Last night, at the start of the weekly 36-hour lull in the 24/7 news cycle, Gov. Christie announced his three most controversial vetoes of 2013. (The rejection of these anti-gun bills came shortly after issuing another veto on another highly controversial bill.) Here's my story in today's Inquirer:
Gov. Christie rejected three major pieces of gun-control legislation Friday that Democrats passed following last year's fatal school shootings in Connecticut.
Despite proposing a ban on purchases of the Barrett .50-caliber gun and similar weapons in April, Christie vetoed a bill that would have done just that. He said Friday that the bill went too far, in that it would have criminalized current and future ownership of all .50-caliber guns, which have never been used in crimes in New Jersey, but are used by marksmen for long-range, precision shooting.
Christie also vetoed - and returned to the Legislature with dozens of suggested changes - a bill that would have created a background-check system to keep guns out of the hands of those who aren't allowed to own them, such as criminals and the mentally ill. The bill would have encoded gun-permit information on driver's licenses, created a database to allow gun dealers to instantly check whether a person is qualified to buy a firearm, required gun owners to complete a safety-training course, and stiffened penalties for adults who let minors access weapons.
Christie said legislators ignored his task force's broad recommendations to address the root causes and effects of violence on society and, instead, focused on gun control. "We should focus our collective efforts . . . on hidden dangers in our everyday entertainment, not merely obvious hazards; on the sometimes upsetting and difficult dimensions of mental illness that are easier ignored than confronted," Christie said in his veto message. "Portions of this bill . . . all meet those goals. But we must be willing to do more."
Christie said he supports the idea of a firearms ID card, but the Democrats' proposal creating such a system was not feasible because the technology doesn't exist to create it, and legislators failed to identify ways to pay for it.
How Christie handled the antigun bills was widely viewed in the national press as an indication of how he would balance his campaign for reelection in largely Democratic New Jersey and his political future in a possible Republican presidential primary, where pro-gun voters dominate.
The Republican governor acted on the bills at what is considered a dead time for media coverage - Friday night - which furthered the view among political observers that he sought to appeal to national Republicans down the road while avoiding much immediate publicity for the vetoes within the state.
Moments after Christie's vetoes came down, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray tweeted: "Which governor 'announced' today that he's running for the GOP nomination in 2016? [Gov. Christie], of course!"
A group called Pro-Gun New Hampshire had lobbied against the bills that Christie vetoed, noting that the state is among the first to vote in Republican primaries. The group instructed supporters: "Tell him you're watching with 2016 in mind."
Democratic anger at Christie's actions was swift. "Today is a dark day for New Jersey," Assemblyman Louis Greenwald (D., Camden) said in a statement. "With the stroke of his veto pen, Chris Christie has put New Jersey communities at risk of serious gun violence." Greenwald said that Christie "has put his national political ambitions ahead of protecting New Jersey's families from being ripped apart by senseless gun violence."
Added Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex), in a statement: "Instead of doing what's right for New Jersey, he bowed to the pressures of his political party."
Christie's opponent in the November election, State Sen. Barbara Buono (D., Middlesex), issued a statement saying that Christie "has made his priorities clear - the wishes of right-wing, fringe Republicans in Iowa and New Hampshire are more important than protecting children and families in the Garden State." She added: "He assumes that he will be leaving New Jersey for Washington, D.C., and is therefore willing to let citizens, law enforcement and legislators in the streets of Newark, Trenton and Camden deal with the consequences of today's decision."
In Christie's third veto, he sent a bill back to the Legislature that would have required law-enforcement officers to report information on missing guns to federal databases. He said he wanted legislators to make a "minor change" that would not codify a provision allowing public disclosure of federal ballistics data. He said that provision would violate federal law.
Christie did sign one gun bill into law, which would create a school-violence task force.
Earlier this month, Christie signed 10 mostly noncontroversial gun bills into law.
Other guns bills have stalled in the Legislature, such as a proposal to limit firearms magazines to 10 rounds rather than the current maximum of 15.