ATF Pick Who Touts Gun Control Faces Choppy Senate Waters

David Chipman received harsh scrutiny from Republicans but took the opportunity to clear up some misconceptions. 

Retired ATF agent David H. Chipman speaks at a Wednesday hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — As a special agent from 1988 to 2012, David Chipman served as an explosive specialist on the national response team and a tactical operator on the special response team.

“I understand the physical and emotional stress that agents are under — particularly working on crimes involving mass casualties and destruction,” Chipman told senators Wednesday as they considered his nomination by President Joe Biden to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Like the attorney general and his deputy, Chipman, too, has experience with domestic terrorism: He was on-site as an investigative first-responder during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. 

But it’s his work since, particularly as the senior policy adviser for the gun control group Giffords Law Center, that struck a nerve during Wednesday’s hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee. Having already come under fire from gun rights activists for his past remarks on gun control, the retired agent faced renewed questions this morning from a handful of Republicans about his policy views. 

Back in 2019, for example, Chipman used the term “reckless” to rebuke a bill backed by Senator Mike Lee that would make gun silencers easier to purchase for gun owners concerned about their hearing,

“The only people that benefit from this bill are gun lobbyists and criminals who want easier access to deadly weapons,” Chipman told the Salt Lake Tribune. 

When Lee, visibly offended by the comment, read it aloud on Wednesday, Chipman tried to clarify his stance. “I was trying to contrast the fact that silencers are legal,” he explained. “You purchase them through the National Firearms Act. The people who want them unregulated are those that want to have easier access.” 

But the Utah Republican couldn’t be swayed. “You’re not going to spit downwind and tell us it’s raining,” he said. 

Senator Ted Cruz needled Chipman on AR-15s. In October 2018, Chipman argued that the rifles should be regulated like machine guns. He doubled down on this belief in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” last year: “I believe we should ban the future production and sale to civilians and afford current owners of these firearms the ability to license these particularly guns with ATF under the National Firearms Act,” Chipman wrote. 

“So, you want to ban the most popular gun in America?” Senator Cruz asked Wednesday. Chipman explained that while he personally supported a ban on AR-15s, he would enforce whatever rules are on the books if confirmed head of the ATF. 

Senator Tom Cotton, meanwhile, looked ahead to future political battles. He recounted a “string of bizarre events” that took place in October 2018, when Hunter Biden, the son of the now-president, allegedly threw his handgun into a public trash can, prompting the Secret Service to investigate. When agents asked the owner of the store where Hunter bought the gun for paperwork of the sale, the owner refused in fear that the gun was connected to a crime. 

Cotton, an Arkansas Republican, seemed convinced there was a crime involved, though the matter was soon dropped, and no charges ever arose. “Can I get your commitment that if you’re confirmed, you will in fact look into this matter and refer it for prosecution,” he asked Chipman, “if you find that Hunter Biden violated the law?”  

“What I will assure you is that as ATF director, I will ensure that all violations of law are investigated and referred,” he said, but “I’m not sure that it has not been investigated.” 

Chipman is expected to eke out a slim majority of the Senate, according to White House officials, but Republican opposition is growing. 

The ATF nominee proved the most controversial of other federal office nominees that the Senate Judiciary Committee considered Wednesday, including Margaret Irene Strickland for a judgeship in New Mexico, Ur Mendoza Jaddou to be director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and Anne Milgram to be administrator of Drug Enforcement among them.

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