The news media wasted no time in attempting to portray New Jersey Governor Chris Christie as a darling of the National Rifle Association after he commuted the sentence of Brian Aitken. NewJerseyNewsroom.com trumpeted: “Gov. Christie becomes hero to NRA followers for letting New Jersey gun convict Brian Aitken out of prison.” The Trentonian clucked: “Burlco gun lover wins commutation of seven-year prison term from governor.” To hear some on the left tell it, Christie’s commutation of Aitken’s sentence to time served was a confirmation that the governor was attempting to appease the far right.
On the pro-gun right, some were espousing the theory that Christie’s commutation was a strategic move to set up a legal challenge to the overly restrictive nature of New Jersey’s gun laws. Both the anti-gun left and the pro-gun right seem to believe that Aitken’s commutation was a shrewdly calculated move to win favor for the governor in Southern and Western states in the event that he jumps into the 2012 Republican presidential primaries.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Governor Christie commuted Aitken’s sentence because of procedural errors on the part of the trial judge, James Morley. (Some would argue incompetence, or even malice.) Morley refused to let the jury consider the claim that Aitken was in the process of moving from one residence to another, an exception under which citizens can move firearms in their vehicles. Aitken’s attorney attempted to have the case dismissed on those grounds twice, but Morley refused to dismiss the case or allow the jury to hear the exemption once the trial was underway. Aitken claims to be in possession of an email from one of his jurors that states Morely bullied the jury into convicting him. Understandably, Aitken wants his conviction overturned, and there is good reason to suspect his conviction will indeed be reversed. But instead of attempting to placate the gun lobby or ingratiate himself with conservatives in 2012 primary states, Christie was merely excercising his sense of self-preservation.
Chris Christie wasn’t appeasing the NRA or 2012 Republican primary voters. And sadly, he isn’t anything resembling a “friend” to gun owners. A northeast Republican, Christie’s stance on firearms is as draconian as that of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The simple fact of the matter is that if Christie’s views on firearms were widely known, his chances of capturing the 2012 Republican primaries would go up in smoke.
How bad is Christie’s record?
Begin with an anti-gun campaign ad he ran in 1995 during his state Assembly run. Christie’s campaign dishonestly referred to the semiautomatic firearms barred under the Clinton administration’s “crime bill” as “automatic assault weapons,” intentionally misrepresenting hunting, plinking, defense, and target rifles as military machine guns. He accused candidates holding the most common conservative Republican position of holding views that were “dangerous,” “crazy,” and “radical.” He stated that the view, shared by Anthony Bucco and Michael Patrick Carroll, that the law should be overturned was a “radical plan to legalize assault weapons.” Not only was Christie’s position identical to that of the nanny-state scolds of the left, it was also based upon carefully crafted lies designed to elicit fear.
No thanks to Christie, the federal ban expired in 2004, and the semi-automatic firearms covered under the law (and still illegal in New Jersey) are among the most popular sporting weapons sold in America.