November 30, 2010
In his shift to the right over the years, Christie has moved at a pace that is positively tectonic. Christie started out in politics as a typical Northeastern liberal. He has, over the years, engaged in a sort of continental drift. Now, he’s a big hit in the Heartland.
But those who suspect a certain insincerity on his part keep coming up with embarrassing items from his past. One such item now knocking around the internet is a 1995 campaign mailer in which Christie attacked his opponents in a race for the Republican nomination for state Assembly.
"Tony Bucco and Mike Carroll want to repeal the ban on assault weapons," it read. Below it was a photo of an AK-47. But gun enthusiasts point out that the law also banned certain .22 caliber rifles, weapons useless for anything other than assaulting a soda bottle.
Shooters are sensitive to that sort of thing. Bucco and Carroll ended up in the Legislature, where they serve to this day.
As for Christie, he seems to have learned a lesson from that loss. By the time he ran for governor last year, he had adopted the position that politicians traditionally adopt when they really, really wish the gun issue would just go away: He said he wouldn’t seek new laws, but would enforce current laws.
That’s not good enough for gun lovers, and the case of Brian Aitken shows why. Aitken, a media consultant in his mid-20s, was a normal, law-abiding citizen until January of last year. That’s when he moved back to his native New Jersey from Colorado, where he had lived for several years.
He brought along three handguns he had legally purchased there, thoughtfully calling ahead to the New Jersey State Police to determine how to legally transport the guns to the Garden State — locked in the trunk of his car and unloaded.
But when police found them there after a minor family dispute at his mother’s house in Burlington County, Aitken faced felony charges.
Aitken didn’t help his case when he went on former New Jersey judge and Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano’s "Freedom Watch" TV show in August 2009. He told Napolitano how he felt he was being railroaded under then-Gov. Jon Corzine’s campaign to crack down on guns. When Aitken later went on trial, the judge admonished him for trying the case in the media. He was found guilty and sentenced to seven years in state prison, where he sits today.
The case shows the flaws in New Jersey current gun laws, said Carroll, a lawyer from Morristown who still holds that Assembly seat he won in that long-ago race against Christie.
"He was almost certainly guilty of what he is accused of doing," said Carroll of Aitken. "Technically speaking, under New Jersey law, you can’t even stop for coffee if you’re transporting guns."
Visiting his mother’s house with guns in the trunk exposed Aitken to the same sentence he would have faced if he’d stuck up a 7-Eleven.
"Assume for the moment he’s guilty. So what?" said Carroll. Treat it like failure to get your dog licensed."
Meanwhile, Napolitano, who has a home in Sussex County, told me yesterday the case represents an opportunity to take advantage of two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions to attack the constitutionality of New Jersey’s gun laws.
"Heller and McDonald have changed the whole world," said Napolitano, citing decisions in two cases in which the court affirmed an individual right to possess firearms. "If you can have a gun in your home, then you have to be able to get the gun to your home."
Aitken is quickly becoming the poster boy for the effort to loosen some of the strictest gun laws in the nation. So if our governor’s going to keep carving out a role as a right-winger, Christie will have to confront New Jersey’s liberal laws on gun control.
"If I were Chris, I’d say ‘Unless you can show me why I shouldn’t pardon this guy in 24 hours, I’m gonna do it,’" Carroll said.
Has Christie moved that far right? Continents drift slowly, but occasionally that drift results in an earthquake.
MORE ON THE CASE: Check this article in Reason Magazine for more on the case. Also on Dec. 12 there will be a rally in Toms River to free Brian Aitken. Also check this post on the Volokh blog about a lawsuit in Illinois that would help gun owners who were in a situation similar to that in which Aitken found himself.