Gov. Christie on Monday again conditionally vetoed a bill requiring domestic violence offenders to surrender firearms, saying current law already covers the issue.
The Republican governor said in a veto message that the bill would place "redundant restrictions on firearms ownership while ignoring the larger problem of domestic violence." Current law requires officers to seize a person's weapons when there is probable cause to believe the person has committed domestic violence, said Christie, who vetoed a version of the bill last year.
Backers say the bill would establish a formal process for the surrender of firearms, strengthening existing law and enabling courts to hold offenders accountable for failing to turn over guns.
The bill would require sentencing courts to tell defendants convicted of domestic violence that they are prohibited from owning firearms, and to arrange for the immediate surrender of firearms, purchaser identification cards, and permits to a law enforcement officer.
The bill also would require defendants to testify that they had surrendered firearms or do not own any, and permit courts to order a search for firearms if there is probable cause to believe a defendant has failed to surrender them.
It also would pertain to restraining orders, requiring courts issuing final restraining orders to arrange for immediate surrender of firearms, cards and permits to a law enforcement officer.
"It's disappointing Gov. Christie put the interests of the gun lobby and his own political ambitions ahead of New Jersey families," said Robin Lloyd, state legislative director of Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization founded by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, that advocates for prevention of gun violence.
Opponents had argued that the bill could unfairly restrict rights of nonviolent offenders, based on how domestic violence is defined in New Jersey. For instance, the opponents assert, an argument or harassment could be considered domestic violence and should not have to lead to forfeiture of a weapon.
"Seizure and forfeiture of guns, and loss of gun rights, should not apply where there is no violent act," the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs wrote in a position paper objecting to the legislation.
The association's executive director, Scott L. Bach, said Monday that the group welcomed the governor's conditional veto and "his efforts to severely punish those who commit violent crime, regardless of whether they happen to be gun owners."
In his veto message, Christie said he proposed changes to the bill that would increase criminal penalties for domestic violence and codify regulations recently adopted by the state Attorney General's Office to expedite the processing of firearms permits for domestic violence victims.
The new regulations are a product of a commission announced by Christie last year on the eve of his entry into the presidential race. The governor, who dropped out of the race in February, had faced skepticism from Second Amendment supporters on the campaign trail over his gun record in New Jersey.