Gov. Christie on Wednesday proposed loosening New Jersey's "overly burdensome" gun laws, saying the state should make it easier for residents who are eligible to buy handguns to obtain a permit to carry them in public.
Christie, a Republican, vetoed a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Legislature that would have codified regulations that make it difficult for firearms owners to obtain a concealed-carry permit.
Instead of "doubling down" on these "unreasonable requirements," Christie said in his veto message, the state should reverse course and "enable residents of New Jersey to exercise their Second Amendment rights, while still preventing dangerous persons from legally obtaining firearms."
Christie also conditionally vetoed legislation that would have required firearms retailers to make so-called smart guns available for purchase in stores once they are commercially available.
The governor said the bill would impose "yet another constraint on businesses" and was "reflective of the relentless campaign by the Democratic Legislature to make New Jersey as inhospitable as possible to lawful gun ownership and sales."
He did embrace another provision of the bill, which would eliminate a mandate the Legislature passed in 2002 that would prohibit the sale of handguns once smart guns come to market.
"The law was intended to encourage the development of smart gun technology, but the prohibition on other handguns has, in effect, restricted consumer access to personalized handguns," the legislation says.
Christie has shifted to the right on guns since he was reelected in 2013, and especially since his first successful gubernatorial campaign in 2009. In the 2009 race, in response to an attack ad by Democratic Gov. Jon S. Corzine that linked Christie to the National Rifle Association, Christie's campaign said he supported "all current gun laws" and opposed "attempts to permit conceal and carry laws in New Jersey."
In January 2014, Christie's spokesman said the governor supported the state's "already-tough gun laws."
Since then, however, the governor has vetoed such gun-control measures as a reduction in magazine capacity - which he proudly mentioned in a veto message Wednesday.
Christie has said he evolved on the issue, first as a prosecutor and then as he traveled the country in 2014 as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.
He said his veto of the concealed-carry legislation was more significant.
Under current state regulations, applicants must prove to the police and a judge that they have a "justifiable need" to carry a handgun.
That term isn't defined in statute, but regulations say it means applicants must show "the urgent necessity for self-protection, as evidenced by specific threats, or previous attacks, which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be avoided by means other than by issuance of a permit to carry a handgun."
Christie said in his veto message that "anyone forced to demonstrate an 'urgent necessity for self-protection' in order to obtain a permit to carry a handgun likely - and perhaps tragically - will receive one too late to protect themselves."
Returning the bill to the Legislature, Christie proposed eliminating the "justifiable need" standard so applicants would be able to obtain a permit if they were not "otherwise prohibited from obtaining a firearm and can demonstrate familiarity with the safe handling of a handgun."
New Jersey would thus join 42 other "shall issue" states with regard to concealed carry permits, Christie said. Under this standard, the governor said, "permitting authorities shall issue a carry permit to any applicant who meets their requirements."
According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which opposes concealed carry, 33 states have "shall issue" laws, and nine have "may issue" laws that give permitting authorities greater discretion in determining whether to issue a permit.
Every state, plus the District of Columbia, authorizes some form of concealed carry, according to the group.
New Jersey Democrats, who hold large majorities in the Legislature, are unlikely to embrace Christie's proposal.
Assembly Majority Leader Louis D. Greenwald (D., Camden), a sponsor of the bill Christie vetoed, said the governor's approach was shortsighted.
"Our country has seen nothing short of an epidemic of gun violence in the past decade, from the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Because of our proactive approach to cracking down on gun violence, we have been fortunate that our state's stringent laws have stopped a great deal of that violence at our border," Greenwald said in a statement."
"Issuing concealed carry permits to every pizza delivery boy in the state won't make us any safer as a community," he added.
Scott L. Bach, executive director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, praised Christie's vetoes as "a bold and defiant statement to the Legislature."
"Not only has he rejected their medieval schemes to block self-defense, but he has fired back in a way that forces them to choose squarely between citizen empowerment or victimization in the post-Orlando era of terror attacks on U.S. soil," Bach said in a statement.
Christie has also pushed regulatory changes. During his unsuccessful campaign for president, the governor asked the state attorney general to ease the "justifiable need" standard, among other gun regulations.
The state police proposed Christie's changes in March, giving the attorney general until March 2017 to adopt the amendments.
"These have not been adopted, and there's no way to say when that would happen," said Leland Moore, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office.