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Story highlights

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie pardoned a Marine sergeant with New Hampshire ties over a gun charge

Christie has faced criticism from gun rights groups for his support more than 20 years ago of a federal assault weapons ban

(CNN) —  

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday pardoned a Marine sergeant with New Hampshire ties over a gun charge.

Sgt. Joshua Velez, a Massachusetts resident who works as recruiter in New England – including in the first-in-the-nation primary state – was arrested over Labor Day weekend after a traffic stop in the Garden State turned up an unloaded handgun in his vehicle’s glove compartment.

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Nicole Sizemore, Christie’s deputy press secretary, said Velez is licensed to carry the handgun in Massachusetts, but was charged in New Jersey with unlawful possession of a handgun and hollow point bullets.

Following a written application from Velez for a pardon over the criminal charges, Christie – a Republican presidential candidate – granted it. Christie this year has granted several pardons to non-New Jersey residents caught with weapons in violations of the Garden State’s strict gun laws.

The case has potential political overtones. Christie has faced criticism from gun rights groups – an important Republican primary constituency – for his support more than 20 years ago of a federal assault weapons ban. That’s a position Christie says he no longer holds.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” in August, Christie pointed to his vetoes of several proposed firearms regulations in New Jersey, including an I.D. card for gun owners.

On Monday, the governor’s office announced Christie’s support of a set of recommendations it said would “protect lawful individuals’ right to firearms for self-defense and protection.”

New Hampshire is a make-or-break state for Christie. He’s camped out there for months, ahead of the Feb. 9 primary. A recent CNN/WMUR poll showed Christie in third place in the Granite State among likely primary voters.