On Wednesday, advocates for David Chipman told POLITICO that they were pushing for a full vote to confirm the gun control activist as ATF director before the Senate starts its August recess. By Thursday afternoon, however, Chipman’s biggest supporters appeared resigned to the idea that senators will most likely skip town without holding a vote and had started pointing their fingers at the White House and Joe Biden himself over the crumbling prospects of installing one of their own as the head of the agency overseeing the nation’s gun laws, regulations, and the firearms industry.
Frustrations became evident during a Zoom call on Thursday afternoon with Cedric Richmond, senior adviser to the president and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement — the latest in months of meetings in which advocates have brought up Chipman’s nomination.
According to two people familiar with the call, a small group of survivors and those pushing firearms restrictions urged the White House to be more aggressive on the nomination. They also encouraged the administration to support ending the filibuster to allow firearms legislation to more easily pass the evenly-divided Senate, the people said.
If Biden can’t move senators like Joe Manchin to publicly support Chipman’s nomination, how exactly is Sleepy Joe supposed to convince red state Democrats to nuke the filibuster? The White House isn’t the hang up here, it’s a number of Senate Democrats themselves who are the biggest roadblock in that regard. But with Chipman’s nomination in serious trouble, gun control activists have to place blame somewhere, and they’re certainly not going to blame themselves for pushing Chipman as a candidate in the first place.
“The White House has really dropped the ball here and if Chipman is not confirmed that will be a significant letdown to survivors of gun violence across the country — and will have the effect of undermining their effort to reduce gun homicides,” said Igor Volsky, executive director of the advocacy group Guns Down America. “Biden told us during the campaign trail that this is a priority and the administration insists that he is in charge of driving this issue. He needs to step on the accelerator.”
Volsky is, in my opinion, one of the most ineffective gun control advocates operating in Washinton, D.C. at the moment, so I’m not surprised that he’s the most vocal in terms of criticizing Biden’s efforts. Larger, more established gun control orgs were more muted in their opinions on the White House involvement in the nomination process, at least publicly.
After the White House was contacted for this piece, another gun safety group, Everytown for Gun Safety, reached out to praise the administration for being “the strongest gun safety administration in history” and for “fighting for David Chipman … in the face of a torrent of lies and disinformation from the gun lobby.” Shortly after, Peter Ambler, executive director for Gifford’s, another gun safety group, sent a statement saying “President Biden has made good on his promise to combat our nation’s gun violence crisis by laying out concrete steps we can take to save lives.” Ambler added that Biden’s nomination of Chipman underscored the president’s “belief that a component of the administration’s gun violence prevention agenda is a strong leader at the ATF.”
Just as an aside, POLITICO not only misspelled the name of the Giffords gun control organization, but failed to inform readers that the group is David Chipman’s current employer. Anyway, when gun control activists can speak on the condition of anonymity, their criticism of the White House is a little more pointed.
“We thought that once we elected a gun safety president and gun safety majorities in the House and the Senate that this new federal administration … would make gun violence prevention a top priority,” said an advocate in touch with the White House. “And they’ve done a great job on the funding initiative but I just thought that the president would use political capital just in general to pass legislation … Somebody that’s all in.”
The absurd thing is that Biden really is “all in” on gun control. He just doesn’t have the political capital necessary to move most items on Democratic lawmakers’ to-do list, which is one of the reasons why both the White House and the gun control movement want to place a true believer in charge of the ATF. Executive actions, both formal and informal, are going to be the primary engine for advancing Biden’s anti-gun ideology. We saw this on Thursday when Biden urged Democratic Attorneys General to start suing gun makers over violent crime; a strategy that comes directly from the gun control movement itself.
I’m not going to declare victory prematurely, but if Chipman’s nomination does end up falling apart gun control activists will have no one to blame but themselves. They saw Biden’s election as a golden opportunity to install one of their own at the head of the ATF and believed that they could ram Chipman through the Senate over the objections of 2A groups like the NRA and the NSSF. Not only did the gun control crowd completely underestimated the passion and engagement from grassroots Second Amendment activists, they convinced themselves that Chipman’s years of work as a paid gun control lobbyist would be outweighed by his 25 years at the ATF. Instead, several of Chipman’s former colleagues have come out in opposition to his nomination; allegations of racist comments made by Chipman in the Detroit field office of the ATF have emerged; and Chipman’s anti-gun zealotry and contempt for gun owners were enough to convince moderate Republicans like Susan Collins and Pat Toomey to declare their opposition to his confirmation.
Chipman was never going to be a popular choice for ATF director outside of the gun control movement, and the grassroots energy in the gun debate is still clearly with Second Amendment activists and not their ideological opponents. Hopefully that matters to the few remaining red state Democrats still on the fence and will be enough to ultimately persuade them to reject the gun control lobby’s golden boy.