New Jersey Governor Chris Christie answers a question during a campaign event in Manville, New Jersey, Monday, May 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Last week, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed ten measures related to gun control, including some that are mildly controversial in the pro-gun community: one bill would mandate that New Jersey’s background-check system cross-reference the federal terror watch list, while another would call for the submission of New Jersey mental health records into the federal background check system.
But some crucial bills remain unsigned, including a “national model” for universal background checks, and a ban on .50-caliber weapons. Christie’s office told The Nation last week that no decision has yet been made on those bills—and this week, many of the national forces in the gun control debate are starting to ramp up the pressure.
Mark Kelly, the husband of former Representative Gabby Giffords and a leading voice in the gun law reform movement—not to mention a native New Jerseyan—penned an op-ed in the Newark Star-Ledger today asking Christie to sign the bills:
Gov. Chris Christie and I have much in common.
We’re both straight-talking, no-nonsense sons of New Jersey who grew up in neighboring towns. We’ve devoted years to public service and protecting American communities. We have wives and kids we love dearly. I haven’t always agreed with everything he’s said or done, but I’d like to think we share a belief that we must prevent gun violence and also protect gun rights—and that there are moderate, common-sense policies that do both.
That’s why I’m asking the governor to sign the “centerpiece” gun safety bill sitting on his desk. The bill is simple and sensible: It would expand background checks on gun purchases and safety training for gun owners, and tighten penalties for letting guns fall into the hands of children. These basic measures are supported by just about every group you could think of: gun owners and non-gun owners, Democrats and Republicans and independents, business owners and faith leaders, law enforcement and medical professionals.
Meanwhile the Star-Ledger and another major newspaper in the state, The Times of Trenton, published editorials also asking Christie to sign the bills. The Star-Ledger editorial was particularly strong-worded and said “a veto would be a cynical blow to public safety, and a slap in the face of this state.”
As we noted last week, while Christie almost certainly won’t lose the gubernatorial election this fall, a significant amount of his political capital is invested in the idea that he has broad bipartisan appeal in a blue state. Anything that significantly dents his victory margin or poll numbers is a non-trivial threat to his political future—and in the general presidential election, should he make it there, a veto of universal background checks for gun purchases could be significantly damaging.
But of course Christie has to first make it through the GOP presidential primaries, and a majority of self-identified conservative Republicans wouldn’t vote for a candidate with whom they disagreed on gun control even if they agreed with him or her on everything else.
So far, the reaction in the pro-gun community to Christi’s signing last week’s bills has been fairly muted.
Scott Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, joined the National Rifle Association’s “Cam & Co.” show and declined to bash Christie for signing the measures.
Instead, he urged the audience to take a constructive approach. “It’s a little agonizing, after all this time and effort, to have these three bills dangling out there, but right now the message to gun owners is, keep contacting the governor’s office,” he said. “It’s pretty important right now that anyone who cares about this issue, anybody who wants to let Governor Christie know this is an important issue to them, if they’re looking at him as a potential presidential candidate, should weigh in with his office immediately and let him know to veto the last three gun bills on his desk. That’s absolutely critical right now.”
With crucial bills still unsigned, George Zornick writes about what is at stake for Christie and gun control debate.