How the 2A Community Beat Biden

Chipman Nomination to Head ATF Withdrawn

David Chipman’s nomination to head the ATF ignited a grassroots resistance
of monumental energy. Gun owners won and the Biden administration lost.
(Screen snip, YouTube, MSNBC)

Almost immediately after Joe Biden nominated David Chipman to be the next director of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, people in the firearms community familiar with the nominee began working to derail the effort.

More than one insider confided it was no surprise Chipman was Biden’s nominee, with the hope of making his confirmation a speedy process.

Gun rights organizations—the National Rifle Association, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and Gun Owners of America—started energizing their troops. Grassroots activists did their homework. Firearms journalists looked hard at Chipman, revealing he had been working as an adviser to gun control organizations since he retired from the ATF. Heavy opposition slowed the confirmation process, providing time for journalists to dig for facts and do their jobs.

Activists were pointed to a January 2020 Op-Ed Chipman authored in the Roanoke Times. Chipman blasted the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” movement as the work of “fringe groups” and “bullies.” He labeled sheriffs and county officials who lined up against the new anti-gun-rights Democrat majority in Richmond as “renegades.” He called extremist gun control proposals coming from the Assembly “gun safety laws.”

CCRKBA Chairman Alan Gottlieb suggested the nomination was political patronage by the president for his supporters at the Giffords gun prohibition lobbying group, where Chipman has been working as a senior adviser.

Paul Bedard, the veteran political journalist writing at the Washington Examiner reported in an interview with Jason Ouimet, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action that, “facing having a liberal gun-grabber pushing anti-gun Biden policies…the NRA and associated groups decided to dig in.”

The NRA, according to Bedard, “set aside $3 million for targeted ads and millions of mailings and digital ads to fight Chipman.” I checked with the NRA and they confirmed the approximate dollar amount. Here’s what it was used for:

  • 28 total town halls were held in a half-dozen states.
  • Digital ads were run in 12 states.
  • Television ads were run in three key states.
  • There were mailings in 12 states, including 600,000 pieces sent to Pennsylvania.
  • Hundreds of thousands of texts were sent.
  • At least 10 grassroots alerts were sent on Chipman.
  • Articles in NRA magazines
  • Hundreds of hours of lobbying
  • Dozens of media interviews, TV and print
  • Op-eds were placed in key states
  • NRA mounted “unrelenting” social media pressure on NRA platforms

As a result, the NRA said “hundreds of thousands” of NRA members “took action.”

Meanwhile, CCRKBA and its sister organization, the Second Amendment Foundation, began running 60-second messages on some 20 different cable networks, not against Chipman, but criticizing the broader Biden gun control agenda. Those messages obviously hit a nerve, as mail and messages to the organizations spiked sharply, supporting extended advertising efforts. Viewers apparently made a connection on their own between the Biden gun control agenda and Chipman’s confirmation.

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Joe Biden has repeatedly boasted how he “beat the NRA twice.” After the withdrawal
of David Chipman’s nomination to head the ATF, Biden isn’t admitting the NRA and
other gun rights groups and activists beat him. (Screen snip, YouTube, Biden-Harris campaign.)

Key Holdouts Hurt

The U.S. Senate is in a strange dilemma. The split is 50-50 Democrats and Republicans, as the independents caucus with the Democrats.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also has an even split, 11-11, with Dick Durbin chairing and Chuck Grassley the ranking Republican member. When the committee held a confirmation hearing for Chipman, he hurt himself by acknowledging he favors a ban on so-called “assault rifles,” but he was unable to really define what they are. The New York Post ripped into Chipman’s weak answer when grilled by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark) about the definition.

“Senator,” Chipman stated, “an assault weapon would be, in the context of the question you asked, what Congress defines it as.”

He ultimately contended the ATF defines an “assault rifle” as “any semi-automatic rifle capable of accepting a detachable magazine above the caliber of .22, which would include a .223, which is, you know largely the AR-15 round,” as quoted by the Post.

A handful of Democrats and one Independent—Sen. Angus King of Maine—declined to take a position on Chipman. At the same time, all 50 Republicans in the Senate stood firm against the nomination. Almost hilariously, other Democrats and gun control advocates complained about Republicans in lockstep. They never complain when Democrats do the same on other issues.

In the weeks following Chipman’s hearing, stories surfaced alleging Chipman made some remarks about black ATF agents in Detroit scoring high on an assessment test. Credit goes to journalist Stephen Gutowski at The Reload for digging that story out. The report said a Justice Department official “confirmed Chipman had accused an agent of cheating on an assessment.” The allegation resulted in an investigation, but DOJ “did not release a copy of the report.”

The official told The Reload, “any allegations of bias against David Chipman are false and the two times he was the subject of a workplace complaint over a 25-year career at the ATF, the claims were thoroughly investigated and found to be meritless.”

By that time, the Judiciary Committee had deadlocked on the vote to send Chipman’s nomination to the Senate floor. The nomination gathered dust.

In the aftermath, CCRKBA’s Gottlieb had this to say: “Today’s party-line vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee on David Chipman’s nomination to head the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives underscores the toxicity of his choice by Joe Biden to head the agency. His extremist views on gun ownership, combined with his background as a gun control advocate for the gun prohibition lobby should automatically disqualify him for the position he seeks. CCRKBA will continue to encourage our members and supporters, and millions of honest gun owners to keep contacting their Senate members and urge a ‘No’ vote on his confirmation when it goes before the full Senate.”

It obviously worked. The vote never went to the full Senate.

While chatting on air with Mark Walters, host of “Armed America Radio,” I told the audience in August, “If (Senate Majority Leader) Chuck Schumer had the votes, Chipman would have already been confirmed.” It was clear from the outset that the Democrats were not all on board with the nomination, so it gathered dust over in Judiciary. The 50-50 split in the Judiciary vote (11 for, 11 against along party lines) would have required some procedural thing to happen on Senate floor to get it out of committee. When that didn’t happen, it was clear the Democrats were coming up short.

In the end, holding out were Democrat Senators Joe Manchin (W.VA), Jon Tester (Montana) and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and King. Without their votes, there would be no tie, which could be broken by anti-gun Vice President Kamala Harris.

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Sleeping Giant

With NRA, CCRKBA and GOA lighting a fire under grassroots activists, Capitol Hill phones lit up and the push was on.

Gun prohibition lobbying groups swung into action. Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords spent $150,000 “ahead of David Chipman’s Senate confirmation hearing” featuring retired ATF agents “and community leaders” supporting Chipman.

Gun rights activists were the proverbial “sleeping giant,” awakened by the nomination. According to Bedard, NRA “flooded” Pennsylvania with 600,000 pieces of mail, and that’s the tip of the iceberg.

As explained by Bedard, “the White House saw it as a lost cause and withdrew Chipman’s nomination. The White House blamed Republicans, but it was the administration’s inability to hold Democrats together that doomed the nomination…And for that, the NRA, other Second Amendment groups, and pro-gun lawmakers get the credit.”


Major Defeat

Lest anyone misunderstand, the withdrawal of Chipman’s nomination was a major defeat, not just for Joe Biden, but also the billionaire-backed gun ban lobbying groups which invested time and resources—and money—to put their man at the head of the federal agency that regulates national gun policy.

It demonstrates how, when united, gun owners can win against big money and perceived liberal power. They can do it again, and with any luck, they might prove it Nov. 2 in Virginia.

The head of the Seattle-based Alliance for Gun Responsibility was furious, commenting in an email blast, “We won’t sugarcoat it, this is a major win for the gun lobby. To call this a disappointment is a huge understatement.”

There are already hints the Biden administration will find a different job for Chipman to fill, one that doesn’t involve Senate confirmation. Whether the White House comes up with another nominee for ATF remains to be seen, but it’s a good bet that person will not be a friend of gun owners.

It was a big win over Biden, who has made a habit of bragging how he “beat the NRA twice.” After Chipman, he wasn’t so full of himself.

The Second Amendment community shouldn’t rest on this laurel. As General George Patton warned, quoting a tale from ancient Rome, “All glory is fleeting.”

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