On September 20, 2013, Steffon Josey-Davis committed a felony; and on June 8, 2015, Davis says, Chris Christie "saved my life.”
Davis is a 24-year-old black man from New Brunswick, New Jersey, and who, in 2013, was working as a truck driver for Loomis Armor, transporting U.S. and foreign currency to banks and ATMs.
Davis, who had dreams of becoming a police officer, legally owned a gun which he traveled with for work.
On that Friday morning in September, Davis remembers, "About 5 o'clock-ish, I opened up my closet, grabbed my bulletproof vest and firearm from the safe – the firearm was already loaded when I made my way to my garage." Davis had begun removing the bullets from the firearm, he told me, when he was interrupted by his little sister entering the garage. "I put the firearm in the glove compartment, put my sister back upstairs." That's when, Davis said, he realized he was late for work. He rushed out of the house, forgetting that he had left his firearm in the glove compartment.
According to Garden State law, transported firearms must be unloaded and either secured in a trunk or a case. Transporting guns in “passenger compartments” is explicitly prohibited.
So when Davis was pulled over for his expired registration later that evening and he realized where his gun was, and he alerted the officer who had stopped him – "I was like, 'oh, officer, I have my firearm in the glove compartment'" – he was actually admitting to a felony.
"They took the firearm and gave me a ticket [for the expired registration] and said I could come get it on Monday…They gave me a ticket and let me go."
When Davis got to the Highland Park Police Department on Monday, he was placed under arrest.
"I was just like, 'What?' When you hear unlawful possession of a firearm, you're just thinking what you see on the news" – armed robbers and violent criminals, not young men on their way to work, hoping to enter law enforcement themselves.
He was arrested under The Graves Act, which assigns mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes.
As a result, Davis was facing 10 years in prison. He opted to plead guilty to the second-degree felony and take a deal for one year of probation – and to begin publicly lobbying for a pardon from Governor Christie.
It wasn't the safest bet.
Christie has an inconsistent record on guns, but a consistent record on cracking down on crime.
He began his political career in the mid-1990s, running on the platform that New Jersey had too many weapons. In 1993, while running his first campaign – for the state senate – he went as far as to tell The Star-Ledger, "the issue which has motivated me to get into this race is the recent attempt by certain Republican legislators to repeal New Jersey's ban on assault weapons…We already have too many firearms in our communities." In 1995, while running for the state assembly, he told voters that voting for him was a "vote for safer streets," while decrying his opponents' "dangerous…crazy…radical plan to legalize assault weapons."
As United States Attorney in 2002, his solution for stopping gun violence was to lock up gang members and to "expedite firearm identification efforts."
When Christie became governor in 2009, he vowed to "strictly enforce" the state's existing gun laws which, he noted, were "some of the most aggressive in the country."
He focused on illegal weapons in particular, initiating gun buyback programs and encouraging the Attorney General to do more to arrest criminals and seize their weapons. After 20 children were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, in 2012, Christie called for "a large, national discussion," one which, he said, needed to include gun control. Democrats in the New Jersey legislature sent 17 gun control bills to Christie's desk, and he signed 10 of them into law.
But Davis had reason to be hopeful, too.
His story had received national attention, and his Change.org petition – "I am asking you, from the bottom of my heart, to please support me and ask Governor Christie to grant me a pardon so that I can continue to follow my dreams" – garnered 75,000 signatures.
Fortunately for Davis, Christie wants to win the Republican nomination for president.
Previously thought of as the candidate to beat in the Republican primaries, which he is expected to enter any day now, months of scandal and political troubles at home have weakened Christie. He has been eclipsed by more establishment candidates like Jeb Bush as well as by right-wingers like Ted Cruz. Hurting politically and eager to repair his reputation among the pro-gun rights groups that have long pilloried him, on April 2, Christie pardoned Shaneen Allen, a different legal gun owner – from Pennsylvania – who was arrested in circumstances similar to Davis’s. But despite that move, a few days later, when the National Rifle Association hosted its annual convention in Nashville, Christie was one of just two likely Republican presidential candidates who were not invited.
Then, last week, Christie gifted Davis with a pardon.
"It's definitely, definitely a life-changer," Davis told me. "Now I can fulfill my dreams and be successful in life and not have this burden over my shoulder."
The pardon is a convenient way for Christie to make a grand display of his opposition to New Jersey's laws without actually doing anything to change them. Michael Patrick Carroll, a state assemblyman – and one of the "radical" lawmakers Christie ran against in 1995 – asked, "What's wrong with doing good while doing well? If you can go out there and do justice a the same time as drawing attention to the silly laws, and perhaps while helping a national campaign, what's wrong with that?"
Carroll said, as Christie does, that changing the laws would be impossible with New Jersey's overwhelmingly Democratic legislature.
To the rest of the country, Carroll said, Christie may not be the 2nd Amendment's greatest advocate, "If he were running in Alabama, no. He retains some reservations that would lose him votes in Wyoming." However, "By New Jersey standards, he's a rockstar."
But not everyone agrees.
Dan Roberts, a 2nd Amendment advocate from Southern Jersey whose 10 year old daughter has gone viral for her competitive shooting skills, told me, "If I was his campaign manager, I would be smacking him in the head telling him he's not doing nearly enough! The rest of the country isn't buying his phony 2-A credentials."
"He blames it on the Democratic legislature – that's what I have to work with – that's nonsense."
The law, Roberts said, Christie "can change under executive order. He has the authority under the Constitution of New Jersey. His hands aren't tied. He doesn't want to do it."
Critics like Roberts might not matter, however. Davis told me he is eager to help Christie out on the campaign trail. "I don't expect him [to ask] but if I was invited to do so, I would definitely come out and speak on his behalf."
Davis even agrees with Christie that he simply can't change the laws. "There are legislators in there and they're Democrats and they won't pass these gun laws," he said. "I would definitely campaign with him and I would definitely help him bring awareness to what’s going on. He saved me, he gave me rights back."
"I feel as though, he takes into consideration what the new jersey gun laws have done to innocent people and it just shows that he's aware of what’s going on and willing to change that…if he runs ill definitely give him my vote."