If you want to see how a middle-of-the-road conservative in a blue state handles an issue that is a potential land mine for a future presidential candidate, you need look no further than New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and his gun-violence plan. The president made his plan mostly about the guns; Christie announced today that he is setting up a task force “to take a full and comprehensive look at the intersection of gun control, addiction, mental health and school safety.”
His written statement included this:
The task force’s review comes in the context of a state with among the toughest gun laws in the nation, including an existing assault weapons ban. Nonetheless, Governor Christie wants a full assessment to consider whether additional common sense measures are appropriate for New Jersey.
“Violence in our society has never been solely about firearms, and we would miss an opportunity to better prevent heinous crimes if we didn’t look at the complete picture,” said Governor Christie. “If we are truly going to take an honest and candid assessment of violence and public safety, we have to look more deeply at the underlying causes of many acts of violence. That means removing the stigma and evaluating issues of mental health, addiction, prevention and treatment services alongside the effectiveness of our firearms laws, enforcement mechanisms, and our school safety measures.
In focusing on the very items that the president short-changed, and making this a serious approach to a complex problem, Christie does several things:
First, in a state in which repeal of the assault-weapons ban is a nonstarter, he gently chides the anti-gun crowd by pointing out that another gun ban is not likely to magically prevent mass shootings.
Second, he preserves his position for a 2016 presidential run. He can honestly say that he wouldn’t favor an assault gun ban if starting from scratch, but when he was in a deep blue state he resisted the pleas to up the ante and instead concentrated on the root social and medical causes of mass gun violence.
And third, he does something other than just say “No.” Like it or not, conservatives should recognize that the public wants government to solve problems. The appearance of energetic governance is as important as the policies themselves. Christie understands this better than most conservatives who like to say, “We have enough laws.”
Christie also, like many conservatives who cringed at the National Rifle Association’s ads featuring the Obama daughters, spoke out to voice his disgust with one ad. Yet he remained respectful of the NRA’s legitimate concerns:
Politics is the confluence of policy and theater. Christie manages to satisfy ordinary, apolitical citizens who had a visceral reaction to the ad without tarring the entire NRA. Republicans don’t all have his flair for the dramatic, but they can learn to project concern and dedication to problem-solving along with common sense. Then they too might enjoy a 70 percent approval rating.