One of the steps outlined in his plan includes nominating David Chipman to lead the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), what Biden referred to as “the key agency enforcing gun laws” and a position that has remained vacant since 2015.
After passing a US$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, President Joe Biden’s administration has focused on passing a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan. But now, because of a series of recent mass shootings, Biden has found himself, like so many presidents before him, having to address the issue of gun violence.
In a speech addressing the recent spate of shootings, President Biden called gun violence in America “an epidemic, and it’s an international embarrassment.”
Biden has now unveiled a plan to address the issue. One of the steps outlined in his plan includes nominating David Chipman to lead the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), what Biden referred to as “the key agency enforcing gun laws” and a position that has remained vacant since 2015.
Why is the position vacant?
In 2015, the Obama administration demoted then-ATF acting director Thomas Brandon to deputy director because his interim title would soon expire. The administration took this action in order to avoid a confirmation battle in the Senate, then controlled by Republicans. In the meantime, Brandon would retain his role as acting director of the bureau, leading the Obama administration’s push to fight gun violence.
After Donald Trump’s victory in 2016, things remained much the same. President Trump left the top job at the ATF vacant despite charging the bureau to lead the fight against violent crime and illegal guns in response to a mass shooting in a Florida high school.
However, this is not the first time the position has been left vacant for a number of consecutive years and, unlike other federal agencies, the ATF hasn’t seen a significant increase in budget or personnel since its founding in 1972.
This is largely due to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its lobbyists. Throughout the years, the association has hampered any progress the ATF can make by lobbying Congress.
In one instance, the NRA through its lobbying efforts blocked a national gun database – one that would have created a digital registry of gun transactions and serial numbers that would be searchable in a matter of minutes – from ever being created.
In 2010, President Obama nominated Andrew Travers to lead the ATF. Travers was opposed by the NRA and was never confirmed. The last Senate-appointed head of the ATF was B. Todd Jones, who led the agency from 2011-2015.
Brandon is still serving as interim “head” of the ATF, just without the title. Biden hopes his new nominee, David Chipman, will steer the ATF toward tighter gun law enforcement.
Who is David Chipman?
Along with a flurry of executive orders aimed at curbing gun violence, President Biden nominated David Chipman to pursue new regulations targeting stabilizing braces and “ghost guns.”
Stabilizing braces are attachments for pistols that would make them more accurate. Some compare pistols with stabilizing braces to rifles. Biden wants to address the attachments because it is thought that the gunman in Colorado used a similar tool.
“Ghost guns” are untraceable weapons made either from parts bought separately online or manufactured with 3D printers in homes. Because the buyer of the “ghost gun” is not purchasing the gun in its entirety, there are no traceable serial numbers. Biden plans to make the kits and parts subject to the same conditions as firearms: a background check for the buyer and serial number for the item or items purchased.
Chipman spent 25 years at ATF before leaving to become a senior adviser at Giffords, a gun-control organization led by former Representative Gabby Giffords who was shot and gravely wounded by Jared Lee Loughner in an assassination attempt. Giffords was holding a meeting with constituents outside a supermarket in Arizona and Loughner used this as an opportunity to attack Giffords. Loughner also killed six others and wounded a further sixteen at the meeting.
Chipman served as a senior policy adviser with Giffords’ organization to lobby gun control legislation in Congress. Chipman has previously written about “ghost gun” loopholes, calling on Congress to add traceability to guns and background check requirements for those purchasing materials.
After Biden announced Chipman’s nomination, Giffords released a statement applauding the decision.
“The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives needs a strong, experienced leader and I am confident that David Chipman will be just that,” the statement reads. “As a former ATF special agent, David will be able to address the most pressing issues facing the bureau from day one, including reducing gun violence.”
As an outspoken gun control advocate, however, Chipman will not likely receive ringing endorsements from members of the GOP, especially those who have received donations from the NRA.
The NRA released their reaction, calling Chipman a “Gun Control Extremist” and adding, “It is clear that, if confirmed, Chipman would use every tool at his disposal to attack the rights of law-abiding American gun owners,” the article warned its readers. “Chipman’s views on the Second Amendment and his work as a gun prohibitionist should disqualify him from serving as the Director of the ATF.”
With Democrats and Republicans both holding 50 seats in the Senate, many on the left are worried that Chipman’s nomination may fail to pass the chamber. Moderate Democrats Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, who have vocally called into question Biden’s agenda before, have not committed to supporting the nomination, with Manchin saying Chipman is “well qualified” but that he needs more information before making a decision.
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