IMAGE CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK/DYLAN PETROHILOS, THINKPROGRESS
Christie is not a stranger to vetoing bills; he has vetoed more legislation than any other governor in New Jersey history, something he bragged about on his presidential campaign website. But the timing of this particular veto — aligning so closely with his run for national office and rightward shift on gun policy — struck many in the state as more than coincidence.
Historically, domestic violence bills that seek to protect victims from gun violence have been some of the most successful gun control bills in the country. In 2014, Wisconsin State Representative Garey Bies, a Republican, successfully pushed for a law that streamlined the process for the surrender of guns from those subject to domestic abuse injunctions — and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who has an A+ rating from the National Rifle Association’s political action committee, signed the bill into law.
“Domestic violence laws should not be controversial.”
“In the past three to five years, across the country, you’ve seen a tremendous number of domestic violence bills pass and be passed by Democratic or Republican governors,” Americans for Responsible Solutions’ Lloyd said. “There is a lot of support for these policies. Domestic violence laws should not be controversial.”
So why has Christie — who received a C grade from the NRA before his reelection in 2013 — been so staunchly opposed to this type of law in New Jersey?
“He could make up whatever he wanted to make up, what it was about was his presidential aspirations and New Hampshire, that’s how I look at it,” Senator Weinberg said.
Christie’s opposition to the legislation, for the most part, aligns with his general rightward shift on guns in the months leading up to, and throughout, his failed bid for the Republican presidential nomination. In a crowded field, Christie’s track-record on gun legislation immediately set him apart from his competition, and not in a way that bolstered the governor’s chances of courting conservative voters.
In April of 2015, he was the only potential presidential candidate to not be invited to speak at the NRA’s annual conference. Compared with the likes of Walker, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) — all of whom boast A+ ratings from the NRA — Christie’s C grade was an anchor around his conservative bid for the White House. In response to the NRA’s apparent snub, Christie gave a speech in New Hampshire calling for gun laws that protect both public safety and “people’s rights both as sportsmen and hunters and for self protection,” a more centrist position than he had taken previously.
Christie announced his candidacy on June 30, 2015 — five days after New Jersey legislators passed the domestic violence bill for the first time, and a mere 14 hours after Christie announced that New Jersey Attorney General John Hoffman was filing new regulations that would expedite the review process for applications of domestic violence victims seeking firearms. Guns-rights activists have long called for victims of domestic violence to have easier access to guns, and some saw Christie’s embrace of the idea as further proof of his political shift on gun issues.
Later that summer, again at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, Christie moved even further to the right on guns, telling a questioner during a campaign stop that “we don’t need to pass new [gun control] laws,” and that there were “plenty of laws on the books.”
Christie repeated his suggestion that victims of domestic violence should enjoy an expedited review process when applying for firearms in his first conditional veto of the New Jersey domestic violence bill, which he sent to the legislature on November 9, 2015 — the day after he was bumped off the mainstage of a Republican presidential debate due to low poll numbers.
In campaign stops across the country, as well as on the debate stage, Christie used his recent actions as governor — his veto of the domestic violence bill, his veto of a bill that would have banned high capacity magazines, his pardon of half-a-dozen gun owners convicted of violating New Jersey’s gun transport law — to create an image of a politician that gun owners could support. And while his shift didn’t earn him any financial contributions from the NRA, the New York Times reported that it did earn him the tentative endorsement of a former New Hampshire state senator and guns rights activist, who told the paper that Christie had become “somebody that I could support.”
Even after he dropped out of the race — endorsing eventual nominee Donald Trump in February of 2016 — Christie continued to grasp for relevance on the national conservative stage. His endorsement of Trump, and subsequent high-profile appearances alongside the candidate over the next several months, fueled speculation that Christie was auditioning to be Trump’s running mate.
Christie appears with Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at a stop in New Jersey, days before his second conditional veto. CREDIT: AP Photo/Mel Evans
Christie’s second conditional veto — which also included a push for an expedited review process for domestic violence victims applying to purchase a gun — came in late May, as speculation around Trump’s vice presidential pick began ratcheting up. Trump, who has held various views about gun control in his lifetime, has run his campaign on a decidedly pro-NRA platform, a feeling that any potential running mate would ostensibly need to mirror. (Trump’s eventual pick, Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN), has an A-rating from the NRA.)
In conditionally vetoing the domestic violence bill twice, and twice insisting that the bill include provisions that would expedite the review process for victims of domestic violence seeking a firearm, Christie steered his position decidedly in line with guns-rights advocates — but domestic violence and gun safety advocates worry that it could come at the expense of public safety.
“Something that we have talked about pretty extensively with domestic violence advocates is that’s not actually a solution,” Americans for Responsible Solutions’ Robin Lloyd said. “There is this narrative that if you are armed with a gun you can defend yourself, but the presence of a gun in the home where there is a domestic violence incident regardless of who is the owner increases the danger of the situation dramatically.”
And domestic violence and gun safety experts have research to back this up — a multi-state study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2003 found that the risk of homicide went up by 500 percent when a gun was present in domestic violence situations — regardless of who owned the gun in the first place.
“Even if the gun hasn’t been used, or if [the victim] hasn’t necessarily been shot at, just the presence of a gun in the home makes it increasingly dangerous to her,” Qudsia Raja, director of policy at the National Domestic Violence Hotline, said.