Biden ATF Nominee Can't Define "Assault Weapon" But Wants Them Banned

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

During the confirmation hearing for David Chipman, Joe Biden’s nominee to head up the ATF, Chipman was asked about his support for a ban on AR-15s and so-called assault weapons.

Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas got the ball rolling by asking Chipman to define the term “assault weapon,” to which Chipman replied that an assault weapon is anything that Congress defines as such.

Cotton wasn’t buying Chipman’s dissembling remarks, and pressed him to personally define it. Chipman once again refused to do so, instead citing a demand letter to border state gun shops that requires reporting of multiple sales of “assault weapons,” which the ATF defined as any semi-automatic rifle over .22 caliber that can accept a detachable magazine.

As Cotton pointed out, that would cover virtually every modern sporting rifle today.

Sen. Ted Cruz followed up Cotton’s questioning with another pointed inquiry into Chipman’s desire to ban tens of millions of legally-owned firearms.

Watch the whole exchange above, in which Chipman claims that his views as an anti-gun activist would have no bearing on his role as head of the ATF, telling the Texas senator that “my view as an advocate, which would be quite different than someone actually enforcing the law on the books, [is] that those firearms could be treated under the NFA and regulated that way, which would deal with those currently in the possession of Americans.”

Chipman’s proposal mirrors the gun ban and confiscation proposed by Joe Biden, which would require all existing owners of AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles to either hand those guns over to the federal government, register them with the federal government, or risk a ten-year federal prison sentence for simply maintaining possession of a firearm that they legally acquired.

There are at least 20-million AR-15s in private hands in the United States, and under the sweeping definition that Chipman referred to would encompass millions more. These guns are used in a handful of crimes every year, with the FBI Uniform Crime Reports indicating that about twice as many Americans are killed by fists and feet than with a rifle of any kind. However, Democrats have made passing a ban and making it a federal offense to continue to possess a modern sporting rifle one of their top priorities, and there’s genuine concern that with Chipman in charge of the ATF, the administration could try to do an end run around Congress and seek to redefine semi-automatic rifles as items that can be “readily converted” to machine guns, and as such, should be placed under the auspices of the National Firearms Act.

Chipman’s refusal to give senators a straight answer on how such a ban would be enforced and what guns would be covered should give a Democrat like Joe Manchin all the evidence he needs to reject Chipman’s confirmation when the nomination goes before a full vote of the U.S. Senate, but gun control activists and Senate Democrats are going to be applying as much arm-twisting as possible to keep Manchin in line. Democrats need every member of their caucus to support Chipman’s nomination in order to get him confirmed, but gun owners in West Virginia should be flooding their senator’s office reminding Manchin of Chipman’s contempt for legal gun owners and the right to keep and bear some of the most commonly-owned firearms in the country.