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A sign calling for a ban on assault rifles, along with mementos and flowers, hangs from the perimeter fence outside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado on March 24, 2021, to honor the ten people killed during a mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store. (Photo: JASON CONNOLLY/AFP via Getty Images)

A sign calling for a ban on assault rifles, along with mementos and flowers, hangs from the perimeter fence outside a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado on March 24, 2021, to honor the ten people killed during a mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store. (Photo: Jason Connolly/AFP via Getty Images)

Caving to NRA and Pro-Gun Democrats, Biden Withdraws ATF Nominee

"The White House's decision—and choice—to not put up a fight to confirm David Chipman to head the ATF is a significant failure that undermines the promises President Biden made while running for office."

Julia Conley

Gun control advocates expressed outrage Thursday after the White House withdrew its nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—a move critics said offered the latest illustration of the gun lobby's grip on lawmakers from both major political parties.
 
The Republican Party was unified in its opposition to David Chipman, a former special agent at ATF and senior policy advisor at Giffords, the gun control advocacy group founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, but it was ultimately three centrist members of the Democratic caucus who reportedly stood in the way of the nomination.

"It is hugely disappointing and unconscionable that 50 members of the U.S. Senate as well as at least one senator who caucuses with the president's party would deny President Biden his choice to lead the ATF."
—Kris Brown, Brady

 
Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), and Angus King (I-Maine) reportedly faced pressure from pro-gun lobbyists in their home states, with King telling the White House in recent weeks that he would not support Chipman, according to the New York Times.
 
The White House needed the entire Democratic caucus to support the nominee to secure Chipman's confirmation.
 
Advocates who were hoping the bureau charged with regulating the gun industry would have its first Senate-confirmed director in six years expressed anger over the withdrawal.
 
"We have weak people serving in the Senate such as Sen. Angus King, who chose to listen to 'regulated industry,'" said Fred Guttenberg, a strong Biden supporter whose daughter was killed in the Parkland, Florida school shooting in 2018. "Sadly the White House failed to put up a fight on this."
 
"The White House's decision—and choice—to not put up a fight to confirm David Chipman to head the ATF is a significant failure that undermines the promises President Biden made while running for office," said Igor Volsky of Guns Down America. "We need Biden's leadership to address this crisis—and we need it now."
 
Chipman, who is a gun owner, has expressed support for universal background checks for gun purchasers, a ban on semiautomatic assault weapons like those that have been used in numerous mass shootings in recent years, and limits on high-capacity magazines.
 
At a 2019 congressional hearing, Chipman told lawmakers the federal government, in developing gun control legislation, must find a balance between "the rights of individuals and the rights of all Americans, and a human right not to get shot."
 
"Our nation's current gun violence crisis has made two things very clear: one, it is far too easy for violent people to get their hands on violent weapons," he added. "Two, the American people overwhelmingly want Congress to act now to make their communities safer."
 
A majority of Americans believe gun laws should be more strict, including 86% who support universal background checks and about 60% who support an assault weapon ban, according to Gallup.
 
Nearly 370 people were killed in mass shootings in the U.S. in the first half of 2021. Newsweek reported in March that the AR-15, the popular semi-automatic rifle that the NRA has marketed as "America's rifle," had been used in 26% of the 80 most recent mass shootings in the United States.
 
Amid the rising death toll of gun violence, the powerful gun lobby has successfully de-fanged the ATF, lobbying in the early 2000s to ensure the agency director needed to be confirmed by the Senate and then blocking all but one nominee ever put forward by the White House. The NRA has also pressured Congress to cut the ATF's budget and impose restrictions on how it regulates the gun industry. The organization celebrated its "huge victory" as Chipman's nomination was withdrawn.
 
On Thursday, the White House focused on the Republican Party's opposition to Chipman's nomination.
 
"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," Biden said in a statement. "Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they intend to use gun crime as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it."
 
Advocates, however, made clear their deep disappointment with the president's own party.
 
"It is hugely disappointing and unconscionable that 50 members of the U.S. Senate as well as at least one senator who caucuses with the president's party would deny President Biden his choice to lead the ATF," Kris Brown, president of the gun control group Brady, said in a statement. "It is immoral and indefensible that the only agency with regulatory oversight over the gun industry has been permitted to persist for so many years without leadership, because of the outsized influence the gun industry has."

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