Activist Claims Lack Of Media Coverage Doomed Chipman Nomination

AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

There’s been a flood of columns and op-eds from the gun control crowd since David Chipman’s nomination to head up the ATF flamed out a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve ignored writing about most of them since they largely say the same thing; the darn gun lobby (which consists solely of the NRA and the firearms industry, according to the anti-gun commentators) is still too powerful and must be brought to heel.

That’s basically the gist of Eleanor Clift’s new piece at the Daily Beast, but in the course of her anti-NRA screed, she accidentally hit on one of the major factors behind Chipman’s defeat, and that is definitely worth pointing out.

Knocking off another ATF nominee is the kind of fight the NRA loves, said Jim Kessler, who cut his teeth on Capitol Hill working on the assault weapons ban in the ’90s.

“The ATF director is on page 12 (of the newspaper) if he’s on any page at all,” Kessler continued. “It’s their kind of fight, where they’re the only one really paying attention.” Most Americans aren’t focused on who will lead the ATF, and when President Biden withdrew his nomination of former ATF agent David Chipman earlier this month, it received scant notice even though it was only the second time Biden pulled a Senate-confirmable appointee. (The other was Neera Tanden for the OMB.)

Now, I think it’s nonsense for Kessler to claim that the media wasn’t paying much attention to the Chipman nomination. CNN regularly reported on the status of Chipman’s nomination throughout the summer, as did the Washington Post, the New York Times, and MSNBC. There was plenty of coverage of the Chipman nomination, and the much of it downplayed Chipman’s years working as a paid gun control lobbyist. The press attention was there. It just didn’t translate into a lot of support for the candidate.

What Kessler is really talking about is the fact that the grassroots activism of Second Amendment supporters dwarfed the activism of the gun control lobby. Moms Demand Action and Everytown supposedly have millions of members, just like the NRA, and God knows the gun control lobby has far more money to spend promoting their agenda, thanks to the deep pockets of Big Daddy Bloomberg. In theory, the cash advantage and the millions of gun control supporters connected through groups like Everytown and Giffords should have pushed Chipman’s nomination over the finish line. Instead, because the gun control lobby didn’t have a plan to deal with the wave of opposition in red states with blue senators like Maine and West Virginia, they suffered an embarrassing defeat. Even now, after Chipman’s defeat, the gun control lobby is still having a difficult time dealing with reality.

“No confirmed director makes it harder to do these things, but there’s still a lot the ATF can do,” said Zack DiGregorio, EveryTown’s national press secretary. “The gun lobby can keep pushing disinformation all day long, but the NRA is a shell of its former self, and the country still strongly supports gun safety. It’s really hard to fight a 90-10 issue. One of the only places where background checks are controversial is the United States Senate.”

Not really. In fact, in 2016 voters in Maine headed to the polls and rejected a universal background check measure that had been placed on the ballot by gun control groups. Backers of the proposed gun control law outspent opponents 6-to-1, but when the votes were tallied the referendum went down to defeat with 52% of voters rejecting the measure. Five years later the state’s independent senator Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, refused to support Chipman’s nomination. I’d say there’s a connection between those two events, and in both cases there were simply more people fighting for their rights than those fighting to take them away.