TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — Gov. Chris Christie will face a gun-related challenge on Thursday from New Jersey Democrats who are mindful that the issue could be politically painful on the campaign trail.
The state Senate is expected to vote on overriding the Republican governor’s veto of a bill that requires law enforcement officials to be notified when potential gun-buyers seek to have mental health records erased. Instead, Christie is calling for a broader overhaul of how the state treats mental health issues and says he supports a compromise from Minority Leader Tom Kean Jr.
This is the latest fight between Christie, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination in a crowded field of conservatives, and the Democrats who set the agenda in the Legislature. Democrats say the governor’s position has more to do with the early balloting states of Iowa and New Hampshire, where gun control is less popular than in New Jersey. The governor has said he is willing to consider legislation as long as it has “common sense to it.”
A closer look at Christie and the issue of guns:
THE 2ND AMENDMENT
Christie has not always been contrary to gun legislation. For example, he criticized Republican opponents in an Assembly primary in 1995 for opposing an assault weapons ban, calling their position radical. As governor he has signed bills that prohibit people on the federal terror watch list from buying guns and another measure that requires the state to send certain mental-health records to the federal background check system.
And in early 2013, a task force Christie convened recommended limiting sales of a .50-caliber long-range rifle. Christie called the suggestion “narrowly crafted.” But in September 2013, he vetoed a bill that would have outlawed all .50-caliber weapons, saying the measure would criminalize a whole class of weapons.
With a Democratic Legislature frequently at odds with him, the governor has embraced pardons as a way of showing — in his words — how New Jersey’s tough gun laws can be illogical and unjust.
Last month he pardoned three people arrested on charges of illegally carrying guns that could properly be transported in their home states. In April, he notably pardoned Shaneen Allen, a Philadelphia woman arrested in October 2013 in Hamilton Township after telling a state trooper she had a handgun and a concealed-carry permit. New Jersey did not recognize the Pennsylvania permit, and she was arrested and charged under its strict gun laws.
Christie’s decision won quick praise from the National Rifle Association.
“When people legally own guns in other states and they come in here as these folks did and they voluntarily admit to police officers during other interactions that they carry a gun and they’re carrying legally with a license from another state and they’re arrested and face jail time for that, I think that’s completely illogical and it’s not just,” he said recently.
Democrats have failed to override Christie’s veto more than 50 times because Republicans would not defy Christie. They came close on during a test vote on the mental-health legislation, which passed the Senate and Assembly unanimously, and hope they can persuade the Republicans who previously supported it. An override would be a blow for Christie, who has touted his flawless record on vetoes while campaigning.
If the Senate succeeds in overriding the governor, it’s not the end of the line for the legislation. The Assembly would then have to consider it. Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr. also says he is working on a compromise bill that would require law-enforcement notification when anyone — not just possible gun-buyers — seeks to erase a mental health record. Christie said he supports Kean’s efforts.