President Biden tapped David Chipman to steer the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in half as a result of the two-decade bureau veteran has few qualms about taking up the gun foyer in blunt, confrontational and unapologetic phrases.
On Wednesday, Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee seized on Mr. Chipman’s scathing feedback — together with an interview in which he likened the frenzied shopping for of weapons in the course of the pandemic to “zombie apocalypses” — in hopes of sinking his nomination.
“Many see that putting a committed gun control proponent, like David Chipman, in charge of A.T.F. is like putting a tobacco executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services, or antifa in charge of the Portland police department,” Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the highest Republican on the panel, mentioned throughout Mr. Chipman’s affirmation listening to.
The choice of Mr. Chipman to steer the federal company tasked with implementing the nation’s gun legal guidelines and rules isn’t any run-of-the-mill personnel transfer, because the amped-up rhetoric of Mr. Grassley and different conservatives vividly illustrated.
The bureau has emerged as a cornerstone of the Biden administration’s response to gun violence sweeping the nation, an improvised coverage more and more reliant on government motion as Congress debates payments to develop background checks and impose new restrictions on assault rifles.
If confirmed, Mr. Chipman would grow to be solely the second everlasting director of the A.T.F. for the reason that place grew to become topic to Senate affirmation 15 years in the past. He would inherit an company severely depleted by the National Rifle Association’s marketing campaign to undermine the bureau and hobble its core regulation enforcement and regulatory capabilities.
News alerts of a capturing in San Jose, Calif., that killed a minimum of eight folks started pinging on senators’ telephones moments into the listening to, if lawmakers wanted any reminder of how excessive the stakes had been.
“It is not lost on me that there is another mass shooting,” mentioned Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota.
Mr. Chipman spent over 20 years in the A.T.F. as a particular agent, serving in the bureau’s Detroit subject workplace and Washington headquarters. Over the previous couple of years, he has labored as a guide to gun management organizations based by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and Michael R. Bloomberg, the previous mayor of New York.
On Wednesday, Mr. Chipman reiterated his help for common background checks and restrictions on assault rifles, whereas pledging to bolster the bureau’s underfunded gun trafficking and inspection items.
Republicans, who view an empowered A.T.F. as a menace to the Second Amendment rights of gun house owners, countered by portraying Mr. Chipman as a zealot, peppering him with questions on his previous statements.
Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, grilled Mr. Chipman for saying in jest in an interview final 12 months that some first-time gun patrons had been getting ready “for end-times scenarios and zombie apocalypses.”
Mr. Chipman, who struggled to keep away from prolonged back-and-forth arguments with Republicans, responded by saying that he had been making an attempt to highlight the pointless hoarding of weapons and known as his remarks “self-deprecating.”
He additionally deflected questions on his progressive coverage advocacy — refusing, for example, to supply a definition for an assault weapon — repeatedly saying he seen himself as “a cop,” not as a lawyer or a lawmaker.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, questioned Mr. Chipman on whether or not he would help a ban on AR-15-type assault weapons, which he mentioned had been among the many “most popular” weapons in the nation.
Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, questioned Mr. Chipman about banning AR-15-type assault weapons.Credit…Al Drago for The New York Times
“With respect to the AR-15, I support a ban,” Mr. Chipman mentioned, including that Mr. Biden had already expressed help for a Democratic invoice to limit the gross sales of such weapons.
The reply didn’t fulfill Mr. Cruz. But Mr. Chipman tried to defuse the strain by thanking him for “offering me a Dr Pepper” throughout a gathering in the senator’s workplace the day earlier than.
The N.R.A. has mounted a coordinated marketing campaign to sink Mr. Chipman’s nomination. And through the years, the gun foyer has primarily exercised veto energy over the appointment of everlasting management on the bureau, blocking a number of would-be administrators, together with a conservative police union official chosen for the publish by President Donald J. Trump.
Mr. Biden’s choice of Mr. Chipman got here after an intense lobbying marketing campaign by gun security organizations, led by Ms. Giffords, Mr. Bloomberg and different gun management activists who recognized him as their best choice for the job quickly after November’s election.
The White House was initially reluctant to pick out a nominee who would provoke such intense opposition, however Mr. Biden determined he wanted to make a daring transfer after the mass killings in the Atlanta space and Boulder this 12 months, White House officers mentioned.
The affirmation of Mr. Chipman just isn’t assured. White House officers imagine that he has simply sufficient votes — 50 to 52 in their estimate, with Vice President Kamala Harris as a tiebreaker if wanted — to beat near-unanimous opposition by Republicans.
It just isn’t even clear if Democrats have the votes essential to clear him out of the committee with out resorting to procedural maneuvers.
But two essential Democratic swing votes, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have instructed Democratic leaders that they’re prone to help his nomination, offered the hearings go nicely. Two Republicans, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, haven’t dominated out supporting him.
If not particularly candy, Mr. Chipman’s listening to on Wednesday was, a minimum of, brief.
Committee Democrats crammed in his listening to with 4 different nominees — limiting the period of time any senator might query Mr. Chipman. The format additionally compelled Republicans to interrupt off assaults in the event that they needed to question the opposite nominees, who included Mr. Biden’s picks to steer the Drug Enforcement Administration and the legal division of the Justice Department.
As a outcome, Mr. Chipman spent comparatively little time addressing particular steps he may take if confirmed. One exception: He vowed to “get to the bottom” of the numerous drop-off in inspections of gun sellers in 2020, which A.T.F. officers have attributed to the difficulties of conducting operations in the course of the pandemic.
But the listening to was itself redefined by the identical type of numbing outrage that prodded Mr. Biden to choose Mr. Chipman in the primary place, a mass capturing.
“If I’m confirmed as A.T.F. director, one of our priorities at A.T.F. will be focusing on gun trafficking, the unlawful transfer of legal guns to criminals, and perhaps in this case a crime like this could be prevented,” Mr. Chipman mentioned when requested to touch upon the carnage in San Jose.