Conservatives in Both Parties Would Rather the ATF Not Do Very Much About the F

·3-min read
Photo credit: The Washington Post - Getty Images
Photo credit: The Washington Post - Getty Images

The administration made an unfortunate personnel decision on Thursday. The only real benefit to the country from the decision is that it drives another stake through the undead heart of the bipartisan illusion. From the Washington Post:

President Biden nominated [David] Chipman, who worked at ATF for more than two decades before joining the gun control group led by former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), in April as part of a larger effort to curb gun violence. But his nomination faced unified opposition from Republican senators as well as concerns from a handful of Senate Democrats from states friendly to gun rights.

The White House declined to comment. The people spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak freely about Chipman, who currently is a senior adviser to the Giffords gun control group. White House officials are trying to find another role in the administration for Chipman, said the people familiar with the matter.

(Remember back in the aftermath of the Jayson Blair fiasco, when it seemed like every major media outlet promised not to be quite so promiscuous in granting anonymity to people? Yeah, that was cool.)

By all accounts, except the ones that matter, Chipman’s nomination to lead any other federal department would have sailed through the Senate. He’d worked for the ATF for nearly 25 years.

The Post story carefully points out that the ATF has had only one Senate-confirmed chief in the 15 years since the post was made subject to Senate approval, which happened in 2006 as part of the reauthorization of the abominable USA PATRIOT Act. There seems to be little question that this paralysis was deliberately visited upon the bureau by conservative legislators of both parties who, potential terrorism threats be damned, would rather the ATF not do very much in the field of F.

That was certainly the case with Chipman’s nomination. While at ATF, he’d worked both the Oklahoma City bombing case and the first attack on the World Trade Center. He also was involved in trial preparation in the aftermath of the Branch Davidian shootout in Waco. In all three of those cases, especially the first and the third, there was immediate pushback against the notion that right-wing violence was a serious national problem, and that stockpiling weapons constitutes an odd form of religious liturgy.

Once he retired from the bureau, Chipman went to work for the gun-control foundation begun by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, which is the mark of Cain for the gun-fondling crowd. (Speaking of guns—and of fondling: Hey there, Rand Paul!) And this time, they even brought along Democrats like Jon Tester and Joe (Captain Inevitable) Manchin, as well as independent Angus King of Maine. As long ago as last July, Senate Democratic Whip Richard Durbin was talking about the “issues” with any nominee for the job. From Politico:

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on Chipman’s nomination. The split committee vote forces the Senate to hold a vote to discharge him before they can move his nomination forward. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has yet to announce the floor vote. The Senate has only confirmed one nominee — B. Todd Jones in 2013 — to become ATF director. “Members understand this is a highly controversial position,” Durbin said Monday. “It has been left vacant because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t find someone to fill the slot so it’s no wonder that we’re having some difficulty with it.”

Theoretically, anyway, the Democrats concede that ATF ought to have a permanent director. The Republicans, I am convinced, would kill the agency altogether if they thought they had the votes to do it. But, for the moment, they will settle for making the ATF as weak as possible. After all, it’s not like this gun-cluttered republic has any problems with firearms.

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