The segment of people who weren’t watching the football pre-game shows yesterday morning may have tuned in to see Chris Christie being interviewed by John Dickerson on Face the Nation. If they did, they’d have found the host giving Christie a serious grilling on the question of gun control. Christie has been saying most of the right things regarding the Second Amendment on the campaign trail, but his record in New Jersey has left gun rights advocates with more than a few questions. Politico has the top line to the story.
Chris Christie’s quietly rising fortunes in the Republican presidential primary could encounter some turbulence as GOP voters in Iowa and New Hampshire grapple with what he calls his “evolution” on gun rights.
Christie argued Sunday in an interview aired on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he avoided gun issues during his tenure as New Jersey governor because he could never win policy battles with his Democratic legislature. But when host John Dickerson pointed out that he distanced himself from the NRA during his 2009 campaign for governor, Christie acknowledged his shifting position.
The Governor was seemingly forced to adopt the “I’ve evolved” line of defense taken by so many politicians. It’s something of a shame that elected officials can’t truly “evolve” in their views without frequently being taken to the woodshed, but the reality is that for too many of them, “evolving” simply means flip flopping because the public polling has shifted.
Getting down to some of the specifics of the issue, Christie was pressed on whether or not he lends his support to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and their efforts on behalf of gun rights. His answer left something to be desired to say the least.
JOHN DICKERSON: “Would you say you stand with the NRA?”
CHRISTIE: “Listen I stand with anybody who believes in protecting the Second Amendment and protecting public safety whether it’s the NRA or other organizations like the New Jersey Pistol Club or others. I stand with organizations who want to make sense between public safety and our Second Amendment rights and I think they do.”
DICKERSON: “So just going back to that ad though, you stand with the NRA?”
CHRISTIE: “Well, listen the fact is, that if the NRA, not on every issue but on the issues, you tick them down issue by issue I’ll be able to answer them for you. But I’m not going to say I stand with anybody, any particular interest group and give them a blank check, that’s not what leadership is.”
There was probably a time when that answer might have been viewed a lot more kindly since gun rights is a complex issue with a lot of ground to cover and people of good intentions do sometimes disagree on the fine grain details. Unfortunately, the Democrats have managed to demonize the NRA to the point where it’s really a binary decision these days. On one side you have the NRA and on the other you have every Democrat, squishy Republicans and most of the media lined up against them. This isn’t really the time to be dancing around the question.
As to his own record, Christie got tripped up yet again when asked about the ban on so called “assault weapons.”
JOHN DICKERSON: “Let me talk about your record on assault weapons. When we last talked, you said that originally you wanted to keep an assault weapons ban, said those who wanted to get rid of it were crazy. You said since then you’ve learned as a prosecutor you evolved on that issue. In 2009 though, you were still a supporter of the assault weapons ban that was after you’d been a prosecutor.”
CHRIS CHRISTIE: “No what I said at the time that I was not interested in debating or changing because I knew I couldn’t New Jersey’s gun laws with a Democratic legislature. If I had my choice, John, we would be a state where you could apply much more easily and receive much more easily a carry permit in our state. We’re a may issue state, not a shall issue state. We should be a shall issue state so people can defend themselves.”
DICKERSON: “When you were in that race with John Corzine in 2009, he said Christie stands with the NRA and your campaign put out a fact check and called that a lie. And then your campaign said this, Chris Christie supports the assault weapons ban and all current gun laws. He opposes attempts to permit conceal and carry laws in New Jersey. Hardly the NRA position. So that seems different than where you are now.”
CHRISTIE: “Yes, it is. Again, John, you learn about these things over time. And I’ve learned about this over time. In New Jersey, I have grown up in a culture in our state of very, very vigorous anti-gun laws. As I’ve traveled the country as RGA chairman, as I’ve traveled the country as a governor, I’ve learned a great deal about this. And my actions as governor of New Jersey have been exactly where I think they need to be. When these things involve public safety, I’m for public safety but if their laws that are just going to make legislatures and governors feel better they shouldn’t be put in place and infringe Second Amendment right.”
DICKERSON: “But so the evolution is more recent then when just when you were a prosecutor?”
CHRISTIE: “It’s an evolution that’s gone on over time, absolutely John.”
That one probably hurts a lot more than the not standing behind the NRA issue. The “assault weapons” ban question is a nagging, annoying issue for gun rights supporters and this “evolution” on Christie’s part happened awfully quickly with some fits and starts along the way. Dickerson honed in on the fact that the Governor was in a tough race against Corzine and he was singing a very different tune, well after his days as a prosecutor. Putting out a statement in support of the ban was paired up with apparent backing of “all current gun laws” which included the so called “smart gun” provisions which have riled activists in the Garden State. What that translates into is a case of a politician saying what his largely blue state voters wanted to hear when he needed to win his race and then changing his tune as he stepped out onto the national stage.
This comes at a critical time for Christie because he was just beginning to show some signs of life in New Hampshire according to the most recent polls. (Not threatening to win, but at least cracking into the top four.) It’s really the only early state where he’s gained any ground at all and the Granite State is probably the most gun friendly zone in the first twenty primary contests. Expect to see this brought up by his opponents during the final three weeks if he continues to rise in the final polls.