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Chris Christie's potential gun control bind

Chris Christie's administration is proposing stricter rules for gun dealers -– a move expected to be closely watched as he considers jumping into the 2016 race.
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at an event in Belmar two years after Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey. (Kena Betancur/Getty Images)
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie speaks at an event in Belmar two years after Hurricane Sandy on October 29, 2014 in Belmar, New Jersey.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s administration is proposing stricter rules for gun dealers  – a move that is expected to be closely watched as Christie considers jumping into the 2016 GOP presidential contest.

The proposals were put forth by the state police department, and have been approved by acting state Attorney General John J. Hoffman. The rules would affect the approximately 377 licensed retail and registered wholesale gun dealers and manufacturers in the state.

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The potential changes – first reported by -- include a requirement that dealers notify authorities within 24 hours if firearms or ammunition are lost, cutting in half the existing rule of 48 hours. Local and state police must also be made aware of dealers' security alarms failures. In addition, dealers would be barred from storing firearms or ammunition at any location other than licensed premises without proper authorization. There is an added prohibition on issuing a permit to buy a gun or firearms identification card to anyone on a terror watch list.

The proposal says the amendments are necessary to “hold firearms dealers more accountable for their employees and inventory of firearms.” In the last decade there have been numerous thefts, some of which resulted in “catastrophic consequences," the proposal asserts. 

Capt. Stephen Jones, a spokesman for New Jersey State Police, called the proposed regulations “incremental changes” that were simply part of the re-adoption process that takes place every five years. There is a public comment period on the proposed regulations until Feb. 13. Then the superintendent of the division of state police would decide whether or not to sign off on the amendments, Jones said. 

When asked if Christie was involved in the changes, Jones told msnbc, “I really doubt it. These are rules that are recommended and proposed by specialists in the state firearms unit ... This would be pretty far down on the radar for someone running the state.” Christie’s office wouldn't weigh in on whether the governor personally approved of the proposals and referred a request for comment to the state police.

Still, any move Christie’s administration makes on guns is likely to be scrutinized in the lead-up to 2016, especially in early voting states like Iowa and New Hampshire that have weak gun laws. GOP primary voters are typically unwavering in their support of Second Amendment rights, and Christie, who is considered one of the more moderate GOP hopefuls, has been skewered by the right for his stance on guns in the past.

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In 2009, Christie told Fox News’ Sean Hannity that New Jersey had a “handgun problem.” And in 1995, when running for the state general assembly as part of a ticket, Christie's campaign distributed flyers calling his opponents “crazy” for supporting the repeal of an assault rifle ban.

But the governor has recently toned down that rhetoric, going as far as to say last month the state’s gun control laws might be “a little too strict.” In July, he also vetoed a gun control bill – which was promoted by several families of victims who died in the  2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut—that would have banned gun magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Many speculated at the time that Christie, who called the restriction on the number of bullets “trivial,” was trying to cozy up to the far right.

Ben Dworkin, the director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics at Rider University, said, “Certainly when you’re running for president, the pro-Second Amendment advocates are going to be watching for every bit that goes on.” In terms of Christie not weighing in on the changes in his own state, Dworkin isn’t surprised.

“Christie’s style has been playing things very close to the vest as they go through regulatory or legislative processes,” he said.

Several gun rights groups in the state did not respond to requests for comment.

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But Nicola Bocour, policy and communication director for Ceasefire New Jersey, which lobbies for tighter gun control laws, applauded the measures upon first review.

“These proposals are really strong. I think it’s really encouraging that the administration is seeking to take this kind of action. We’d like to hear from Gov. Christie [specifically] but thisis one of the strongest things coming forward from the administration.”

The governor has said he would likely make a decision whether or not to run for president sometime early this year. Meanwhile, the Christie is hitting the road this month to attend a slew of inauguration ceremonies for his fellow governors that he helped get elected as chairman of the Republican Governor’s Association. He was in the swing state of Florida earlier this week and has plans to go to the bellweather  state of Ohio, in addition to the crucial, early voting states of South Carolina and Iowa.