There’s some reason for cautious optimism on the part of gun owners from POLITICO, and on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we’re delving into their story about the red-state Democrats who are still on the fence about the nomination of gun control activist David Chipman to head up the ATF, where he spent 25 years before retiring and going to work for a number of gun control organizations.
According to the website, it’s not just Joe Manchin who’s still uncommitted; Montana’s John Tester, New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan, and Maine’s Angus King (who’s technically an independent but caucuses with Democrats) are all supposedly undecided about where they’ll ultimately come down on Chipman’s nomination.
Public uncertainty about Chipman is palpable among Democrats. Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said he’s “ still analyzing,” but noted he’s not “feeling the urgency because I don’t know when he’s scheduled to” get a vote.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection in 2022, didn’t indicate her stance on Monday, but an aide told POLITICO Tuesday that she supports Chipman’s confirmation. She met with him earlier this week.
So far this year, Biden has only seen one of his appointments, Neera Tanden for the Office of Management and Budget, fail in the Senate thanks to bipartisan opposition. The White House also withdrew the nomination of Elizabeth Klein for deputy secretary of the Interior Department after it became evident Klein didn’t have the votes for confirmation.
Chipman’s nomination deadlocked in the Senate Judiciary Committee at the end of June but can still advance to the Senate floor if the chamber votes to discharge him. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who on Sunday raised questions about the National Rifle Association’s spending on ads related to the Chipman nomination, has yet to schedule that floor vote.
“Chuck’s gotta make that decision,” said Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who is planning to sit down with a handful of fellow Democrats soon to discuss Chipman. “We’re talking to [moderate Democrats] and the response is good, but we aren’t assuming anything. We’ll keep working.”
If the response was really good, then “Chuck” would have scheduled a vote by now. The fact that Chipman’s vote is in limbo means that at least a few Senate Democrats aren’t convinced that installing a committed anti-gun ideologue as head of the ATF is going to play well back at home.
Montana, New Hampshire, West Virginia, and Maine aren’t just pro-Second Amendment states, they’re all Constitutional Carry states that have organized 2A groups and plenty of energized and engaged gun owners who show up to vote. And though most of the senators who say they’re still on the fence aren’t up for re-election next year (with the exception of Maggie Hassan), a vote to confirm Chipman will be a drag on those Democrats running for House seats in these red states.
Chipman’s hostility towards the Second Amendment is well known by now, along with his contempt for legal gun owners. That alone is reason enough to disqualify him from the position Biden wants him to hold, but I doubt that’s really the primary concern for these “moderate” Democrats. In fact, for some of them it may not be a concern at all.
But there’s another very good reason for these Democrats to oppose Chipman’s nomination, and it has nothing to do with their personal thoughts on the Second Amendment or gun control; the confirmation of an anti-gun activist as head of the ATF guarantees that the next time Republicans control the White House they’re going to put up a Second Amendment activist as their own nominee. If Democrats truly believe that the agency is in dire need of reform, then the last thing it needs is to be politicized by activists on either side of the gun control debate, yet that’s exactly what will happen if Chipman takes over. In fact, if Democrats confirm Chipman, they’ll be lucky if Republicans nominate someone like Colion Noir as ATF director when they get the chance. The most likely Republican response would be to try to dissolve the agency entirely.
Putting an activist in charge of the ATF is the gun control equivalent of nuking the filibuster, and Democrats are fooling themselves if they think there won’t be an escalation or a response from Republicans; not only at the federal level, but in states across the country as well. Chipman’s confirmation would give even more energy to the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement, galvanize conservative voters for the midterm elections, and most importantly of all, lead to the weaponization of a federal agency against a constitutionally-protected right.
I hope gun owners in Montana, West Virginia, Maine, and New Hampshire continue to cordially remind their senators why a vote to confirm David Chipman ensures a vote against them the next time they’re up for re-election, as well as a vote against Democrats in the midterms. These senators are stuck on “I don’t know” for the moment, and it’s up to us to get them to “no.”