TRENTON, N.J. (AP) — As a young lawyer running for elected office for the first time, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said he was motivated to get into the 1993 state Senate race because of Republican lawmakers' attempts to repeal the state's ban on assault weapons.
Challenged on his record on Fox News last month, the Republican presidential candidate drew a blank. "I don't remember saying that," claimed Christie. "It doesn't sound like me."
Christie has distanced himself from his state's tough gun laws on the campaign trail, and what he calls his evolving views on the Second Amendment have riled up New Jersey Democrats who say he's pandering to a more conservative electorate out of state.
The change set up a showdown Thursday with New Jersey Democrats trying to override his veto of a bill that would require law enforcement to be notified when potential gun-buyers seek to expunge mental health records.
The bill had passed the Legislature unanimously, and the state Senate voted to override Christie last month. That was the first successful veto override vote in more than 50 attempts, but Assembly Democrats were unable to get enough support. They'll try again later this month.
The vote was to come a day after 14 people were killed and more than 20 wounded in California in the country's worst mass shooting since the Newtown massacre in 2012.
New Jersey Democrats say Christie — whose New Hampshire-focused strategy is beginning to show signs of life — vetoed the bill because he wants to appease conservative Republican presidential primary voters, while Christie argues that this issue should become part of a more comprehensive approach to mental-health treatment.
Christie has visited New Hampshire more than any other candidate and hosted 36 town hall meetings. The conservative editorial board of the Union Leader, New Hampshire's largest newspaper, endorsed Christie earlier this week.
New Hampshire's Republican electorate is less socially conservative than elsewhere, but still opposes stricter gun control.
"The reality is in order to win the primary you have to run as far right as possible," said Seton Hall associate political science professor Matthew Hale. "His position on guns ... everything has gone to the right."
His opponents have ripped him for changing his positions, but the governor says that's to be expected.
"If you haven't changed your mind once on a single issue in 20 years, then I'll tell you you're not a thinking, breathing, living human being," Christie told a man in Iowa in July who challenged his record on guns.
Christie has not opposed all gun regulations. In 2013, he signed nearly a dozen bills restricting firearms, including one that bars individuals on the federal terror watch list from buying guns.
And he has taken action that he argues shows strong support of the Second Amendment, including vetoing some of the more contentious gun bills. Christie had backed banning the Barrett .50-caliber long range rifle, but he vetoed a bill that would ban .50-caliber rifles saying that the measure went too far.
He also pardoned five people in the past year facing gun charges in New Jersey. The pardons included out-of-state residents who reported carrying a firearm to police during traffic stops not realizing they were in violation of New Jersey law.
Bob Clegg, president of ProGun NH, said Christie's current stance will help him in the first-in-the-nation primary state.
"I think the fact that he pardoned three people, especially the lady who was a nurse who carried because she worked in a tough neighborhood, speaks well for him," Clegg said.
And as for Christie's shifting positions, Clegg said New Hampshire's voters can forgive that.
"He's made a lot of friends in New Hampshire as far as being straightforward, honest," Clegg said. "He's admitted that when he was 31, he had a different opinion. He's not afraid to tell us that."
This story has been corrected to delete the erroneous reference that a commission appointed by Christie recommended a ban on the Barrett .50-caliber rifle; it did not.
Associated Press writers Rik Stevens, in Concord, New Hampshire, and Jill Colvin, in Washington, contributed to this story.