ASPEN - Five prominent Republican governors in Aspen for a conference dismissed the idea Wednesday night that the U.S. needs a national gun-control law targeting assault weapons despite the multiple-murder tragedy in Colorado last month.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said his state has some of the toughest gun-control laws in the country, which he supports.
"I have to because that's what the people of our state want," he said.
Christie said more states should craft their own gun-control measures following the will of their residents rather than following a national law.
"I don't have a problem with different states making different determinations," he said.
Christie chided members of Congress for capitalizing on the tragedy in Aurora before victims were buried. Twelve people were killed and 58 wounded July 20 when a gunman entered a packed theater during a premiere of the new Batman movie and opened fire.
"I'm really repelled by the reaction to things that happened in this state," Christie said, "and by politicians tripping over each other to take advantage of the tragedy, before people even had their funerals, and try to turn it into a political cause.
"I think it's wrong. It's been done by a number of politicians around this country. At least have the funerals for the dead first before we start lining up with bills for Congress and holding press conferences. I think it's unseemly."
Political grandstanding such as that, he concluded, is why people "hate politicians."
Christie spoke during "A Conversation With Republican Governors," an event hosted by the Aspen Institute as part of the McCloskey Speaker Series. The Republican governors have been featured for several consecutive years, though Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson stressed the organization is nonpartisan.
Isaacson moderated the conversation with Christie; Nikki Haley, of South Carolina; Bobby Jindal, of Louisiana; Bob McDonnell, of Virginia; and Scott Walker, of Wisconsin. The governors are in Aspen for a closed-door conference at the St. Regis Hotel to discuss policy and politics. Mitt Romney, the likely Republican presidential candidate, will join them Thursday, first for a public campaign rally at Basalt High School and then at a fundraiser at The Little Nell hotel in Aspen. Politico.com reported that the fundraiser is expected to attract a guest list that reads like a who's who of donors to the Republican Party.
Wednesday's public event packed the Greenwald Pavilion at the Aspen Meadows. The crowd, which appeared dominated by elderly, wealthy second-home owners and a small mix of full-time residents, was clearly enthusiastic for the five Republican governors. All five panelists have been mentioned as possible vice presidential selections by Romney.
While Isaacson tossed the governors a variety of questions, from education reform to immigration policy to the inability of Democrats and Republicans to get along, the toughest question came from the audience. A man asked why so few Republicans stand up with courage and take a leadership position on an assault-weapons ban.
Jindal responded, "I just disagree with the premise of the question. I don't think it takes courage to do the politically correct thing."
The reality is the nation needs to enforce the laws already on the books, Jindal said.
"I don't think taking weapons away from law-abiding citizens is going to make it safer," he said.
Based on the crowd's reaction to the question and answers from Christie and Jindal, opinions were split on whether a national ban is needed on assault weapons. Otherwise, the crowd expressed nearly unanimous support for the positions expressed by the five governors.
Walker earned some of the biggest applause of the evening when Isaacson brought him into the conversation while talking about unions. Walker survived a recall effort earlier this year after he was targeted for significantly curtailing collective bargaining powers for public employees in Wisconsin.
Walker delivered the most direct political punch of the evening when he outlined steps he believes the country needs to take to settle its debt crisis. Walker called his proposal "five simple things we should do at the federal level." They are: balance the budget; "repeal Obamacare and provide certainty for small business"; reduce the marginal tax rate to put more money into the hands of American people; "reign in the EPA," which he claimed is harming small businesses; and repeal the National Labor Relations Board.
Walker and his fellow governors plugged Romney as the best candidate to make the tough decisions needed in the White House. Walker said it's time to "move on" and vote out Obama.
Several of the GOP governors will reportedly attend Romney's campaign rally in Basalt Thursday. Doors open at Basalt High School at 2 p.m. The event is scheduled to start at 3:15 p.m.