Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gun Rights Groups Threatened To Sink Biden's ATF Nominee. He's Withdrawing The Pick

David Chipman speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons in September 2019. President Biden had nominated him to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Andrew Harnik
David Chipman speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons in September 2019. President Biden had nominated him to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Updated September 9, 2021 at 2:04 PM ET

President Biden has pulled David Chipman's nomination to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in the face of opposition from gun rights groups, Republican senators and a few Democrats.

Chipman, a former ATF agent who became a prominent gun control advocate after leaving the agency, has been ensnared in a brutal confirmation battle since Biden nominated him this spring.

With the Senate evenly divided and Republicans united in opposition, Chipman needed every Democratic and independent senator to push his nomination across the line. In the end, that didn't happen.

"He would have been an exemplary Director of the ATF and would have redoubled its efforts to crack down on illegal firearms traffickers and help keep our communities safe from gun violence," Biden said in a statement on Thursday. "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."

The result means the ATF will be without a Senate-confirmed boss yet again. The agency hasn't had a confirmed director in six years. It's had only one since Congress made the position subject to Senate confirmation in 2006.

Chipman faced opposition from gun rights groups

Gun violence prevention advocates called the administration's decision to pull Chipman's nomination a blow to Biden's efforts to address what the president has described as an "epidemic" of gun violence in the United States.

"This is a boon for gun manufacturers that profit from the weak enforcement of existing gun laws and have spent millions maligning this dedicated public servant," said Igor Volsky, founder and executive director of Guns Down America.

Those who opposed Chipman's nomination, however, welcomed the news.

"Glad to hear reports the White House is taking my advice and pulling the terrible nomination of David Chipman," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on Twitter. "Absurd that a vocal opponent of Americans' constitutional rights was ever picked to run ATF. This is a win for the Second Amendment and law-abiding American citizens."

The struggle to get a confirmed director on the books over the years has been due in large part to opposition from gun rights groups such as the National Rifle Association.

That dynamic played out again this time. The NRA, Gun Owners of America, the National Association for Gun Rights and similar groups blasted Chipman's nomination, calling him a threat to law-abiding gun owners.

Chipman is currently a senior policy adviser at Giffords, the gun violence prevention group started by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was almost killed in a mass shooting in 2011.

Chipman is a gun owner and gun control advocate

Chipman, who says he owns guns, has voiced support for a ban on assault weapons and limits on high-capacity magazines.

Before becoming a gun control advocate, he worked for more than two decades for the ATF, first as a special agent in the field and later in a supervisory role.

His advocacy work earned him strong support from the gun violence prevention community.

But it also energized gun rights groups, who lobbied hard to try to torpedo his confirmation.

Earlier this summer, Democrats expressed confidence that they'd be able to secure the votes necessary to push Chipman through. But as the summer progressed, Chipman's nomination ended up stuck in limbo for weeks as a few key Democrats — Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Jon Tester of Montana — as well as independent Sen. Angus King of Maine remained on the fence.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.