Thursday’s Assembly session will see a gun control bill return to the lower house for a possible override of last month’s veto from Governor Chris Christie. The Senate override vote that sent the bill back to the Assembly marked a sea change for state Democrats, who trumpeted their victory as a sign that Christie’s coalition was breaking apart during his time away on the presidential campaign trail.
Though Assembly Republicans have been hesitant to go against Christie in the past, and an override vote would be a historic upset for the Republican governor’s administration, it is worth remembering that three Republican Assembly members crossed him in 2014 in an unsuccessful attempt to push through a bill effecting stricter reporting guidelines for state debt.
Assemblymen John Dimaio (R-23), Erik Peterson (R-23) and Jay Webber (R-26) could very well tilt the scales tomorrow despite the sudden resignation of Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson (D-5) this afternoon. Wilson’s ill-timed exit resulted from his new position as Camden County Sheriff and a state law against holding dual office that forced his hand.
Christie’s veto of the bill, which would require that gun buyers with state mental illness records notify law enforcement when having those records expunged to buy a firearm, was unusual in that it did not criticize the bill itself so much as the state’s overall approach to gun control, calling it part of an inadequate “patchwork” approach.
Even as Senate President Steve Sweeney predicted retaliation from Christie against senators Joe Kyrillos (R-13),Chris Connors (R-9) and Kip Bateman (R-16) following the Senate vote, Democrats say they are banking on Republicans supporting the override because of their unanimous support for the bill when it originally passed the Assembly.
“This bill has always stood on its merits,” said Assembly Speaker Vince Prieto (D-32) in a statement. “I’m not looking for six votes. I’m looking for the 74 votes, as no member has any reason for changing.”
Assembly Republican Leader John Bramnick (R-21) was not available for comment.
Assemblyman Scott Rumana did, however, announce last week that he would be introducing a new bill to rival the one going to the Assembly tomorrow. The bill will be identical to Senate Republican Leader Tom Kean Jr.’s (R-21), which went head to head with the Democrats’ during the Senate override and would require police notification for all expungements, not just those requested for a gun purchase.
Rumana called the tomorrow’s potential override “an attempt by the Democrats to claim a political victory over the governor at the expense of good public policy.”
One Democratic source said that the Assembly delegation is feeling confident because the bill will be arriving at a time when Christie’s clout is waning at home as he campaigns in New Hampshire, with identical wording.
The source said that Christie can’t offer the same rewards for loyalty to his administration now that the likely end of his tenure is approaching.
“If we’re talking four years ago, they would have fallen in line. Today is a different day,” said the source. “What’s he going to do for them?”