Christie's package of gun reforms might not sit well with conservatives, but it might not be the most controversial group of measures, either. Since the Newtown, Conn., school shooting, Republicans have raised the idea of requiring mental-health records to be added to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), which the FBI uses to screen gun purchasers. While a bill to increase penalties on "straw-purchasers" passed the Senate Judiciary Committee with only one GOP vote, Utah GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch praised the idea of getting tougher on straw-purchasers, even as he voted against the measure for casting "too wide a net."
The outright banning of the Barrett .50 caliber rifle, meanwhile, runs directly counter to GOP politicians' staunch opposition to banning "assault weapons." While gun-control measures like expanded background checks have garnered wide support across party lines, banning "assault weapons" has not. In an April 4 poll by Quinnipiac University, 55 percent of Republicans said they opposed that policy.
New Jersey already bans some "assault weapons" and large-capacity magazines. In 2001, the latest year in which the Brady Campaign to Reduce Gun Violence scored states' gun restrictions, New Jersey ranked second only to California in having the tightest controls on the books.
Politically, Christie may have taken control of some criticism he was bound to receive anyway. As a former U.S. attorney running for governor in 2009, Christie voiced support for some of New Jersey's gun laws, suggesting fewer guns are better -- something conservative critics could easily raise, regardless of his current push for new laws, should he ever run for president.
"At the end of the day, what I support are common-sense laws that will allow people to protect themselves," Christie told Fox News's Sean Hannity in an October 2009 interview, days before he defeated Democratic incumbent Gov. Jon Corzine. "But I also am very concerned about the safety of our police officers on the streets. Very concerned. And I want to make sure that we don't have an abundance of guns out there."
Taking an active approach to gun control could be considered a low-cost move, Monmouth University polling director Patrick Murray suggested.
"Voters in New Jersey don't see this as a major issue that needed to be addressed in the state, but it helps him to address the charges that he's out of step on some of the social issues, namely gay marriage and abortion," Murray said.
"The calculation that he made here is that in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, he had to do something. In New Jersey, there wasn't a requirement to do much of anything" because of the state's already-stringent gun laws, Murray said. "Those that were going to go after him on his gun stances were going to do that anyway."