Less than three weeks after vetoing a gun control bill that would have limited ammunition magazine capacity to 10 rounds, Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., probably expected some opposition while visiting the state where a 2012 mass shooting ignited the most sweeping political battle over gun control in decades.
Indeed, traveling to Connecticut to campaign for Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley on Monday, Christie was met by almost 200 protesters. Many had ties to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where a mentally ill gunman got a hold of his mother's AR-15-style Bushmaster rifle and two of her handguns and slaughtered 20 first-graders and six of their educators before taking his own life.
In his veto explanation earlier this month, Christie argued that reducing the legal number of bullets guns can hold from 15 to 10 would do little to curb shooting sprees. Advocating instead for funneling more resources into addressing the mental health aspect that often goes hand-in-hand with gun violence, he called a magazine limit a "simplistic" and "trivial" approach.
Demonstrators who lined the streets of Greenwich outside the fundraiser Christie was slated to attend threw that characterization back at him. Messages scrawled on their signs included sentiments like, "My friends' lives were not trivial."
Katherine Morosky, a mother from Newtown whose 7-year-old daughter was friends with five of the students killed in the December 2012 massacre, made the case to the New York Times that had shooter Adam Lanza had smaller magazines, "he would have had to change them more often, and perhaps more children would have survived.
"...A law like that makes a difference in saving lives," she said.
Stopping by a diner with Foley ahead of the fundraiser, one Newtown voter approached Christie about the veto. The governor responded that he's seen "no evidence that [limiting] high-capacity magazines does anything to limit violence.
"Every one of these instances of mass killings, we had people with significant mental health issues," Christie reportedly told the man, named Richard Boritz. "And that needs to be dealt with. 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."
It's a safe answer for Christie if he's planning to try to court the Republican presidential primary vote in 2016. With pressure from powerhouse lobbying groups like the National Rifle Association, conservatives have rallied focus away from gun control and toward improving options for people who suffer from mental illness.
It's also a convenient opportunity for him to distance himself from President Obama, whose partnership in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy became a lightning rod for conservative criticism. Though partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill stymied his vow to make gun control a hallmark of his second-term agenda, the president signed several executive orders to make schools safer and gun purchases more transparent.
For his part, Christie last year signed several firearms bills into law, but issued conditional vetoes of many of the more controversial ones, including a ban on .50-caliber rifles. Asked by reporters Monday whether his most recent veto reflected his potential White House ambitions, Christie said it didn't.
"I don't make decisions on what bills to sign or veto based upon someone's perception of viability," he answered. Adding of the protesters, Christie went on: "The fact is we have an honest disagreement. Now, people on issues across this country can disagree; we disagree. I made the decision that I felt was best, they disagreed. That is certainly their prerogative to do so, and to express themselves."