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Friday, March 1, 2024 | Back issues
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Biden ATF Pick Faces Pushback From Gun Rights Activists

President Biden officially sent David Chipman’s nomination to the sharply divided Senate on Monday.

WASHINGTON (CN) — David Chipman, an outspoken gun control advocate and veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has been nominated to oversee the department. Gun rights activists aren’t too happy about it. 

President Joe Biden announced his nominated last Thursday and sent the nomination to the Senate on Monday afternoon. 

Chipman is a sensible pick for Biden, who also recently announced his intention to roll back access to guns. Last week the president sent Congress a 2022 federal budget wish list totaling $1.5 trillion to help him govern over the next fiscal year; the list included $2.1 billion earmarked for the Justice Department to tackle gun violence – $232 million more than the department received last year. 

“Let me say it again,” Biden said during his remarks on Thursday, “gun violence is an epidemic and it’s an international embarrassment.” The president announced a series of executive directives targeting gun violence alongside Chipman’s nomination, including federal rules for gun accessories, model red-flag legislation and annual reports on firearms trafficking.

Chipman previously worked as a special agent for the ATF for 25 years. During his time there, he disrupted the so-called Iron Pipeline, a route used for firearms trafficking between the South and the Mid-Atlantic.  

Today he’s a senior policy advisor at Giffords, a gun violence prevention group founded by its namesake, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. 

But much like Biden’s other nominees to DOJ positions, Chipman has come under fire for his past. Last year, a Reddit user identifying himself as Chipman started an “Ask Me Anything” thread where he discussed his work for the ATF and the agency's SWAT team. In one post, he remarked on the 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas, between the ATF and the Branch Davidians, a cult led by David Koresh. 

“At Waxo, cult members used 2 .50 caliber Barretts to shoot down two Texas Air National Guard helicopters,” the user David_Chipman wrote. But there’s been no evidence that this occurred. An old photo, allegedly depicting a young Chipman at the site of the shootout, has also been circulating on social media as critics slammed him for supporting the ATF's siege. 

Chipman has also been the target of ire from gun lobbyists. On Friday, the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action publicly condemned the nomination on the basis that he’s an “extremist”. 

The press release references an amicus brief filed by Giffords, his employer, in the Supreme Court case District of Columbia v. Heller, arguing that it was constitutional to completely ban handguns. 

The NRA also cites comments Chipman made in October 2018 in favor of regulating AR-15s like machine guns under the National Firearms Act, which requires a machine gun owners to register their weapons. “Like, I don‘t think you should be able to anonymously purchase 20 AR-15s at one time and the government shouldn‘t know,” he said during an interview on Hill.TV. “I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all that you have to pass a background check to own a weapon of war.”  

AR-15s were used in 10 mass shootings over the past decade, including the March 23 massacre in Boulder, Colorado, that claimed 10 lives. 

The NRA, however, believes it’s hard enough as it is to get an AR-15 due to a yearlong backlog in applications for the registry. “It’s hard to imagine choosing a nominee who is more hostile to the rights of American gun owners than Chipman,” the group said. 

Chipman will likely face a difficult hearing in the Senate. He’ll need 51 votes to be confirmed as the agency’s director, which hasn’t seen a permanent leader since 2015. But with the Senate sharply divided on partisan lines, he could face a fate similar to Vanita Gupta, Biden’s nominee for associate attorney general, whose vote came to a tie. Democrats and Republicans each have 50 seats in the Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris wielding the tie-breaking vote.

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