Last month, as David Chipman’s nomination as ATF head was languishing in the Senate, gun control activists met with White House officials and urged them to do more to get Chipman confirmed. As POLITICO reported at the time:
In half a dozen interviews, those advocating for Chipman’s confirmation complained that Biden and his top aides have not leaned enough on Democratic senators to get them to support the confirmation.
“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.”
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.
Biden hasn’t come out and forcefully called for the nuking of the filibuster rule in the Senate, but it appears that the exhortations of the gun control lobbyists did have an impact. The New York Times reports that Biden actually picked up the phone and personally spoke with at least one of the Democratic senators who was publicly uncommitted to Chipman’s confirmation, but in the end Biden’s efforts at arm-twisting simply couldn’t compete with the voices of voters who were demanding that Chipman be rejected.
In recent weeks, Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, told Biden administration and leadership officials that he could not support the nomination, citing blunt public statements that Mr. Chipman had made about gun owners, people familiar with the situation said.
Even a phone call from Mr. Biden last month asking Mr. King to drop his objections — and reminding the senator that Mr. Chipman was himself a gun owner — was not enough to save the nomination, according to a senior administration official.
Over the past few days, Senator Joe Manchin III, Democrat of West Virginia, who had originally suggested he was open to the pick, told the White House that he had also soured on the selection, Democratic aides said.
Now why would the White House go out of their way to point out the president’s impotence in terms of being able to sway his fellow Democrats to get on board with his gun control agenda? Because they’re trying to spin Chipman’s rejection by placing the blame on guys like Angus King and Joe Manchin, rather than own up to the administration’s godawful decision to nominate a committed gun control activist to head up the ATF.
Most gun control groups will be happy to play along with the White House narrative, not only because it gets them off the hook for their own culpability in Chipman’s nomination and defeat, but because they know that going forward, the executive branch is going to be where new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms are going to take shape. Why piss off the one branch of government that’s still eager to impose new gun control laws, especially when Biden is so willing to ignore Constitutional concerns over his executive orders?
Still, not every gun control activist is willing to play along.
“We needed 50 Democrats; that didn’t happen, so simply blaming Republicans obscures the fact that the gun industry’s influence goes far beyond the Republican base and into the Democratic Party,” said Igor Volsky, the founder of Guns Down America, a nonprofit advocacy group that has called on Mr. Biden to appoint a national gun violence coordinator. The White House has resisted the move.
“What I find disappointing is the president isn’t offering a plan of how we go forward from here,” Mr. Volsky added. “That’s really surprising from a president who said that stopping gun violence was a priority during the campaign.”
Volsky’s engaging in his own spin here by talking about the influence of the “gun industry” instead of recognizing the obvious: the 100-million gun owners in the United States have a vested interest in ensuring their Second Amendment rights are secure and strong. What do you think was more important to Angus King; the opposition to David Chipman from firearms manufacturers or the opposition from gun owners and voters in Maine? This is a Constitutional Carry state we’re talking about, as well as a place where voters rejected a universal background check referendum just five years ago. I have a feeling those voters were a much bigger consideration for King than what the firearms industry itself had to say.
The one commonality between the White House spin and Volsky’s take on Chipman’s defeat is that neither can face up to the fact that Second Amendment activists aren’t mindless drones blindly following the orders of the gun lobby. They’re passionate about protecting their right to keep and bear arms, and both the firearms industry and 2A organizations exist because of them, not the other way around.
Biden and his anti-gun allies made a calculated decision with Chipman’s nomination, betting that the NRA’s legal woes had hobbled the organization to the point that it would be powerless to stop the gun control lobbyist from being confirmed. It was a decision based on a faulty premise. They convinced themselves that the Second Amendment movement runs from the top-down just like the gun control movement and that millions of grassroots activists and gun owners would somehow fall silent just because of the NRA’s current struggles.
That was never going to happen. Even if every 2A organization were to disappear tomorrow, the grassroots army of gun owners and Second Amendment activists would still be here; in red states, blue states, on rural farms, in leafy suburbs, and in big city high-rises. Men and women who care about their civil rights were always going to object (with good reason) to Chipman’s nomination, and those objections were inevitably going to be a big problem for getting gun control’s golden boy confirmed.
If Biden had nominated a career ATF official who didn’t go to work for the gun control lobby after retiring, the president may very well have been able to get his candidate confirmed with even a Republican or two joining in support of his nominee. Instead, Biden embraced the desires of his anti-gun allies and nominated a partisan hack with a public paper trail of longstanding hostility towards the firearms industry and gun owners themselves.
Why did David Chipman’s nomination implode in such a spectacular fashion? There are a lot of factors: Chipman’s own views, the outspoken opposition by millions of gun owners and 2A organizations, and the reporting on Chipman’s alleged racist remarks detailed by The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski, to name a few. Ultimately though, I’d argue that the hubris on the part of Joe Biden and his anti-gun allies in nominating a gun control activist to head up the ATF allowed all of those other factors to come into play. Biden could have nominated a confirmable candidate, but instead he chose to pick a political fight with gun owners at the behest of gun control groups who were slobbering at the opportunity to install one of their own as the ATF’s top dog.