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The Case Against President Biden’s Nominee for ATF

Since taking office, President Joe Biden has not been shy about pressing forward with a radical anti-Second Amendment agenda. And like President Obama, he has done so through unilateral agency rulemaking that cuts Congress out of the process.

My colleagues and I in state attorneys general offices will fight this overreach in court if Biden does not reverse course. I stand ready to lead many of these efforts on behalf of West Virginians, because West Virginia is a strong Second Amendment State — according to a 2016 study, nearly 59% of West Virginia households own a firearm.

But as you read this, the Senate is facing a rare opportunity to rebuke Biden’s approach before it comes to litigation. The Senate can send an unmistakable message against Biden’s gun-grabber agenda by rejecting his nomination of David Chipman to serve as its chief architect.

This past May, I was proud to join 19 of my fellow attorneys general in a letter to Senate leadership opposing Mr. Chipman’s confirmation as Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (“ATF”). My opposition is based on Mr. Chipman’s track record lobbying to ban some of the most popular modern firearms in America, and on his expressed disdain for wide swathes of lawful gun owners.

While Mr. Chipman’s track record alone should disqualify him from serving as the nation’s top firearms regulator, his disastrous performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee has clarified why every Senator who cares about their constituents’ right to keep and bear arms should vote against his appointment.

When pressed to clarify his past support for bans on “assault weapons,” Mr. Chipman would not even attempt to define his understanding of the term. What’s worse, in avoiding the question he undermined the case for his crusade against semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15.

Mr. Chipman himself stated that in 2019 there were 6,977 firearm homicides where the type of firearm used was recorded. Of those, only 364 were committed using any type of rifle — whether AR-15s or otherwise. For comparison, the National Shooting Sports Federation estimates that there are 5 to 10 million AR-15s in America.

It’s possible Mr. Chipman doesn’t understand that his own data doesn’t show AR-15s are especially dangerous, although that too would be disqualifying for an ATF Director. Rather, it’s more likely that Chipman doesn’t care about data, and simply wants to ban whatever guns he can.

This “ban first, ask questions later” mindset would certainly explain why Mr. Chipman didn’t care to define “assault weapon” in any meaningful way–because the technicalities don’t matter when it’s a question of power.

The Senate should not support an ATF director who feeds irrational hysteria in service of federal power-grabs. Both the Senate as an institution, and the senators who represent tens of millions of lawful gun owners, should understand the importance of rejecting that approach.

With the Senate and Judiciary Committee evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, Mr. Chipman’s confirmation is likely to come before the full Senate in some form.

In that moment, West Virginia’s gun owners won’t be thinking about parties. They will ask Sen. Capito and Sen. Manchin to stand up for them.

Recently, I thanked Sen. Manchin for his opposition to S. 1 and efforts to modify the filibuster. I did so because I believe elected officials should be thanked when they do the right thing — not withstanding what party they belong to. It is my sincere hope that the Senator also opposes this highly problematic nominee and backs the strong, pro-gun constituencies of our state. This would be a tremendous message for Mountaineers.

Patrick Morrisey is the attorney general of West Virginia.


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