In November, the New Jersey Senate made history by successfully overriding one of Gov. Chris Christie’s vetoes for the first time. Thursday, Assembly Democrats failed in their override try.

Lawmakers in the NJ Assembly chambers during Gov. Chris Christie's 2016 budget address. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)
Lawmakers in the NJ Assembly chambers during Gov. Chris Christie's 2016 budget address. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

The bill would make it more difficult for a mentally ill person to legally buy a gun. The bill was removed from the board list before the vote was recorded giving the Assembly the opportunity to try another override possible in the near future without having to go through the entire legislative process again.

“In this lame duck session, I am planning to bring this bill back up and let people know that they’re going to have to see it again and they’re going to have to answer to the residents of the State of New Jersey if they do not want to do the right thing, because again, this was a common sense bill; it’s a single issue that needs to be addressed in the State of New Jersey,” said Assembly Speaker Vinnie Prieto (D-Secaucus).

The original bill passed both the senate and assembly unanimously and had several GOP sponsors. Because of the surprise resignation of Democratic Assemblyman Whip Wilson this week, seven Republicans voted were needed for a successful override. Only four GOP members voted in favor of the override. They publicly supported Christie’s position that the legislation didn’t go far enough. The prime Democratic sponsor disagreed.

“This is, after all, neither a narrow nor an insignificant bill,” said Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck). “We were all concerned back in June that law enforcement officials are not involved in whether a mental health record of a prospective firearms purchaser should be expunged. Nothing has changed to ease that worry. This bill is about common sense and public safety.”

The vetoed bill (S-2360) would have allowed police to tell a judge about any suspicious reports regarding a person trying to expunge his or her mental health records in order to buy a gun. In other words, the measure is designed to prevent mentally ill people from getting guns.

Republicans argued that under the bill a person could get their mental health records expunged first and then later try to buy a gun.

“That is the big loophole in the bill. You could drive a Mack truck through it,” said Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R-Wayne).

Republican Assemblyman Tony Bucco (R-Randolph) asked what was wrong with voting for a stronger bill. Former Speaker Sheila Oliver (D-East orange), a Democrat suggested that anyone who voted against the override should do some soul-searching and ask themselves why they were in the legislature.

In his veto message, Christie said he was not interested in taking a patchwork approach to dealing with mental health issues and gun violence. On Oct. 4 on ABC’s “Meet the Press” the governor criticized Democrats after their failed override attempt.

“I’m very concerned about the mental health side of this and I put forward a proposal to the Legislature last year and then again just about seven or eight weeks ago in response to a bill they sent saying: Let’s do some tough things on mental health. Let’s make involuntary commitment of people who speak violently easier for doctors,” the governor said.

Christie has vetoed over 400 bills and Democrats have never overturned one. The next override attempt is scheduled for Dec. 17.

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