CHICAGO (CBS) — Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner traded barbs Thursday on the issue of violent crime, as the governor sought to make Rauner’s support for ownership of assault weapons a major campaign issue.

READ MORE: Chicago Police Officer Released From Hospital After Being Shot In Shopping Center Parking Lot At North And Sheffield Avenues

WBBM Newsradio’s John Cody reports Quinn called a news conference Thursday morning at a West Side church to voice his support for a referendum on the November ballot in Cook County, asking if the state should ban military-style assault weapons, and require background checks for all gun sales and transfers.

The governor tried to turn an upcoming Rauner campaign event to his own advantage, when asked about New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s plans to visit Chicago for a Rauner campaign fundraiser.

“New Jersey, as you know, has a law banning assault weapons,” Quinn said.

At a debate during the Republican primary, Rauner said he believes it’s a constitutional right for people to own assault weapons, and use them on their private property or for target practice “as they choose fit.”

READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Pleasant Parade Weather Tuesday

Ahead of the governor’s event, Rauner’s campaign issued a press release, claiming the Quinn’s crime fighting strategies “have been disastrous for Illinois.”

Rauner accused Quinn of turning the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative – an anti-violence program the governor launched in the run-up to the 2010 election – into “a political slush fund.” Federal and state prosecutors have launched criminal probes of NRI in the wake of an audit that detailed problems with mismanagement and questionable spending within the $54.5 million program.

“His only answer is a non-binding election year referendum. Pat Quinn is just not serious about dealing with crime in our communities. It’s tragic,” the Rauner campaign said.

As he has before, Quinn said he shut down NRI in 2012 when problems came to light.

MORE NEWS: Indiana Attorney General Files Lawsuit To Crack Down On Harassing Robocalls, And Effort May Help In Illinois Too

“The people who were involved in that program are no longer working for me. I don’t agree with that in any way. We abolished that particular program, and we defunded it, and we’re going to continue to go forward on fighting violence,” Quinn said.