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Senate Panel Advances Biden Nominee to ATF Director

David Chipman, a gun-control advocate, is heading for a full Senate vote.

David Chipman, a gun-control advocate, is heading for a full Senate vote. 

Retired ATF agent David H. Chipman speaking at a hearing on Wednesday, May 26, of the Senate Judiciary Committee. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — Lawmakers advanced President Joe Biden’s pick to oversee the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to the full Senate for a confirmation vote, but not without a contentious debate on the floor Thursday. 

David Chipman, an outspoken gun-control advocate and an ATF veteran himself, was tapped to oversee the department in April. Before his nomination, he worked as a senior policy advisor at Giffords Law Center, a gun-violence prevention group founded by its namesake, former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt in 2011.

Gun rights activists have lashed out over the pick, calling Chipman was an “extremist.” “It’s hard to imagine choosing a nominee who is more hostile to the rights of American gun owners than Chipman,” the National Rifle Association said in a statement.  

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 12 to 10 early Thursday to push Chipman’s nomination to the full Senate, with the vote falling along party lines. Several Senate Republicans took the opportunity to denounce Chipman for his past advocacy. 

In response to a question during his confirmation hearing, Chipman remarked that he’s a cop, not a lawyer. Senator Mike Lee took umbrage with this phrase on Thursday.  

“This statement is troubling, not only because Mr. Chipman was using it to dodge legitimate questions, but also because in making it he willfully ignores the focus of the ATF director’s position, which is to accurately interpret and apply the laws Congress writes for the regulation of the firearms industry,” the Utah Republican said. “I’m not saying that it takes a lawyer to do that, but it certainly takes someone who recognizes the impact of regulatory decisions.” 

Lee also called Chipman out for being “condescending” to first-time gun owners after sales went up in 2020

Senator Marsha Blackburn at a Thursday, June 24, hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee that advanced the nomination of David Chipman to lead the ATF. (Image via Courthouse News)

Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Republican from Tennessee, argued that Chipman had an “agenda.” “I asked him if he referred to common semiautomatic rifles as assault weapons, and he affirmed, yes, he did,” she said. His position “would effectively ban all sporting rifles in the United States." 

Senator Josh Hawley pointed out that the U.S. was seeing a spike in violent crime, with homicides up over 30% in major cities. “Wherever I go, police officers come to me, and they say we are desperate for help,” the Missouri Republican said. He argued that Chipman’s positions on gun control would put gun owners in more danger. 

Senate Democrats defended against these assertions. “He is, above everything else, an enforcer,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said of Chipman. “He believes in enforcement. And if my colleagues across the aisle are really serious about stopping the wave of gun violence that we see in our streets, they will vote for David Chipman.” 

“I believe that Mr. Chipman is not only qualified,” California Senator Dianne Feinstein added. “He’s the person that we need in this position at this time.” 

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