Chipman Watch: Toomey A No, Hickenlooper "Undecided"

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Color me skeptical that first-term Democratic senator John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who shepherded universal background checks and a magazine ban into law in Colorado back in 2013, is truly unsure about how he’ll vote on the nomination of gun control activist David Chipman to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The Wall Street Journal reports, however, that Hickenlooper is one of several Democrats who remain hesitant, at least on the record, about confirming Chipman.

The WSJ report follows a POLITICO story earlier this week that also focused on Chipman’s alleged problems among “moderate” Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Montana’s Jon Tester, and New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan. Not long after the POLITICO piece came out, however, Hassan announced that she will be supporting Biden’s nominee after all.

It looks increasingly likely that all 50 Republicans will stand opposed to Chipman’s nomination, with Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey declaring on Thursday that he’s a “no” on the gun control activist. A few weeks ago I theorized that Toomey, who’s not running for re-election next year, could agree to vote for Chipman, which would allow his background check buddy Joe Manchin to vote against the nominee while still allowing Chipman to be confirmed. I’m glad to see that theory consigned to the dustbin of history, though I’d be feeling a lot better about the outcome of the yet-to-be-scheduled confirmation vote if Manchin were expressing more criticism of Biden’s pick.

Still, the Wall Street Journal piece does offer some evidence that the Democrats pushing Chipman’s nomination are getting a little nervous about some of their colleagues.

“I’ve seen some of the comments of my colleagues, and they concern me somewhat,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), who supports Mr. Chipman.

Mr. Blumenthal said Mr. Chipman’s nomination was controversial largely because the issues the agency deals with are such flashpoints between the two parties.

No, Chipman’s nomination is controversial largely because he’s spent most of the past ten years working for gun control groups like Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Giffords. He views the firearms industry as an adversary, not an ally, in the fight against violent crime. He believes in regulating AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles as machine guns, and if he’s in charge of the ATF he could take the necessary steps to try to impose a backdoor ban on tens of millions of firearms without a vote of Congress by using agency regulations to re-define semi-automatic rifles as “readily convertible” to machine guns that must be registered under the National Firearms Act; with violators facing a ten-year federal prison sentence if they refuse to comply.

“This is a mainstream nominee—somebody that knows the agency backwards and forwards,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D., Conn.) “It would be a gift to the gun lobby if somebody with that kind of qualification wasn’t supported by the Democratic caucus.”

Does Chipman sound “mainstream” to you? In fact, if Chipman really was a mainstream nominee, he’d have the backing of moderate Republicans like Susan Collins of Maine, and senators like Jon Tester and Joe Manchin would have already pledged their support.

If objecting to Chipman would be a “gift to the gun lobby,” then his confirmation would be a wedding present from Democrats to gun control groups and the White House, which would be joined together in an effort to weaponize the ATF against the firearms industry and tens of millions of gun owners. I have no doubt that John Hickenlooper, who was elected to a six-year term last November, will end up supporting Chipman’s nomination. I suspect that Tester will do the same. As is the case with almost every contentious bill or nomination in the Senate, Chipman’s confirmation will likely be contingent on what Joe Manchin decides to do. Will he object to the marriage of the White House and the gun control lobby, or will he bless that unholy matrimony and install a committed anti-gun activist in charge of the ATF?