The White House on Thursday withdrew the controversial nomination of David Chipman to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), releasing a statement explaining the decision.
President Joe Biden accused congressional Republicans of “us[ing] gun crime as a talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it.” These same Republicans, the White House says, have “moved in lockstep to block David Chipman’s confirmation,” because they “side with gun manufacturers over the overwhelming majority of the American people.”
Biden in the statement thanked Chipman for his service in the ATF, saying he “would have been an exemplary Director of the ATF and would have redoubled its efforts to crack down on illegal firearms traffickers and help keep our communities safe from gun violence.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters in Washington that the White House is in active discussions with Chipman on finding him another role in the administration.
In its 50-year history, the ATF has had recurring difficulties in getting Senate confirmation for appointed directors, with only one nominee—B. Todd Jones, appointed by President Barack Obama—ever being confirmed by the Senate.
Chipman’s withdrawal is the second failure by the president to secure confirmation for his nominees. The other was Neera Tanden, Biden’s nominee for the White House Office of Management and Budget, after inflammatory tweets from the nominee alienated moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), one of the most critical swing votes in the upper chamber for Democratic policy priorities.
Chipman, a staunch gun control advocate, has faced significant criticism from moderate members of the Senate Democratic caucus, gun rights groups, and Republican leadership since his nomination.
Like Tanden, controversy surrounding Chipman fractured the Democratic unity needed for a confirmation, with Manchin, along with moderate Sens. Angus King (I-Maine) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) signaling strong skepticism toward the nominee.
The National Association for Gun Rights (AGR), a strongly pro-Second Amendment organization, issued a statement on the withdrawal.
“This morning, the White House and anti-gun Democrats admitted defeat and withdrew their nomination of David Chipman to head the ATF,” the AGR said in its release. It referenced the split among Senate Democrats, saying that the “staunch gun control advocate could not garner enough support in the U.S. Senate to make it through the nomination process.”
The AGR quoted its president, Dudley Brown, saying Chipman’s nomination was “a slap in the face to gun owners across the country. Now, thanks to the pro-gun grassroots, we’ve put Chipman back where he belongs: at home, without a job.”
While Brown celebrated the defeat, he predicted that “President [Joe] Biden will prop up another anti-gun pawn in the near future.” He added that AGR and its members “stand ready to oppose their unconstitutional actions.”
Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) in July unleashed a torrent of accusations at Chipman and the party that nominated him on the Senate floor. He criticized Democrats for allowing crime rates to rise dramatically by “implicitly supporting ‘defund the police’ by staying silent.”
Thune said that Democrats, now concerned about their prospects in 2022, are turning their attention to “creating new laws that will only serve to further burden the constitutionally guaranteed Second Amendment rights of law-abiding individuals.” Rather, he suggested that this rise in crime should be dealt with by more stringent enforcement of current laws and punishment of criminals. Thune called the crime surge “a convenient excuse for [Democrats to push] some of their gun control priorities.”
Finally, Thune turned to Biden’s nomination of Chipman. “Nowhere are President Biden’s priorities more clear than in his choice of nominee to lead the ATF.” Chipman, the senator noted, “would come to the ATF directly from an organization where he has spent the past five years as a gun control advocate.”
Before his nomination, Chipman worked as a senior policy adviser at Giffords Law Center. The organization, founded by Arizona state Rep. Gabby Giffords, announces on its website landing page, “We’re on a mission to save lives from gun violence.” Giffords herself began the group after being wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tuscon.
Thune continued, saying that Chipman “is known for his sometimes extreme views on gun control and restricting the Second Amendment.”
Prominently, Thune said, Chipman would work to ban “probably the most popular rifle in the United States,” the Armalite Rifle-15 (AR-15). He also, said Thune, “supports a so-called ‘assault weapons ban,’ which usually refers to banning certain guns for their accessories and their appearance of lethality.”
Thune then pointed to a former hearing for the nominee, where Chipman “could not give a clear representation of how he would define such a policy.”
Earlier this year, Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) of the Senate Judiciary Committee asked Chipman, “Do you believe in private ownership of assault weapons?” Chipman quickly responded in the affirmative, but declined to say what ones he owned himself.
Kennedy then put forward a corollary question, asking the nominee “Do you believe in banning assault weapons?” Again, Chipman responded that he does.
Kennedy then asked as a follow-up how Chipman would define “assault weapons.” Chipman said that “assault weapons would be something that members of Congress would define.”
“Well, how do you define it?” Kennedy asked. After a short back-and-forth, Chipman said, “There’s no way I could define an assault weapon.”