WHIPPANY - Gov. Christie described his political philosophy, including his belief that individual rights are derived from God, in front of a crowd Tuesday that included several people he grew up with.
At a town-hall-style meeting in a packed community center in Morris County, the Republican governor - who said he would decide on a 2016 presidential campaign in "the next three months" - responded to a question from a gun-rights supporter by saying his authority to change existing state laws was limited.
"The Democrats who run the Legislature right now have absolutely no interest in doing anything other than further restricting your Second Amendment rights, which I've vetoed any number of times," Christie said.
Last year, he vetoed a bill that would have reduced New Jersey's gun magazine-capacity limit. He has supported other measures, including increasing penalties for gun trafficking.
"In terms of what's already on the books, believe me, there's a whole list of things I would change," Christie said. "I'd cut taxes by executive order, too, if I could, but I can't."
As he responded to the question on gun rights, Christie said that "all our rights are given to us by God," not by the government.
It was the second time during the 90-minute meeting that Christie spoke of rights coming from God. He also articulated his support for states' rights: "It was the states that created the federal government, not the federal government that created the states. We need to get back to that philosophy."
And he offered advice for fellow Republican candidates. "You better be straight, honest, direct, blunt, and understandable," Christie said. "Focus on what you believe in and how most effectively to communicate that to people."
As he has in similar meetings around the state in recent weeks, Christie made his argument for pension and health benefits changes for public workers, saying the state could not afford overly generous benefits granted under past administrations.
He slipped in an attack on leadership in Washington, saying the federal government was paying for entitlement programs by "borrowing money from the Chinese every year."
Brian McClain, a shop steward for public-works employees in Hanover Township, questioned Christie's cuts to the state's scheduled contributions into the pension system - a $2.4 billion reduction over two years that Christie made last year to fill a revenue shortfall.
Workers "want you to make the payment," McClain, 57, told Christie.
"We simply don't have the money," said Christie, who is appealing a state court ruling that his cuts violated the contractual rights of workers.
A commission appointed by Christie has recommended freezing pension plans, reducing health benefits, and applying the savings to pension costs. The governor said he was committed to improving the system's outlook.
"I want to be the guy who - you may say he's an SOB, I can't believe what he's doing - but 10 years from now, when your pension's there, you can look up my address on the Internet and send me a thank-you note," Christie said. McClain later called Christie's answer "honest."
Christie said he would continue to hold weekly town-hall meetings through June. He was joined in Morris County by his wife, Mary Pat.
She wasn't the only familiar face: Several of Christie's Livingston High School classmates "decided to invade the town hall today," Christie said at the end of the meeting, joking about a coming 35th reunion.
Stephen Slotnick of Randolph, who said he had known Christie "since Little League," said after the meeting that Christie was "direct. The person you see is what you get."
Jim Mignone, an insurance agent from Whippany, said Christie could bring people together if he ran for president, a prospect Mignone supported.
"I would love to have a party in the White House," he said.