Imagine the uproar if Donald Trump or George W. Bush had appointed an NRA lobbyist to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Liberals, Democrats, and the media would have gone nuts. Former New York Mayor Michel Bloomberg would have thrown a fit, and the nominee would have been excoriated in the media, pilloried during the confirmation process, and accused of every conceivable sin. He would never have been confirmed.
During the uproar, presidential advisors and friendly members of Congress would have advised the White House that appointing a committed activist had been a mistake. They would claim the Bureau entrusted with regulating the firearms industry and private gun-owners cannot be a sworn enemy or a loyal friend, but only an honest enforcer of existing laws and regulations regardless of the swirling and never-ending debates over whether those laws and regulations are too lax or too strict.
Knowing this, Second Amendment advocates would not have presumed to advise a friendly President to turn the ATF over to one of their own.
The anti-gun forces have no such qualms. No one apparently offered any such advice to President Joe Biden, who threw prudence and good judgment to the winds. Shortly after moving into the Oval Office, Mr. Biden appointed David Chipman, a paid lobbyist for a leading anti-Second Amendment group and a public advocate of firearms restrictions that would never pass Congress or stand up to Constitutional scrutiny. Mr. Chipman is the dream nominee of the gun control crowd allowing them to “go after” gun dealers, owners, and manufacturers, regardless of the letter or spirit of existing law or the prudent judgment one ordinarily seeks in regulatory appointees.
Mr. Chipman worked at ATF for some years before signing on as an anti-gun lobbyist but was even then more a gun control activist than an objective law enforcement official. After Mr. Biden named Mr. Chipman, one long-time colleague told reporters that in all his years at ATF, he knew of only two employees hostile to the very idea that Americans should have the right “to keep and bear arms” as guaranteed by the Second Amendment. One of them was Mr. Chipman. Other former colleagues describe him as “a bully,” and there have been suggestions that he disparaged Blacks; just the sort who should never be trusted with power.
Naming Mr. Chipman unleashed a torrent of opposition in the Senate and beyond. It took more than a month to get his nomination out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on a straight party-line vote. Senator Dick Durbin, the Democratic Whip, acknowledged recently that Democrats do not have the votes to confirm him. One uncomfortably undecided Democratic Senator, John Tester of Montana, suggested to reporters that the nomination might well be withdrawn. That may have been wishful thinking because if forced to vote Mr. Tester and other Democrats caught between their party’s leaders and voters back home will find themselves between the proverbial rock and hard place.
His background aside, Mr. Chipman has proven his own worst enemy. After endorsing an “assault weapons ban” during questioning by Judiciary Committee members, he admitted he could not define the term “assault weapon.” Then, it was revealed that in an interview with a British interviewer two years ago, Mr. Chipman said that as an advocate of firearms control, he finds the First Amendment’s protection of free speech “frustrating” because it “currently” prevents the government from confiscating firearms from men and women who “say hateful things.”
In meetings with Senators, he has proven singularly incapable of separating himself from statements disparaging legal gun owners and hunters. After he met with Senator Susan Collins, the moderate Maine Republican announced that she could not support Mr. Chipman because of the ways he “demeans law-abiding gun owners.” Although Mr. Chipman tells Senators, he owns guns and would abide by the Second Amendment, his record and past statements disparage any regard for the First or Second Amendments. This week, Republican Leader Mitch McConnell echoed the desires of many of his colleagues in asking the White House to withdraw Mr. Chipman’s nomination.
Despite all this, the White House still seems to believe that Mr. Chipman can be confirmed. Doubling down, Attorney General Merrick Garland visited ATF recently and afterward touted the need to install Mr. Chipman as the bureau’s new head.
Mr. Chipman and the President’s most ardent gun control supporters may have found Mr. Garland’s words comforting. Still, many Democrats are beginning to fear and, in some cases, hope that the man will suffer the same fate as a pro-gun lobbyist had one been named by a Republican President.
• David A. Keene is an editor at large for the Washington Times.