Biden’s Pick to Run Gun Agency Draws GOP Senators’ Opposition

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Senate Republicans tore into President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, portraying him as a zealot for gun controls while Democrats defended his record and reputation.

David Chipman, who served at the Justice Department agency that regulates firearms for almost 25 years and has since worked for groups that advocate tighter gun laws, found himself on the defensive during his confirmation hearing Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The committee’s top Republican, Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, said putting Chipman in charge of the agency that regulates guns “is like putting a tobacco executive in charge of Health and Human Services or antifa in charge of the Portland police department.” He said “there isn’t a liberal hobby horse on guns he hasn’t ridden.”

Biden’s Pick to Run Gun Agency Draws GOP Senators’ Opposition

Chipman, who retired from ATF as a special agent in 2012, repeatedly apologized for past comments that he now says were poorly communicated.

“The majority of gun owners are law-abiding,” said Chipman, who said he’s a gun owner.

Republican Senator Mike Lee of Utah led opposition to Chipman, saying he’s expressed “a troubling, flippant attitude” especially toward first-time gun owners by suggesting it might be possible to arrest some individuals before they commit violent gun crimes.

Chipman is currently a senior policy adviser with the gun control advocacy group Americans for Responsible Solutions.

He previously worked for Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates for universal background checks and gun-safety measures and is backed by Michael Bloomberg, founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent company Bloomberg LP.

Fault Lines

The confirmation hearing cracked open divisions and fault lines over gun rights and weapons control, as the Biden administration seeks new regulations and legislation to stop gun violence, including a ban on assault weapons.

“Hang on tight -- they’re coming after you buddy,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, told Chipman. “It seems that some on the political fringe are willing to say whatever it takes to sink your nomination.”

Even as the hearing was being held, the nation’s latest mass shooting was being carried out in a San Jose, California, railyard.

“This is a gun-happy nation,” said California’s Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein. “I am increasingly concerned as the number of mass shootings go up -- people dying -- and that is happening on our streets right now. Gun sales are spiking across the nation.”

Chipman said if confirmed he would seek a balance between protecting constitutional rights and enforcing gun regulations. For example, he said he wants to work collaboratively with gun sellers to close loopholes that allow individuals to buy weapons without licenses or background checks. But he also said he supports legislation to ban the AR-15 assault rifle.

“The Constitution is the guardrails to that activity,” Chipman said. “Our priority will be focusing on people who break federal laws and attempt to intervene before they kill someone.”

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