TRENTON - Gov. Christie condemned the National Rifle Association on Thursday for a "reprehensible" online video that focused on President Obama's daughters, but refused to give his opinions on federal proposals to ban assault weapons and limit high-capacity magazines.
Christie made his extensive comments on guns and violence Thursday at a Statehouse news conference where he announced a task force to examine "violence control" measures since the school massacre in Newtown, Conn.
Led by two former New Jersey state attorneys general - a Republican and a Democrat - and made up of a school superintendent, mental-health expert, and two leaders of substance-abuse centers, the SAFE Task Force will have 60 days to offer Christie suggestions.
"If we call this just gun control, in my view we're missing out on the bigger story," Christie said. "We have to call this violence control."
The task force will hold hearings and interview experts in five areas: guns, mental health, drug addiction, levels of violence in society (such as in video games), and school safety.
Because Christie said he first wanted to "have my own house in order," he refused to address questions related to the larger national debate on issues such as a federal ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. He avoided the same topics during national TV interviews last weekend and at a town-hall meeting Wednesday.
New Jersey bans such weapons, but guns find their way in from states with more lax gun laws, according to law enforcement. Christie said the task force would not address the issue of a federal ban and he would not give an opinion on it.
"You can ask me as many times as you want, and when I believe it's appropriate for me to give an opinion on that, I'll give one," he said.
Besides, he said, his views would have no influence on Congress.
The governor did respond to a question about a video posted this week on the NRA's Stand and Fight website. The ad called Obama, who has not supported putting armed guards in schools, an "elitist hypocrite" because his two daughters are afforded that protection at their school.
"To talk about the president's children and any other public officer's children who have - not by their own choice, but by requirement - protection, and to use that somehow to try to make a political point, I think is reprehensible," he said.
The ad makes you cringe and demeans the gun lobby group, Christie said. It makes the NRA "less of a valid and trusted source of information on the real issues."
In criticizing the NRA, the Republican governor joined Democratic Mayor Nutter of Philadelphia and U.S. Reps. Jon Runyan (R., N.J.) and Mike Fitzpatrick (R., Pa.), who also slammed the ad this week.
Christie said he was not worried about how the NRA - or gun-control advocates such as former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona, shot and wounded in 2011 - would react to the decisions he makes on the task force's recommendations.
The governor spoke of the 456 gun deaths in New Jersey last year and described his record on enforcing gun laws as strong. As a federal prosecutor, his office indicted a gun dealer in Ohio who sold straw buyers weapons that ended up in North Jersey cities, he said.
But longtime New Jersey gun control advocate Bryan Miller of the faith-based group Heeding God's Call called it a sham to create a task force with an "overly broad mandate."
Democrats who control the state Legislature have introduced a flurry of gun-control measures in recent weeks, Miller noted. Establishing the task force allows Christie to veto those measures as he awaits the group's recommendations.
"Delaying the strengthening of our state's gun laws is likely to lead to more gun injury and death," Miller said. "The governor's tactic should be deplored by all who want homes, schools, and communities safer from gun violence."
Christie also faced complaints from Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver (D., Essex) who noted that New Jersey's crime rate had edged up 3 percent in 2011, the most recent year for which statistics were available. That was the biggest year-over-year increase since 2008, said Oliver, who linked the crime rate to Christie's budget cuts that led to the layoffs of 1,426 police officers. Many of those officers have since been rehired.
"We do not need more talk," Oliver said. "We need action."