Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie argued Monday that restrictive gun laws don’t work.
Taking the stage at a CNN town hall, the former New Jersey governor was asked about gun violence by Nevada retiree Joe Robbins, whose son was killed in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting. Christie said the issue is complex and hard to solve. But he also indicated he is not seeking to implement new federal gun restrictions.
“I don’t think with 350 million or so guns out there that tighter gun control is going to keep the gun out of the hands of someone who’s going to do what happened in Las Vegas or what happened in Uvalde or what happened in Sandy Hook,” Christie said.
Without giving any policy specifics, Christie said that law enforcement must be “more sensitive” to their communities and be more proactive in identifying people dealing with mental health struggles. His comments provide further insight into where the Republican debate over gun policy is headed as the presidential primary heats up. Christie is the fourth Republican candidate to participate in a CNN town hall in recent weeks, after Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, and Mike Pence.
Trump advocated arming teachers to defend against school shootings while doubling down on his support of the bump stock ban, which has since been ruled unconstitutional. He also expressed support for so-called red flag laws, a position 2024 rival Ron DeSantis called unconstitutional and wrong.
During Monday’s town hall, CNN’s Anderson Cooper asked Christie about comments he made during his first campaign for office indicating it was motivated by a desire to defend New Jersey’s “assault weapons” ban. Christie reversed course and described himself as “naive” on the issue during his early political career.
“At 29 years old, I thought there were easy answers to everything, I really did,” Christie said. “And I thought that would be an easy answer, an easy fix. It turns out, it’s not.”
In the past, Christie has acknowledged that his time as a federal prosecutor from 2002 to 2008 changed his perspective on gun control.
“What I learned in those seven years was that we were spending much too much time talking about gun laws against law-abiding citizens and not nearly enough time talking about enforcing the gun laws strongly against criminals,” he told Fox News in 2016.
Christie was unable to repeal New Jersey’s strict gun laws while governor but did use executive power to deal with some of their effects, such as when he pardoned Shaneen Allen in 2015. Allen, a Black single mother, was arrested and jailed in New Jersey after a state trooper found her handgun at a traffic stop. Although she had a Pennsylvania concealed-carry permit, New Jersey did not recognize it, leading to her arrest.
In recent years, Christie has maintained a focus on mental health in response to mass shootings. In the aftermath of the 2022 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas he said more needed to be done to address the issue.
“The madness and the evil of the shootings in Uvalde are incomprehensible.” Christie said in a tweet, “We must focus on the mental health crisis in this country. It is long overdue.”
CNN has asked about gun policy in each of its Republican primary town halls to this point. However, the news channel has yet to announce if or when it will hold another candidate town hall.