Christie slams N.J. Democrats for gun veto override attempt

By Brent Johnson | NJ Advance Media for
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on October 04, 2015

TRENTON — In the wake of last week's deadly mass shooting at an Oregon community college, Gov. Chris Christie repeated a call Sunday that he's made after similar incidents: Rather than passing stricter gun control laws, the U.S. needs to do "some tough things on mental health."

But this time, the Republican presidential candidate also admonished the Democrats who control New Jersey's state Senate, criticizing them for recently trying to override his veto of a mental health-related gun bill instead of considering his suggestions to strengthen it.

Christie made the comments on ABC's "This Week" four days after a shooter killed nine people and wounded nine others at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Ore., on Thursday. The governor called the incident an "an awful tragedy."

"It's terrible," he said.

Host George Stephanopoulos asked Christie if there's a correlation between the fact that New Jersey has the second-toughest gun control laws in the U.S. and one of the nation's lowest murder rates. A 2014 study by the Violence Policy Center that found New Jersey had the fifth-lowest gun death rate of any state.

Christie said he doesn't think there's a connection and pivoted the conversation to mental illness.

"I'm very concerned about the mental health side of this," he said. "And I put forward a proposal to the Legislature last year and then again just about seven or eight weeks ago in response to a bill they sent saying: Let's do some tough things on mental health. Let's make involuntary commitment of people who speak violently easier for doctors."

The bill Christie referenced drew controversy in the state Senate two weeks ago.

In March, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the measure, which would require that police be alerted when people seeking a gun permit in New Jersey ask a judge to expunge their commitment to a psychiatric hospital from their record. No Republican members of the Senate voted against it. 

But Christie vetoed the bill and instead 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."

Democratic leaders in the Senate tried to override Christie's veto on Sept. 24 — but the attempt failed, with only three of the Republican senators who voted for the bill in March voting in favor of the override.

Republicans said they sided against the override because they are working on an alternative reform package based on Christie's suggestions.

A report by the FBI in 2014 found that even though homicides have fallen overall in the U.S., mass shootings have risen drastically over the last seven years. 

Stephanopoulos asked Christie on Sunday what is "so unique about American culture and American psychology" that contributes to that rise. The governor repeated his message about mental illness.

"It's a really complex problem, but I think it's about the mental health issues, George, and I don't think we're as aggressive as we should be," Christie said. "And that's why I put the proposals for New Jersey.

"And here's the bad thing about the politics of this," he continued. "I've put this proposal forward twice and my legislature — a Democratic legislature in New Jerse —  has ignored it. You know why? Because it doesn't create headlines. It's not taking away anybody's guns. It doesn't create a headline. So they don't want to deal with it.

"They tried to override a veto of — of a bill that I put forward when my substitute bill was to get tougher on mental health," Christie added. "Maybe this morning, the legislature in New Jersey will see what happened in Oregon and get tougher on the mental health issues to help these folks. We don't want to involuntarily commit them, to put them away. We want to protect others and get them the help they need."

State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D-Gloucester) has said he will continue put the override up for a vote until it passes.

In a statement to NJ Advance Media, Sweeney said that though "we don't yet have all the information" about the Oregon shootings or a "full understanding of the shooter's profile, background or motives," the incident is "another senseless act of violence."

He added that Democrats were determined to pass the bill to "keep firearms out of the hands of potentially dangerous people who try to get their mental health records expunged so they can purchase a gun."

"The courts asked for this bill, the law enforcement community supports it and every Democrat and Republican who was present voted for it before it was vetoed," Sweeney said. "It's a common-sense bill that would improve public safety. I will bring it up for another vote and give every legislator who reversed themselves another opportunity to do the right thing and vote for the override."

In a passionate speech at the White House hours after the shooting Thursday, President Obama called for tighter gun control legislation.

"I've had to make statements like this too many times," Obama said. "Communities like this have had to endure tragedies like this too many times."

But many of the Republicans running for their party's 2016 presidential nomination said tougher laws are not the answer and that the focus should be on treating mental health. 

Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who is leading the GOP race in the polls, said during a rally in Franklin, Tenn., on Saturday criticized the "gun-free zone" at Oregon college where the shooting took place. 

"If you had a couple of teachers with guns in that room you would have been a hell of a lot better off," said Trump, a former Atlantic City casino tycoon.

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