This Republican law maker wants to require a license for semiautomatic rifle buyers


Jerry Zremski

The Buffalo News, N.Y.

WASHINGTON — Gun rights advocates may have, in effect, driven Rep. Chris Jacobs out of Congress — but they’re not stopping him from devoting his remaining months in office to searching for a compromise that would make it harder to acquire semiautomatic weapons that critics call assault weapons.

On Monday, Jacobs, an Orchard Park Republican, plans to introduce a bill called the Federal Assault Weapons Licensing Act. Acknowledging that there’s virtually no way the legislation could pass in the current Congress, Jacobs said he is offering it up as food for thought for the future — as a way to control such semiautomatic weapons in a nation that refuses to ban them.

“My hope is that I’m putting forth a compromise idea that would be very substantive and make a big beneficial impact in trying to significantly curtail what we don’t want to see again, what we saw here in Buffalo,” said Jacobs, referring to the May 14 mass shooting at a Tops supermarket on Jefferson Avenue that claimed 10 lives.

Under Jacobs’ proposal, people who currently own such semiautomatic weapons would be allowed to keep them, no questions asked. But anyone who wants to buy such a weapon would have to obtain a license.

To do that, buyers would have to take a firearms safety course, pass an FBI background check, get fingerprinted, submit proof of identity and pay a $130 fee, which would be used to fund the new licensing regimen. The license would have to be renewed after five years if the purchaser wanted to buy additional such weapons.

Active-duty military personnel and law enforcement officers would be exempt from the licensing requirement. In addition, people without a license would be allowed to use semiautomatic weapons at shooting ranges or when they are hunting if they are accompanied by a license-holder. People would also be allowed to use them without a license in an attempt to protect others from death or serious injury.

Jacobs said his proposal would not require any changes in states like New York that already have licensing requirements for semiautomatic weapons purchases. The provision covering rifles like the AR-15 was part of a new law passed after the Tops shooting. But Jacobs’ bill would mean a big change in the many states where people can walk into a gun shop and quickly buy a semiautomatic weapon so long as they pass an instant background check.

Under Jacobs’ bill, the process of buying a semiautomatic weapon could take up to 30 days — which, he said, could deter mass shooters who appear to be acting on sudden violent urges.

“These requirements are going to lead to more gun safety and, I think, be a deterrent to those who want to quickly act upon dangerous impulses,” Jacobs said in an interview.

These requirements — which would affect certain rifles, shotguns and pistols — are unlikely to become law anytime soon, though, Jacobs acknowledged.

In the Democrat-controlled House, many Democrats remain wedded to a semiautomatic weapons ban — a move that Jacobs himself came to support, and vote for, after the Tops massacre. But in the Senate, Republicans have the power to block any substantive legislation — and most Republican voters remain so vehemently in favor of gun rights that local GOP leaders essentially forced Jacobs to abandon his re-election bid after he called for such a ban.

Jacobs said he has not yet sought any co-sponsors for the bill, although he plans to do so after introducing it.

To hear Jacobs tell it, just because his bill can’t pass today doesn’t mean that it will never pass. He said his proposal may eventually prove palatable to Republicans who favor gun rights yet who are concerned about mass shootings like those that took place this year in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas.

The legislation, he said, is the byproduct of his search for ways to minimize the likelihood of such massacres.

“Maybe there is another way of achieving this that would be more acceptable to those right now who are not willing to support a ban,” he said. “These are obviously very highly powerful and highly lethal instruments, and I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say there’s a heightened level of requirement to get that. Having a license, I think, is quite reasonable.”

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