Chris Christie's quest to finesse the Republican right - a necessary task, given his obvious presidential ambitions - continues to be a font of fascination. He dutifully pandered on Friday night when he vetoed a proposed weapon ban, but today he's signing a bill that bans the junk-science practice of trying to convert gays into straight people.

There's no way to know how his prohibition of so-called "gay conversion therapy" will play with the social and religious conservatives who vote heavily in the gateway primary states of Iowa and South Carolina. But rest assured, these voters will duly note that the blue-state governor rejects their claptrap assumption that gay behavior is a sin curable by faith and/or a mental disorder curable by therapy. Right off the bat, from their perspective, Christie is less than 100 percent pure.

Christie said in a signing note today that people are born gay (he also said this on CNN two years ago). Worse yet, for religious conservatives, was his big reason for signing the gay "conversion" ban. He said that the well-documented health risks of trying to change a youngster's sexual orientation - risks like depression and suicide - trump concerns about governmental intrusion into parental decision-making.

The bottom line, he said, is that "we must look to experts in the field to determine the relative risks and rewards. I believe that exposing children to these health risks without clear evidence of benefits that outweigh these series risks, is not appropriate."

His key phrase - "we must look to experts in the field" - will surely trigger alarm bells on the rabid right. On the gay issue, religious conservatives don't do experts. That sounds a lot like, gulp, science. And in this case, it's science conducted by the American Psychological Association. Christie specifically cited an organization that believes in empirical study, nor faith-based suppositions. The APA has been arguing the absurdity of gay "conversion" since 2009, when it officially concluded - after studying 83 reports on so-called sexual orientation change, reports dating back to 1960 - that there was no evidence the treatment worked.

Therefore, Christie said, the government should ban the treatment (Jersey becomes the second state to do it; California has done it, though that ban is tied up in court). In Christie's words, "Government should tread carefully into this area" - referring to parental decision-making - "and I do so reluctantly."

You can see the tightrope he's walking. While he has held firm in his opposition to gay marriage (a minority position in American today), he doesn't want to stray too far from the political mainstream. Most Americans happen to agree wth Christie that gay people are born gay. He's essentially challenging religious conservatives to set aside their disagreement with his gay "conversion" stance, and to focus on the big picture. He's signaling that he has no intention to check every box on their litmus test; if he did that, he might win the nomination, but he'd surely lose the American middle in a general election. As he told the Republican National Committee last week, "My job is to win."

But just in case conservatives view his Jersey law as a Big Brother assault on parental rights, he gave them a tasty morsel last Friday night when he stood tall for the right to buy and brandish a .50-caliber semi-automatic assault rifle. What better way to pander rightward than to defend our untrammeled Freedom to fire a sniper weapon that cuts through bulletproof glass and cop body armor, that can kill a person a mile and a half away?

Christie himself had recently called for a state ban on the Barrett long-range weapon (the cops also want it banned), but when the ban bill actually reached Christie's desk, he said Nah. He claimed Friday that the bill went too far. Yeah, whatever. Perhaps it was sheer coincidence that gun-rights activists (tied to a group called Pro-Gun New Hampshire) were agitating against the ban, that they were watching Christie "with 2016 in mind," and that a Christie presidential bid would likely fail if he were to falter in New Hampshire.

His choreography on guns alone had better be deft. He has said in the past that he favors "commonsense" gun curbs (strike one with The Base), and he has defended Jersey's existing assault-weapons ban (strike two with The Base). On Fox News in 2009, when he told Sean Hannity that he liked "some of the gun-control measures we have in New Jersey," Hannity replied: "Bad idea."  So maybe, in a bid to calibrate a balance, his defense of that sniper rifle might help lower the decibels of right-wing audience boos at the '16 debates...

As long as he's not the only guy on stage who raises his hand when the moderator asks the candidates whether they think gays are born gay.

-------

Follow me on Twitter, @dickpolman1