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Nearly 200 people, led by Newtown families, descended on a Connecticut fundraiser Monday night to protest New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's veto this month of a gun control bill passed by his state's legislature. Christie called the New Jersey bill a "trivial approach" to combating gun violence. That turn of phrase did not go over very well with Newtown residents, as the New York Times report on the protest makes clear: Among the visible signs outside the fundraiser was one held by a child, reading "my friends' lives were not trivial."
Christie's fundraiser was in Greenwich, an affluent Connecticut suburb near Newtown, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. Although Christie avoided the protesters at the fundraiser, one Newtown resident found the possible 2016 candidate in a diner. Here's what happened, according to the Times, when Richard Boritz asked him about his rejection of the bill, which would have limited the maximum size of magazine rounds:
"How," [Newtown resident] Mr. Boritz asked, "would you limit gun violence in this country without limiting access to high-capacity magazines or —"
Mr. Christie interrupted him, saying there was no evidence that limiting high-capacity magazines "does anything to limit violence."
He repeated his insistence that government grapple with the mental health problems that he said were often at the heart of the shootings. "Every one of these instances of mass killings, we had people with significant mental health issues, and that needs to be dealt with," he said. "It's not the sexy part of it. It's not the stuff that gets you big headlines when you are a politician. It's the stuff that actually gets the job done."
Mr. Boritz tried to follow up with a second question, but Mr. Christie cut him off.
"I am not engaged in a debate," he said. "You asked a question. That's my answer."
Although Christie has said that his veto was based on the effectiveness of the bill, and not on his political ambitions, it's impossible to ignore that Christie is in a bit of a tricky position on the issue of gun control.
After the deadly Newtown shootings, the New Jersey governor signed a series of smaller reforms to the state's gun control laws. But the Republican is also considering a run for president in 2016, which means that he has to weigh which groups he'd rather have backing him: the gun rights groups that strongly oppose bills like the one Christie vetoed, or the gun control groups pushing those reforms. One of those two groups is far better organized, financed and, oh by the way, tends to vote Republican.
Then there is Christie's verbal style which, especially when confronted, tends toward the brute force of a club rather than the finesse of a rapier. So it's not surprising that his attempts to walk the line on the emotional issue of gun control have produced mixed results. Christie, who has clearly attempted to position himself as a potential Republican candidate capable of reaching across the partisan divide and grabbing some Democratic votes, still needs to convince those potential converts that he's not the "bully" the Bridgegate scandal implied he might be. Nearly 200 protesting Newtown residents will hardly help that effort.
This isn't the first time Newtown residents have criticized Christie over the veto, issued earlier in July. A father of a Sandy Hook Elementary School student who survived the attack wrote an op-ed in the Newark Star-Ledger blasting the governor's decision: "My son is alive today because he escaped while Adam Lanza was reloading his AR-15," Hugo Rojas wrote, adding, "My son's life is not 'trivial,' as the governor’s argument may suggest."
And before the veto, gun control advocates (including some victims' family members) gave Christie's office 55,000 signatures of Americans who supported the bill.