Christie, a 2016 Republican candidate for president, said that he would "wholeheartedly embrace" the recommendations of the New Jersey Firearm Purchase and Permitting Study Commission, which included broadening access to concealed carry permits for those who could prove they'd received threats against their lives.
However, Democrats in the Senate dismissed both the hand-picked commission as a group of the governor's cronies, and pooh-poohed its findings as merely tailored to buttress Christie's standing in the early-voting state of New Hampshire, where the governor trails Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida.
State Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen) said the commission's recommendations are merely "something for him to wave around to the New Hampshire voters."
But if Christie hoped his embrace of his hand-picked commission's findings would curry favor with Second Amendment rights activists, such thinking seems to have backfired.
"We're dumbfounded that any Second Amendment supporter would consider this a success," said Alexander Roubian, the president of the New Jersey Second Amendment Rights Society, a gun owners advocacy group. "If he walks into Iowa and New Hampshire with this report, he will be booed and kicked out of that state faster than he can believe it."
The Christie commission's report pointed to recent federal case law, like Wren v. District of Columbia, which briefly struck down Washington, D.C.'s ban on open and concealed carry as unconstitutional last year, saying that "there is ample reason to question whether New Jersey's 'justifiable need' requirement for the approval of a carry permit ... comports with the Second Amendment."
But as Roubian noted, rather than challenge the need for issuing carry permits at all, Christie's committee instead sought to conform with United States v. Wheeler, a 1920 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that only asked whether the "justifiable need" standard of carry permits improperly burdens the constitutionally-guaranteed right to carry a gun.
By following the Wheeler court standard requiring "the showing of an objective reason" for carrying a firearm, Christie's commission argued that it "allows for the sort of meaningful self-protection by a law-abiding applicant that we believe will be necessary (at a minimum) for our handgun permitting laws to survive constitutional scrutiny."
"It's saying Carol Bowne now has enough reason to apply for a concealed carry permit, but when she was alive, she didn't," Roubian said.
Bowne was a Berlin Township woman murdered in her driveway earlier this year by her ex-boyfriend, against whom she held a domestic violence protective order. Her application for a handgun permit was still being processed at the time of her murder.
The commission called for amending New Jersey's concealed carry regulations "so individuals who can demonstrate an urgent necessity for self-protection by articulating serious threats, specific threats or previous attacks which demonstrate a special danger to the applicant's life that cannot be reasonably avoided by other means could obtain a carry permit" if they otherwise qualify.
Bowne's brother, Mark Ehly, said he didn't agree with Christie's approach to merely broadening a citizen's access to carry permits after being attacked or threatened.
"My sister got murdered in her yard and she couldn't protect herself," Ehly said. "If you want to carry a gun, you should be able to carry a gun. I think everybody should be legit: If you're background's good, you should be able to carry. But it ain't worth applying for a gun in New Jersey, cause you're not gonna get it. "
Democrats, meanwhile, criticized the timing of the report, as well as the opaque process by which the commission's members were appointed by Christie.
"This came out of nowhere," Weinberg said, adding that despite reviewing the report, she still had "no idea how they complied their findings, nor how they drew conclusions."
She noted the report alleged that "statutory requirements for obtaining ... handgun carry permits are being applied unevenly across New Jersey townships," but offered no methodology for reaching such a conclusion.
On the eve of launching his White House bid last June, Christie announced he would form the commission to examine whether New Jerseyans had full and fair access to their Second Amendment rights.
However, five months later, on Nov. 25, a spokesman for the governor, Kevin Roberts, told an NJ Advance Media reporter there was no information available on the staffing of the commission. The lack of any announced panel members, much less any recommendations, drew the ire of Second Amendment groups.
Meanwhile, on Monday afternoon, Nicole Sizemore, a spokeswoman for the governor, emailed NJ Advance Media to say that "commission members were appointed on November 24" but added that "they were approached some time before then about lending their service, and began their work prior to their formal appointment."
Democrats rejected that explanation of this timing and the cozy makeup of the committee as all too convenient.
"The fact is that he got three people to write a report that he never publicly appointed," Weinberg said, "at least two of which are his former employees and one of which is married to one of his employees."
The three-member commission includes Adam Heck, a retired Middletown police officer who worked as an aide to Christie from 2010-2015 in the Office of Counsel to the governor, and Eric H. Jaso, an assistant United States attorney for the State of New Jersey from 2003-2008. Christie served as United States attorney for New Jersey from 2002 to 2009. The third member of the commission is Erik Lillquist , vice dean at Seton Hall Law School, and the spouse of the governor's chief ethics officer, Heather V. Taylor.
State Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D- Union), himself an expected candidate for governor in 2017, dismissed Christie's solution as something that would increase, not lessen gun violence.
"If you can prove (threats against your life), then you should take that proof to law enforcement, rather than be a potential vigilante yourself," Lesniak said. "You shouldn't be giving people the green light to take the law into their own hands. They'll bring back the wild wild west here, and we'll be just like the other state where the murder rate is so much higher than ours. I don't want New Jersey to be Texas."
According to the FBI's Uniform Report on Crime, there were an average of 4.5 homicides for every 100,000 people nationwide last year. In Texas there was an average of 4.4 per 100,000, while in New Jersey, there were only 3.9 homicides for every 100,000 people — 11 percent fewer.
UPDATE: A second gun rights group, the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, has spoken out about Christie's embrace of the recommendations; he favors them.
"We welcome Gov. Christie's acceptance of these historic recommendations and thank the governor for taking unprecedented action in support of Second Amendment rights," said Scott Bach, executive director of the ANJRPC. "When fully implemented, these executive actions will make a real difference in the lives of law-abiding gun owners, without compromising the governor's tough record going after violent criminals."