White House withdraws firearms agency nominee targeted by gun lobby smear campaign

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The gun lobby spent millions to oppose David Chipman's confirmation.

The White House is planning to withdraw President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, the Washington Post reports.

Biden first nominated David Chipman, a former ATF agent and senior policy advisor with the gun control nonprofit Giffords, in April, but his confirmation process has been drawn out and mired in controversy thanks to a massive misinformation campaign bankrolled by the gun lobby.

At Chipman's confirmation hearing in June, Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee harshly scrutinized his advocacy work with Giffords as well as some of his past statements on gun ownership as reasons why he shouldn't lead the embroiled agency, which hasn't had a permanent director since March 2015more than six years ago.

At the hearing, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) specifically criticized Chipman's policy work with Giffords, the gun control group founded by former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords after she was shot in the head in an assassination attempt in 2011. He said that appointing Chipman to lead the ATF would be "like putting a tobacco executive in charge of Health and Human Services or 'antifa' in charge of the Portland Police Department."

Though the opposition to his confirmation at the time of his hearing solely hinged on his work with Giffords, the months after saw a massive misinformation campaign spearheaded by the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation to try and sink his confirmation.

According to reporting by USA Today and the Trace, both of those gun rights groups spent money on ads against Chipman confirmation in West Virginia and Maine — two states whose senators, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Angus King (I-ME), were undecided about voting to confirm Chipman. According to the Post, the White House is pulling his nomination over "bipartisan pushback over his gun control advocacy."

Conservative media outlets ran unsubstantiated stories based on reports from a group of anonymous former ATF agents that Chipman, during his time as an ATF agent, made racist comments. The same outlets also ran stories on an unproven claim that Chipman was once used by the Chinese government to cover up a mass stabbing incident in China.

These reports were subsequently used in attack ads produced by gun-lobbying groups and brought up by Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee — who themselves had received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions by said groups — when they sent a letter in early August to committee chair Dick Durbin (D-IL) asking for a second confirmation hearing for Chipman to address the allegations.

Since the news broke about the White House planning to withdraw Chipman's nomination on Thursday morning, the NRA and Republican members of Congress have taken to Twitter to celebrate it as a victory for gun rights.

"This is a win for the Second Amendment and law-abiding American citizens," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote on Twitter.

"If verified, this would be a HUGE victory for NRA members and gun owners," the NRA tweeted.

In a statement on Thursday morning, Grassley repeated the unsubstantiated allegations of Chipman's past racist comments: "Mr. Chipman's long record as a partisan, anti-Second Amendment activist raised plenty of concerns about how he'd administer federal firearms laws. But that wasn't the only cause for concern."

In a statement addressing his decision to withdraw Chipman’s nomination, Biden said, "Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they intend to use gun crime as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it. That's why they've moved in lockstep to block David Chipman's confirmation, and it's why they side with gun manufacturers over the overwhelming majority of the American people in opposing commonsense measures like universal background checks."

Though Biden didn't mention who his new nominee to lead the ATF would be, he did mention that his administration will continue to prioritize fighting gun violence. "We knew this wouldn’t be easy – there’s only been one Senate-confirmed ATF Director in the Bureau’s history – but I have spent my entire career working to combat the scourge of gun violence, and I remain deeply committed to that work," Biden said.

This story has been updated with comments from President Joe Biden on the withdrawal of David Chipman's nomination to lead the ATF.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.