guns

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There has been another shooting, this one outside Birmingham, Ala., at a church. Two people are dead and a third wounded. Police say a gunman, who's now in custody, opened fire last night on a small group meeting inside the church. It is just the latest in a series of shootings that's prompted Congress to try and take action. Republican Congressman Chris Jacobs represents communities in western New York, not far from the Buffalo grocery store where a gunman killed 10 people in a racist attack. After that shooting, Jacobs said he would back a federal ban on assault weapons. Days later, he dropped his reelection bid. Our co-host, Steve Inskeep, asked him why.

CHRIS JACOBS: I represent the suburbs of Erie County, where Buffalo is. So I don't represent where the massacre happened, but I grew up in the city, consider it, certainly, my hometown. And I knew one of the individuals who perished. But more so, many of my colleagues that I served on the school board with were African American, who knew many of those people. And so, you know, as I said, I hope I'm being compassionate when I've heard of incidents and - that have happened around the country over the years. But it's certainly markedly different when it happens in your hometown. And I spent a lot of time the next couple of weeks talking to a lot of people on this issue of gun control and many in law enforcement, many supporters of the Second Amendment.

And I view myself as a supporter of the Second Amendment. I was the Erie county clerk. The clerks in New York state run the pistol permitting division. So you know, I spent a lot of time helping people avail themselves of the Second Amendment right. But when I talked to people on - that were supporters of the Second Amendment, their view that no additional restrictions were merited, you know, their rationale that I listened to them just didn't ring true. And, you know, look; I'm very supportive of, you know, more security in our schools, of - we certainly do have a mental health crisis in this country. We need to work on that.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Right.

JACOBS: But to leave guns off the table, any sort of gun control, I just thought was intellectually dishonest.

INSKEEP: If I can ask, what did you then propose?

JACOBS: So I - you know, I'm in the midst of - or was in the midst of running for reelection. And the part of the district outside Erie County, where Buffalo is, is quite rural, big supporters of gun rights. And I just felt I needed to be honest where my head was at, you know? I said publicly that I've thought a lot about this. And my views have altered here. And if an assault weapons ban came to the House floor, I would vote for it. And then I said, I'm not sure if it will. I don't think it will. I don't think it'll pass the Senate, but I would vote for it. But in lieu of that, here are some other things that I think could make a difference. And I said I would be supportive of the idea of raising the age for assault weapons to - from 18 to 21, also, the magazine limit, that I would support a magazine limit. I don't know why anybody needs a magazine with 50 rounds in it.

Then one issue specific to what happened in Buffalo at the supermarket where the massacre happened - the retired police officer, Aaron Salter, who was the security guard at the supermarket, he tried to take out the shooter. But the shooter had military-grade body armor on his body and on his head, a helmet. And with - Aaron Salter's gun could not take him out. As a result, he was murdered. And then the majority of the other murders happened in the store. So if that individual did not have body armor, things could be a lot different. So I'm co-sponsoring legislation here in the House to put restrictions on who can obtain body armor. I don't know why any person under the sun can get it. I think you should be, you know, law enforcement or a security guard or something related to a rational reason. But that - I don't think everybody should get that. So that's something I'm working on as well.

INSKEEP: What kind of response did you get from your party?

JACOBS: It was pretty resounding. You know, I was, I believe, on a pretty good path towards victory in my election, my primary, which is in August. And every Republican-elected official that had endorsed me withdrew their endorsement. Every committee - party committee did the same. The Republican and Conservative Party started circulating petitions to put other people to run against me. So it was a pretty swift response.

INSKEEP: And they didn't just say, we disagree with you. They said, you are now unacceptable to us.

JACOBS: Right. So you know, I think that's - you know, I've said this is a problem I think we have in our party is, clearly, I've verified any question that - you know, the issue of guns, you have to have a one-size-fits-all view on this. And if not, you're not acceptable to the Republican Party right now. I would say, you know, on the Democrats, it might be something like abortion. So I don't think that is good for either party, to have that kind of view that you have to adhere 100% to a dogma. And I think it's one reason that things don't work here in Washington and why we're so polarized. So you know, I'm not abandoning my party. I will continue to fight for what I believe. I want to do anything I can the time I'm here remaining in Congress and outside Congress to make sure I can say that I did everything I can so no other community needs - has to go through what Buffalo is going through right now or what those parents who lost their beautiful children - happened in Uvalde and the many, many other tragedies.

INSKEEP: Congressman Jacobs, thanks for taking the time.

JACOBS: Thank you very much, appreciate it.

MARTIN: Republican Congressman Chris Jacobs from western New York state. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.