Firearms Bureau Hasn’t Had a Senate-Confirmed Chief Since 2015
NRA-funded Republicans are trying to block Senate confirmation of President Joe Biden’s choice to head our nation’s agency that works to reduce gun violence.
All 50 Republicans in the Senate are expected to vote against David Chipman who worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for 25 years. Chipman currently works for Giffords, an anti-gun violence group founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords. ATFG is part of the Justice Department.
The bureau has not had a Senate-confirmed leader since 2015 and has been led by acting directors. Firearms lobbyists have even blocked the bureau from making a searchable database to trace weapons used in murders and other crimes.
In 2020, homicide rates rose 30% in large cities although the homicide rate of 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people was still well below the rate of 19.4 in 1995. Homicide rates in our country have largely declined since the early 1990s.
The National Rifle Association spent more than $12 million during the 2020 campaign to try to elect Republicans to Congress. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who defeated the Democratic incumbent in 2014 with NRA help, questioned Chipman during his confirmation hearing about the definition of assault weapons which Cotton said are “wildly popular.”
The five deadliest mass shootings in our country since 2009 – in Las Vegas; Orlando; Newtown, Conn.; Sutherland Springs, Texas; and El Paso – all involved assault weapons or high-capacity magazines.
Cotton said the ATF definition that Chipman quoted for assault rifles would cover what Cotton called “modern sporting rifles.” The gun industry adopted the term for assault weapons after President Bill Clinton’s 1994 ban. After the hearing, Cotton derided Chipman as a “notorious gun-grabber.”
Impeach Before Confirmed
Chipman needs the votes of all 48 Democrats and the two independents who typically vote Democrat. Attorney General Merrick Garland has urged the Senate to confirm Chipman.
“As you all know, ATF is on the frontlines of our efforts to battle gun violence,” Garland said.
In April, Vanita Gupta, another Biden nominee widely opposed by Republicans, was confirmed as associate attorney general with the vote of only one Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. That state had the highest gun violence death rate in 2019.
Another nominee, Neera Tanden, withdrew her nomination as Biden’s budget director and was appointed as a senior adviser.
A Gun Owner
Chipman is a gun owner and has a permit to carry a concealed handgun. He lobbied for Giffords in areas including semiautomatic firearms and gun trafficking and received an ethics waiver to participate as ATF director in regulating firearms.
“That deep experience with the bureau, along with his experience lobbying on policy matters important to the bureau, make him especially qualified,” wrote Lee Lofthus, an assistant attorney general.
Chipman’s time at the bureau, where he rose to lead the office of public and governmental affairs, included investigating the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.
After retiring from the bureau in 2012, he worked from 2013 to 2016 for ShotSpotter which contracts with more than 100 cities and counties to detect gunshots. The company’s accuracy has been questioned. In 2017, Shopspotter failed to register alerts for all five gun homicides that happened in one day in part of San Antonio covered by ShopShotter.