Campaign finance reports filed this week by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) show he has collected $3,000 in donations since March from a lobbyist with the National Rifle Association.
The latest of those reports became public Monday, just as Christie’s Democratic opponent in the Garden State governor’s race, state Sen. Barbara Buono, has been hitting him for having a weak stance on gun control.
“We’ve seen really exceptional leadership across the river with Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg, but unfortunately, in New Jersey, Gov. Christie has not shown leadership,” Buono told TPM by phone on Monday evening.
Christie’s filing, his first of the general election campaign, included a $1,000 donation made on April 23 by NRA lobbyist Randy Kozuch. It also showed Kozuch gave $2,000 on March 5. Campaign finance records did not show any other donations to Christie from the NRA, or other gun groups prior to this year. Neither Christie’s campaign nor Kozuch responded to requests for comment.
The disclosure of the donations came as Buono has been increasingly focusing on the governor’s gun control policies. On Monday, she campaigned with Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker (D) and focused on guns.
Her criticism has centered on a task force Christie launched in January to address violence following the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Buono has repeatedly described the recommendations issued by that commission as “shallow” and accused Christie of using it to avoid the issue of gun control immediately after the shooting.
“He set up this commission right after Newtown. I’m not sure why he set up the commission considering Vice President Biden had already set up a commission,” said Buono. “It really appeared as though it was a delay tactic to delay and put it off hoping that people would calm down after the latest tragedy.”
Christie unveiled the task force’s recommendations last month. It included plans to limit sales of violent video games, ban the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, which is featured in the “Call of Duty” video games, and change New Jersey’s rules for treating the mentally ill. Buono said these proposals do not include the most crucial elements of gun control policy.
“It really punts on all of the important issues,” Buono said. “It didn’t take up background checks, universal background checks. It didn’t adjust reduction of magazines from 15 to 10. He’s even refused to acknowledge that there is a private sale loophole.”
Buono implied Christie has avoided taking a stronger position on gun control because he’s harboring presidential ambitions for the 2016 cycle.
“I think what has come through loud and clear with this decision as well as so many of his others is that they’re all calibrated with an eye to how they play out on the national scene and how they appeal to the voters in the cornfields of Iowa instead of doing what’s right for the people in the neighborhoods of New Jersey,” said Buono.
Buono came up with her own plan for tightening New Jersey’s gun laws that she said was inspired by meeting with the mothers of Newtown victims. Her plan focuses on lowering New Jersey’s magazine capacity limit from 15 to 10 bullets, closing the private sale loophole, and ensuring that ammunition is sold in “face-to-face transactions” rather than online, over the phone, or through the mail.
When he announced his task force’s recommendations last month, Christie repeatedly noted New Jersey already has the “second-strictest gun laws in America.” On magazine capacity, he said he does not think the state’s gun laws need to be tightened.
“I think that where we are now is the right place to be. We’re as strict as almost anybody in the country at 15. In fact I heard the President last week say that Colorado’s was a national model when Colorado moved to 15, which is where we are,” said Christie. “Once you have the President calling it a national model and we’re the second-strictest gun laws in the state I didn’t think there was any need to go there.”
New Jersey’s legislature is currently in the midst of voting on a series of gun control bills. Buono said she believes they will ultimately vote for universal background checks, but not a reduction in magazine capacity. When TPM asked Christie’s office whether he would veto a bill that called for universal background checks or reductions in magazine capacity, a spokesman pointed to the remarks Christie made when unveiling his task force’s recommendations.
“Some things I may sign; some things I may veto. Some things I may conditionally veto. It depends on what they send to me,” Christie said.
Though Christie hasn’t declared his intentions, Buono is fairly confident he would veto a bill with either universal background checks of magazine capacity reductions.
“If I were a betting man, I would bet there would be at least a conditional veto,” said said with a laugh. “Maybe there’s some modest elements of the bill that he would support, but I think, by and large, it’ll still be a veto.”