WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
In response to the Newtown, Connecticut mass shooting, Gov. Chris Christie has appointed a panel to evaluate current state gun laws and the prevalence of violence in society.
Christie's approach is markedly different than that of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who successfully moved for tighter gun laws earlier this week.
New Jersey already has some of the most stringent gun laws in the country. Christie told reporters that a national survey of gun laws ranked New Jersey second behind California for having the most stringent regulations. Christie says New Jersey has a 15 round limit on ammo clips, a ban on assault weapons and mandatory background checks, as well as a week-long waiting period before a gun purchase.
Governor Christie told reporters that to just focus solely on gun laws would miss what he believes are the deeper issues raised by the mass shootings in Newtown and elsewhere. Christie wants his panel to look at the availability of mental health and drug counseling as well the prevalence of violence in society in general.
"And so if we focus just on calling this gun control in my view we are missing out on the bigger story," he said. "We have to look at violence control."
During a Thursday news conference, the governor blasted the NRA for a recently-released TV ad that calls President Obama hypocritical on gun control because the president's children are under 24-7 armed protection.
"To talk about the president's children or any public officer's children who have, not by their own choice, but by requirement, to have protection to use that some how somehow, to try and make a political point I think is reprehensible," Christie said.
Jersey City Mayor Jeremiah Healy, one of the first mayors to sign up with Mayor Bloomberg's national campaign against illegal handguns, commended Christie for his decision to appoint a task force. But Healy says because neighboring states have such lax gun laws, a Federal strategy has to be the top priority.
"I go into a store for instance in Pennsylvania and I can buy 20 handguns, walk out and put them in your trunk. And this is totally legal so far, and then you drive away and do what you want with them. You can drive from PA to Paterson," Healy said.
Rutgers Political Science Professor Ross Baker says Christie's focus on Sandy recovery has done nothing but boost his positive image. By contrast, he says gun control is a political minefield.
"This is trickier for the governor because clearly if he really does have ambitions beyond the state of New Jersey he has to be careful on something like gun control."
Christie has appointed former Attorney General and Supreme Court Justice Peter Verniero and former Attorney General John Degnan to lead the panel. It has to report back in 60 days.