Christie vetoes gun bill supported by N.J. Republicans & Democrats

By Matt Arco | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
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on August 10, 2015

TRENTON — Gov. Chris Christie on Monday rejected a bill that would have required people trying to erase their mental health records so they can purchase a firearm to first notify state and local police. 

The bill (S2360) had received overwhelming support from Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature, with no lawmaker voting against it in either house. 

Christie, who has noticeably tacked to the right on gun issues as he campaigns for president, told lawmakers in his conditional veto that he couldn't support "fragmented statues that add further confusion to an already cumbersome area of law."

Instead, the Republican governor sent back language to lawmakers that proposed sweeping changes to the state's mental health system. 

The legislation proposed requiring anyone seeking to have their mental health records expunged to purchase a firearm to notify the State Police, their county prosecutor and their local police department when petitioning the court. Current gun laws prevent people with certain mental health histories from purchasing firearms.

Supporters of the bill criticized Christie's move to nix the proposal on Monday, describing it as a common sense gun measure. 

"With the issues of the mass shootings throughout the United States with people with mental illnesses who acquire firearms through loopholes, this is a path to minimize that," said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), a sponsor of the bill.

"I don't see law enforcement involvement in his response," he said. "His veto is off base."

The bill passed the Assembly by a 74-0 vote with six lawmakers not voting on the bill and it cleared the Senate by a 38-0, with 2 senators not voting. Such margins are easily enough for lawmakers to overturn Christie's veto, but the governor has never been overridden by the Legislature since taking office in 2010. In several instances, Republican lawmakers who had supported bills he vetoed refused to go along with an override attempt.

Instead, Christie proposed a new standard for involuntary commitment of patients who are not necessarily deemed dangerous "but whose mental illness, if untreated, could deteriorate to the point of harm."

Christie also proposed new standards for recommending patients for involuntary outpatient treatment, "streamlining" patient transfers between inpatient and outpatient programs, new training programs for first responders likely to encounter unstable people with "modern techniques for de-escalation," and to require people forced to undergo mental health treatment to demonstrate "adequate medical evidence of suitability" if they want to get a firearms purchase identification card.

The governor recommended similar mental health changes when he vetoed a gun control bill in July 2014 that would have reduced the permitted size of ammunition magazines, saying it would do nothing to reduce gun violence. At the time of the veto, parents of first graders who were killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting criticized the governor for they claimed was a "cowardly political move."

The governor has since touted the size of ammunition magazines veto while courting Republican voters in New Hampshire and Iowa, home to the first round of presidential voting, as well as conservative Republicans who have expressed skepticism over supporting a GOP governor of a Democratic-leaning state that has among the nation's toughest gun laws. 

Christie's most fiery out-of-state town hall exchange to date had to do with a question from an Iowa man on the governor's position on gun reform.

A short time before he officially kicked off his 2016 campaign, Christie acknowledged gun rights could be a thorny issue for him among conservative voters while in South Carolina. 

But he told southern conservatives that his Democratic predecessors are to blame for any perception of his lack of support for gun rights.

"I know there's a lot of perception about my view on gun rights because I'm from New Jersey and because the laws are the way they are, but these laws were being made long before I was governor and no new ones have been made since I've been governor," he said at the town hall meeting in Columbia South Carolina.

Christie has actually signed several gun-related laws, including measures to ban those on the federal terrorism watch list from purchasing firearms, to require the state to submit data on those who should be barred from purchasing the weapons to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and to increase penalties for unlawful possession of firearms.

The governor also proposed banning sales of the .50 caliber rifle — one of the most powerful weapons available to civilians — before reversing course and vetoing legislation that would have banned it.

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