David Chipman at May 2021 Senate Judiciary Committee.

Deadlocked Senate committee leaves Chipman nomination in Schumer’s hands. Mississippi Senators oppose his confirmation.

President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) has been described by conservatives as a “gun control zealot,” doubling down on his support for a $200 national gun tax and a ban on semiautomatic firearms such as AR-15s in his confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate.

The ATF falls under the purview of the Department of Justice. It is tasked with regulating the gun industry.

David Chipman is a former ATF agent turned activist with the gun control lobby at Giffords. According to Chris Dorsey in Forbes, Chipman worked as a case agent in the Branch Davidian trial, where he claimed that cult members killed by ATF agents in Waco, Texas, had shot down a pair of government helicopters with .50 caliber rifles.

“Problem is,” Dorsey writes, “no such event occurred…only in Chipman’s vivid imagination.”

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee took up Chipman’s nomination for a vote to move it forward for full Senate consideration. The result was a tie vote with all Democrats voting to advance the nomination and all Republicans objecting. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) now must decide whether to call for a full Senate vote on Chipman’s nomination.

During his confirmation hearing in May, Chipman rubbed many conservatives the wrong way over the inability to describe an “assault weapon.” Among those was Senator John Kennedy from Louisiana who pressed Chipman on his definition of “assault weapon,” which the nominee refused to answer.

 

Mississippi Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith are opposed to Chipman’s nomination. Wicker said in a statement that the nominee’s positions on gun control put him in direct opposition to the Constitution.

“It is clear the Second Amendment provides citizens with a constitutional right to own firearms,” Senator Wicker said. “Mr. Chipman’s previous work as a gun control activist and his extreme stances on gun registries, firearm bans, and even against sporting rifles put him in direct opposition to the Constitution. Because of the clear threat he poses to the rights of gun owners in Mississippi and across our nation, I believe he is unfit to lead the ATF, and I will oppose his nomination.”

In a statement to Y’all Politics, Senator Hyde-Smith’s office said she strongly opposes the confirmation of Chipman to lead the ATF given her rock-solid record on protecting Second Amendment Rights and the nominee’s troubling policy positions and confirmation hearing appearance.

This week, Senator Hyde-Smith also agreed to join Republican leader Senator Mitch McConnell in opposing a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by the ATF to regulate pistol braces, “a regulatory effort that is an aggressive Administration gun control measure that could allow the confiscation of firearms from law-abiding Americans.”

Groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the Safari Club International (SCI) have long advocated against more gun control, not only as it pertains to upholding the Second Amendment rights for all Americans but as it relates to wildlife conservation.

Conservation is a key concern in states like Mississippi. According to SCI, the nomination of Chipman as part of Biden’s anti-gun agenda will significantly harm wildlife conservation and management efforts across the country. Manufacturers pay a 10-11% tax on firearms and ammunition which directly funds state wildlife and habitat conservation, law enforcement, hunter safety programs and other wildlife-related uses. This tax comes from all recreational firearm manufacturing, not just those used for hunting.

“The benefits all hunters and recreational shooters bring to wildlife and habitat conservation cannot be diminished. America’s law-abiding sportsmen and women are vital to providing the revenue, participation and management necessary to conserving wildlife and habitat across the country,” SCI CEO W. Laird Hamberlin stated in a release. “David Chipman’s explicit hostility to our community is dangerous and we strongly oppose his nomination to lead ATF.”

These groups have also cautioned Democrats on confirming a gun control activist to lead the ATF as that could, in turn, motivate Republicans to nominate someone from the gun industry, further politicizing the agency.

There has not been a confirmed nominee at the helm of the ATF since 2013 to 2015. Before then, confirmations were blocked by either party between 2006 and 2013.

Attorney General Merrick Garland

In a press conference this week alongside President Biden, Attorney General Merrick Garland outlined additional actions the ATF will be undertaking as it relates to clamping down on gun violence. Garland said the ATF will begin sharing inspection data with the 16 states that license or regulate firearms dealers themselves while also telling investigators in every field division that, as they prioritize inspections, they must consider the extent to which firearms sold by a dealer are later used in criminal activity.

President Biden followed Garland, stating that his Administration was taking steps to “rationally limit the type of weapon that can be owned and who can own it.” He challenged the idea that gun ownership by way of the Second Amendment was open-ended, saying of the when the amendment was passed, “You couldn’t buy a cannon.”

“Those who say ‘the blood of patriots,’ you know, and all the stuff about how we’re going to have to move against the government. Well, the tree of liberty is not watered with the blood of patriots,” President Biden said. “What’s happened is that there have never been — if you wanted or if you think you need to have weapons to take on the government, you need F-15s and maybe some nuclear weapons.”

Should Senate Majority Leader Schumer bring Chipman up for full Senate consideration, it is likely to meet a similar fate as it did in the Judiciary Committee, resulting in a 50-50 vote and leaving Vice President Kamala Harris with the potential tiebreaking vote.  But red state Democrat senators may be put in a difficult spot on the nomination.