New Jersey Democrats have tried more than 50 times to override one of Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoes. They have failed every time. Thursday, Senate Democrats were scheduled to try again.

A customer shops for a handgun in a gun store
A customer shops for a handgun in a gun store (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

This time, they hoped to overturn Christie’s veto of a bill (S-2360) that would require law enforcement to be notified and consulted any time someone tries to have their mental health records expunged so they can buy a gun.

"I cannot endorse a continued path of patchwork proposals and fragmented statutes that add further confusion to an already cumbersome area of law,” Christie wrote in his conditional veto message on Aug. 10. “Instead, we must seek real reform. It is our responsibility to enact a comprehensive set of solutions that build safer communities and ensure that individuals with mental illness get the treatment they need.”

In late September, the Senate failed to garner the 27 voters needed to override the veto. Twenty-three Democrats voted in favor as did two Republicans, senators Jennifer Beck (R-Red Bank) and Chris Connors (R-Forked River). Democratic State Sen. Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark) was not there for the vote.

A new competing mental health expungement bill (S-3218) is sponsored by Senate Republican Leader Tim Kean (R-Westfield). It would go further than original legislation in part because it would make it easier to commit someone against their will. Kean called his measure a compromise.

“We had a compromise piece of legislation. It had a Republican co-prime sponsor (Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerville), Republican sponsors and was unanimously approved,” said State Sen. President Steve Sweeney who felt Kean’s bill stigmatizes people with mental illness.

At a recent State House press conference, Senate Democratic Leader Loretta Weinberg (D-Teaneck) said Christie was playing politics with the veto because it gave him the chance to court conservative voters as he continues his run for president. In a press release, Christie accused Sweeney of putting his political career first.

“Rather than looking for common ground, the Senate president has rejected bipartisan compromise out of hand and put his own political grandstanding and gubernatorial candidacy ahead of public safety and fixing the gaps that exist in our mental health system,” said the governor.

The Senate president said Christie and Kean could continue to ignore their responsibilities in pursuit of their political ambition, but he would not do that.

“We’re bringing up the bill that every single member of the senate voted ‘yes’ for. We shouldn’t have to be doing this. This is something that everyone of us voted for,” Sweeney said.

Under current law, firearms sellers have to run a background check of prospective gun buyers using the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to see if the person is eligible to purchase a firearm under federal and state law. However, law enforcement officials aren’t involved in the process of determining whether a mental health record of a prospective firearms purchaser should be expunged.

“I’m interested in getting people with mental health issues the help they need and preventing them from doing harm to others, not playing partisan games,” said Kean in an emailed statement.

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