On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for several Biden administration nominees, including professional gun control activist David Chipman for director of the federal agency that enforces the nation’s gun control laws (commonly referred to as ATF). Chipman’s evasive, contradictory, and dishonest testimony disqualified him from further consideration for the position.
The structure of the hearing was designed to prevent serious, in-depth vetting of the various candidates. Each Committee member was limited to five minutes of questioning for the entire slate of five high-level nominees. The Democrat-led committee no doubt hoped that hiding Chipman in a crowd of other nominees would diminish the scrutiny brought to bear on his highly controversial nomination.
The gambit did not work. Pro-gun committee members were able to elicit sufficient information to demonstrate that Chipman lacks the professionalism, honesty, candor, and fairness necessary to enforce the law in an unbiased manner to the benefit of the American people.
The most damning testimony that Chipman provided concerned his desire to ban so-called “assault weapons.” Chipman has a long record as a paid gun control advocate of supporting sweeping efforts to outlaw some of America’s most popular rifles, including the iconic AR-15. He is also on record insisting that the prior federal “assault weapons” ban did not go far enough.
Indeed, Chipman’s supposed firearm expertise as a former ATF special agent was meant to lend credibility to the gun control groups that have employed him. These groups include Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety and the oft-renamed gun control lobby associated with former congresswoman Gabby Giffords. If there’s anybody who should be able to provide chapter and verse on the technical aspects of firearms, shouldn’t it be a career ATF professional?
Even now, the gun control group Giffords lists Chipman as a “senior policy advisor” on its website. That organization, in turn, very explicitly describes “key legislative elements” to “provide a framework” for the enactment of “assault weapons” bans at the federal and state levels. It additionally lists jurisdictions whose laws exemplify the elements of this framework.
The Giffords framework stresses a “generic features” approach that describes the weapons to be banned. The exemplary laws it cites all begin from the starting point of a semiautomatic rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and then set forth a list of additional “features,” the inclusion of any one of which would result in a banned firearm.
These features include such things as a pistol or forward grip; a folding, detachable, or adjustable stock; a barrel shroud; and a threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash suppressor, compensator, or muzzle break. The framework also suggests supplementing this test with an additional list of firearms that are banned by name, as well as empowering a specified law enforcement official to add to that list on an ad hoc basis, thus further expanding the ban.
Most chillingly, Giffords recommends that firearms lawfully acquired before the ban not be exempted from its scope, raising the prospect of forceful confiscation from those who do not voluntarily relinquish their guns.
Needless to say, nationwide adoption of these standards would affect tens of millions of common firearms owned by people who use them exclusively for lawful purposes, including the wildly popular AR-15. It is as radical a position as can be imagined for a country in which the Constitution has been authoritatively interpreted by the U.S. Supreme to protect firearms “’in common use at the time’ for lawful purposes like self-defense.”
Yet when pressed by committee members to define or describe the types of firearms he would like to see included in assault weapons bans, Chipman refused to display any courage for the convictions he espoused as a gun control advocate or any relevant technical expertise. He simply would not answer the question, as best exemplified in an exchange with Sen. John Kennedy (R-LA). “Just give me your definition,” Kennedy pleaded, after confirming that Chipman still supported a ban. When Chipman refused, Kennedy finally concluded in frustration, “I’m done, Mr. Chairman. I don’t think I’m going to get an answer.”
Needless to say, the over 100 million Americans who own guns cannot be expected to trust a would-be ATF director who claims to support a gun ban in one breath while refusing to specify how far it should go in the next.
Chipman had much to say about his career as a ATF agent in his opening statement, while completely ignoring his more recent employment in a political lobby dedicated to depriving Americans of their Second Amendment rights. He also used the old humble public servant routine in trying to deflect a question about whether the Supreme Court’s recognition of the individual right to bear arms under the Second Amendment was rightly decided. The Giffords group, as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) reminded Chipman, had submitted an amicus brief in the case arguing against this interpretation. “Senator, I’m a cop, not a lawyer,” Chipman replied.
Yet it is the more recent gun control advocacy work – backed by powerful figures like Bloomberg – which is the true impetus for Chipman’s nomination. Ranking committee member Chuck Grassley (R-IA) noted during his opening statement that even CNN has described Chipman as a “fierce advocate for gun control.” He added, “Many see putting a committed gun control proponent like Mr. Chipman in charge of ATF as like putting a tobacco executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services or ANTIFA in charge of the Portland Police Department.”
Put another way, Chipman’s nomination is embarrassingly political and partisan by any standard.
Wednesday’s hearing gave David Chipman an opportunity to try to reassure gun owners and their representatives in the Senate that he is a person of integrity and professionalism. By failing to answer simple questions about his past policy positions, he has shown himself unworthy of their trust.
Any senator expecting the support of the gun owning community must vote “no” on David Chipman’s nomination to lead ATF.