By David Jones
NEWARK, New Jersey (Reuters) - New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Friday vetoed legislation that would have banned .50-caliber rifles from the state, infuriating gun control activists who said that he was bowing to political pressure from the right.
The move comes a week after Christie signed into law 10 less controversial gun violence bills that were backed by gun control advocates, including bans on the sale of firearms to people on federal terrorism watch lists and increased penalties for firearms use.
But Christie said the prohibition on .50-caliber rifles would outlaw a weapon that had never been used in a crime in New Jersey.
"Tellingly, the legislature points to no instance of this class of firearms being used by even a single criminal in New Jersey," he said. "The wide scope of this total ban, therefore, will not further public safety, but only interfere with lawful recreational pastimes."
The bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Peter Barnes, called the veto puzzling, saying that Christie had previously expressed support for the concept.
"I can only assume Governor Christie caved to the extremists who oppose any common sense gun violence prevention effort," Barnes said.
Christie, seen as a potential candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, also conditionally vetoed two other bills designed to curb gun violence, sending them back to the state legislature with language that the Democrat-controlled body was unlikely to accept.
The two measures would have created laws requiring law enforcement to report lost and stolen gun data to a federal database, embed information about gun permits onto a driver's license, create instant background checks and require safety training for gun owners.
Christie called the idea of using smart card technology to embed information into a driver's license "unworkable and impractical," saying it echoed a 2002 proposal for a personalized handgun that can only be fired by a recognized user.
"The technology didn't exist then and it doesn't now 11 years later," he said in a statement.
Gun rights advocates strongly supported the governor's veto, saying the measures would do little to reduce crime and were designed to forward a political agenda.
"After seven months of intense battles over misguided legislation that won't stop another crime or prevent another tragedy, we are grateful that Governor Christie has finally ended the discussion on the worst of the bills by tossing them onto the scrap heap where they belong," said Scott Bach, director of the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs.
Gun rights advocates nationwide were closely watching the legislation. Second Amendment supporters feared that if Christie signed the bills that he would give cover to other states to sign new gun restrictions into law.
(Editing by Dan Whitcomb and Bill Trott)