Was anyone surprised when Chris Christie officially announced his candidacy for president of the United States? Christie has been prominently featured as a possible presidential contender for years, and in all of that time, I and others in the rights movement have been saying that Christie could never get the support of gun voters, and without gun voter support, a Republican presidential win is unlikely – just ask John McCain and Mitt Romney, and George H.W. Bush, Bob Dole and Gerald Ford.
Just as the media and gun control activists make the mistake of thinking that the National Rifle Association is "the gun lobby," so, too, do most Republican politicians think that an NRA endorsement is all they need to seal up gun voter support. The reality is that, even with some 5 million members, the NRA is only able to significantly impact an election if the activist core of those members, along with the activist core of various other rights-focused firearm groups, actively get behind the candidate. The overlap among these activists in the various groups is extensive, and these are people who are paying attention to politics all year long, not just in the three months leading up to an election. While an NRA endorsement can help reinforce, and fuel the work of the serious activists, these folks make their own decisions. If the year-round core activists aren't willing to get behind a candidate they don't trust, no amount of NRA praise is going to change their minds, and without their support, the NRA is only able to sway the least-active and least informed of their membership. In a state with 50,000 NRA members, maybe 5,000 of those will be politically active, and most of those will also be members of a state grass-roots group. Politicians might be able to cajole an endorsement out of the suits at NRA HQ, but unless they can convince the guys who actually do the work on the ground, they're just spinning their wheels.
Ever since he started edging toward a presidential run, Christie has also been edging toward a more gun-friendly image. In 2010, after Brian Aitken was sentenced to seven years in prison for having two legally purchased, cased and disassembled pistols in the bottom of the trunk of his car under a pile of clothing and other household goods, rights advocates were furious. Aitken was in the process of moving from Colorado to New Jersey and had the guns in the car transporting them between temporary residences. Gov. Christie commuted Aitken sentence, but refused to pardon him, so he still has a felony conviction on his record and is prohibited from ever being in possession of firearms or ammunition. Then in April of this year, after months of legal wrangling, Shaneen Allen, a single mother of two who had gotten a gun and a Pennsylvania carry permit after being robbed twice, was pulled over for an unsafe lane change in Atlantic County, New Jersey. When she informed the officer about the handgun and concealed carry permit in her purse she was arrested. The prosecutor refused to even consider a lenient plea deal, and Ms. Allen was facing a minimum, mandatory sentence of three years. Again, gun owners were outraged, and this time Christie issued a full pardon and ordered that plea agreements should always be offered in such cases as a standard policy.
Advertisement - story continues below
Finally, on the eve of his official announcement that he was running for president, Christie announced the filing of a new regulation to expedite gun purchase permits for persons who are under imminent threat of criminal violence, such as domestic violence victims with restraining orders against their attackers. He also announced an executive order for creation of a commission to review New Jersey's gun laws to ensure that the laws do not violate constitutional rights. Christie took these actions after an attractive 39-year-old widow was brutally stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend in early June – while she was waiting for New Jersey bureaucrats to give her permission to get a gun!
Carol Bowne had applied for a permit to own a gun in April, after her ex had proven to be undeterred by the court-issued restraining order against him. Her murder was captured on camera by her home security system. The murderer later committed suicide.
Does anyone believe that Chris Christie, who as recently as last year was defending New Jersey's "tough gun laws," has had a change of heart and would stand firm against future infringements in the face of some horrific tragedy like Sandy Hook? Does anyone believe that his actions as governor of New Jersey were just "go along to get along" and that as president he would stop going along with unconstitutional proposals and tell gun prohibitionists to just get along back to their corner?
Advertisement - story continues below
Rights activists are a cynical and hard-boiled bunch. We take principles seriously, and don't tolerate betrayal. We have long memories and are pretty darn good at holding a grudge. And we have repeatedly demonstrated a gleeful willingness to throw the baby out with the bath water. Republican politicians and political strategists should understand all of this by now, but still we get "mainstream" Republican candidates like Christie raising millions of dollars and putting together teams of top-tier strategists, when their rhetoric and track records on guns are worse than self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders.
It's becoming obvious that establishment Republicans have a serious learning disability.
Media wishing to interview Jeff Knox, please contact [email protected].