New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R): “Well, listen, in 1995, Sean, I was 32 years old, and I’ve changed my mind. And the biggest reason that I changed my mind was my seven years as a federal prosecutor…. I learned what the limitations are of these [gun-control] laws that people are talking about and how they much, much more greatly infringe on law-abiding citizens than they do anything to prevent crime.”
— exchange on Fox News, Jan. 6, 2016
Hannity: “Are there any issues where you are, quote, moderate to left as a Republican?”
Christie: “Listen, I favor some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey…. Now, I don’t support all the things that the governor supports by a long stretch. But I think on guns — certain gun-control issues, looking at it from a law-enforcement perspective, seeing how many police officers were killed — we have an illegal gun problem in New Jersey…. What I support are common-sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves, but I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets — very concerned. And I want to make sure that we don’t have an abundance of guns out there.”
— exchange on Fox News, Oct. 27, 2009
Christie apparently learned a lot during his seven years as chief federal law enforcement officer in New Jersey. It seems, in fact, he learned so much that his experience as United States attorney shaped — or perhaps shape-shifted — his views to be somewhere between moderate-to-left on gun issues in 2009, then to a more pro-gun rights stance in 2016.
Christie served as U.S. attorney in New Jersey from January 2002 to December 2008, then launched his gubernatorial campaign soon after. As U.S. attorney, he earned a reputation as a tough federal prosecutor who exposed public corruption cases. During his 2009 gubernatorial campaign and during his 2016 presidential campaign, Christie has referenced his experience as federal law enforcement officer to explain his stance on guns.
Let’s take a look at his shift in rhetoric between then and now.
Christie has come under fire for his record on gun control, as he emerges as a top candidate in early primary states and more vocally criticizes President Obama’s push for tougher gun-control regulations.
To understand why Christie is being attacked on this in 2016, we need to rewind to 1993 — the year of his unsuccessful run for New Jersey state Senate. During the campaign, Christie vowed to keep the state’s ban on assault weapons. In fact, he said that’s the reason he was entering the race: “The issue which has energized me to get into this race is the recent attempt by certain Republican legislators to repeal New Jersey’s ban on assault weapons,” Christie said in a statement released to the media in April 1993. ”In today’s society, no one needs a semi-automatic assault weapon.”
The comment came back to bite him more than 20 years later in a November 2015 Fox News interview, when Christie was confronted about his support for an assault weapons ban. When host Bret Baier asked if it were true that Christie was inspired by gun control to enter politics, Christie laughed and denied it.
Baier then held up the 1993 New Jersey Star-Ledger article in which Christie was quoted as saying such, and Christie responded: “I don’t remember saying that.… It doesn’t sound like me.”
By Jan. 6, 2016, Christie seemed to have regained his memory of his 1993 campaign. He conceded that his position on gun control has changed since then — and said the main reason he changed his mind was his experience as a federal prosecutor.
In that role, Christie said, he learned the difference between enforcing existing gun laws and imposing additional gun laws — and learned that new gun laws infringe “much, much more greatly” on law-abiding gun owners than preventing crime.
Here’s the full text of the exchange:
HANNITY: Let me ask you about your positions in New Jersey. New Jersey has some of the toughest gun laws in the country. In ’95, you ran on a platform of supporting the assault weapons ban. You said that GOP opponents that wanted to repeal it were dangerous, crazy and radical. And you supported in 2009 — you ran against opposing attempts to permit concealed carry laws in New Jersey. Where do you stand now? Because you appear to have changed.CHRISTIE: Well, listen, in 1995, Sean, I was 32 years old, and I’ve changed my mind. And the biggest reason that I changed my mind was my seven years as a federal prosecutor. What I learned in those seven years was that we were spending too much time talking about gun laws against law-abiding citizens and not nearly enough time talking about enforcing the gun laws strongly against criminals.And I saw the difference when I did that for seven years as a federal prosecutor. I learned the difference and I learned what the limitations are of these laws that people are talking about and how they much, much more greatly infringe on law-abiding citizens than they do anything to prevent crime.Having learned that, my position’s changed. And quite frankly, if I had the choice now, I’d make New Jersey a state where you can have a shall-issue on conceal and carry. Now, our legislature won’t do that, but I have done recently to make sure that we’re making it easier for folks to be able to get a permit in New Jersey, because they deserve the right to do that as law-abiding citizens.
But Christie sang a different tune in 2009, when he was campaigning on a more moderate policy stance on gun control. A week before his first gubernatorial election, Christie was asked in an interview with Hannity if there are any policy issues where Christie leans “moderate to left.” Christie cited his “law enforcement perspective” to explain he favors certain gun-control measures because there are too many guns being used illegally in the state.
Here’s the full text of the exchange:
HANNITY: One of the big debates in the Republican Party now is whether or not it’s going to be a party of Reagan and conservatism or those that want a more moderate voice. As governor — now you’re a prosecutor, so you’re tough on crime.CHRISTIE: Yes.HANNITY: You’re running this campaign on fiscal responsibility.CHRISTIE: Yes.HANNITY: Are there any issues where you are, quote, moderate to left as a Republican?CHRISTIE: Listen, I favor some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey.HANNITY: Bad idea.CHRISTIE: Listen, we have a densely-populated state, and there’s a big handgun problem in New Jersey. Now, I don’t support all the things that the governor supports by a long stretch. But I think, certain gun-control issues, looking at it from a law-enforcement perspective, seeing how many police officers were killed, we have an illegal gun problem in New Jersey.HANNITY: Should every citizen in the state be allowed to get a licensed weapon if they want one?CHRISTIE: In New Jersey, that’s not going to happen, Sean.HANNITY: Why?CHRISTIE: Listen, the Democratic legislature we have, there’s no way that it’s not — listen, at the end of the day, what I support are common-sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves. But I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets — very concerned. And I want to make sure that we don’t have an abundance of guns out there.
During the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, Christie fought back against incumbent Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine’s claim that Christie “stands with the NRA.” The Christie campaign called it a lie, adding 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.”
Christie has had a mixed record on gun control, as this Asbury Park Press summary shows. Christie endorsed gun reform bills when he became governor in 2009, and called for a ban on the .50-caliber rifle. Then, in 2013, Christie vetoed the .50-caliber rifle ban sent by the legislature, saying he had wanted a narrower ban. (According to Asbury Park Press, state Democrats consider this veto a sign of Christie’s shift to the right, to appease gun-rights advocates.)
Still, he signed into law 10 other measures that tightened gun restrictions in New Jersey. The state is considered to have some of the toughest gun restrictions.
A campaign spokesman rejected the notion that Christie’s explanations in 2009 and 2016 are inconsistent: “They’re not contradictory. As a federal prosecutor he learned that the issue is illegal guns and keeping them out of the hands of criminals, rather than infringing on the rights of law-abiding citizens legally purchasing weapons. That’s the point he made six years ago, and the point he’s made now.”
[Update: In a Jan. 10, 2016, interview on CBS “Face the Nation,” Christie apparently walked back his comments directly attributing his 2016 view on gun laws to his time as federal prosecutor. He acknowledged that his views on gun laws in 2016 are different from his views in 2009, and said:
“You learn about these things over time. And I have 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 have traveled the country as RGH chairman, as I have traveled the country a governor, I have 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 there are laws that are just going to make legislators and governors feel better, they shouldn’t be put into place and infringe Second Amendment rights.”
Host John Dickerson then asked: “So, the evolution is more recent than just when you were prosecutor?”
Christie answered: It’s an evolution that has gone over time, absolutely, John.”]
The Pinocchio Test
We’re no strangers to Christie — and other politicians — conveniently using various parts of their record or reimagining history to their advantage for political gain. But we don’t fault politicians for admitting a sincere evolution on a policy stance over a decades-long career. Politicians shift on policy issues as new facts emerge, or as the constituency that elected them to office forms a new opinion on an issue.
However, we are critical of politicians who use inconsistent political rhetoric to defend their policy stance. In Christie’s case, it seems the more time passes since Christie’s been out of office, the less he recalls exactly what he learned as a federal prosecutor.
In 2009, Christie explained to voters that his law-enforcement experience shaped his moderate-to-left views on gun control, because he saw how certain gun-control measures can help take illegal guns away without infringing on Second Amendment rights. Then, in 2016 he told voters the same law-enforcement experience helped him see why gun-control measures “much, much more greatly infringe on law-abiding citizens than they do anything to prevent crime.”
For using the same seven years of federal prosecutor experience to explain two conflicting policy stances, we award Christie the rarest of all Pinocchio species: the Upside-Down Pinocchio.
An Upside-Down Pinocchio
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