President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the nation’s weapons regulator is heading toward a bitterly close vote in the Senate after facing fierce opposition from a leading group in the firearms trade, sources watching the nomination said.
Gun control advocates have long been optimistic about David Chipman’s nomination to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in part because the National Rifle Association, long the chief political warrior of the gun lobby, is fighting bankruptcy and is politically weakened.
But the National Sports Shooting Foundation has voiced strong opposition to Chipman, deploying rhetoric that echoes the NRA’s customary apocalyptic warnings of an upcoming gun rights collapse and threatening to derail a key part of the NRA’s plans. Biden administration to crack down on gun crime.
The group said its high-profile role in the fight for Chipman’s nomination, including running its first television commercials, was not an attempt to step up in lieu of the slowed-down NRA. While the NRA views itself as a civil rights group, the NSSF is a trade organization representing gun manufacturers, distributors, and dealers. And he sees Chipman’s nomination as a direct threat to his business, which has boomed since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are in the business of making sure our members can do business,” said Mark Oliva, the group’s director of public affairs. “[Chipman] he has appeared before Congress in his current role to advocate for regulations and laws that we believe are unconstitutional and would have a significant detriment to our ability to sell our product. “
Chipman is a former ATF agent turned gun control advocate and now works for the gun violence prevention group Giffords, where he has lobbied for a renewal of the assault weapons ban and background checks. universal. His nomination is a key part of the Biden administration’s plans to combat a growing wave of gun violence by empowering the ATF to crack down on illegal arms trafficking and arms dealers who violate federal law.
“As you all know, ATF is at the forefront of our efforts to combat gun violence,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has led many of the administration’s gun violence prevention efforts, during a visit to the agency headquarters in Washington, DC. , Thursday. “We are very hopeful that the Senate will act soon.”
I think the members understand that this is a very controversial position. It’s been vacated because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t find anyone to fill the job, so it’s no wonder we’re having some difficulties.
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
The NRA has been outspoken and assiduously working to weaken the ATF for decades, pushing to limit the agency’s budget, prohibiting it from collecting digital data, and opposing anyone nominated to lead it. The NSSF, by contrast, has supported the last two nominees to head the agency, one under President Barack Obama and one under Donald Trump, and has long worked with the ATF on some security initiatives. But the group finds Chipman’s work at Giffords and other liberal groups unacceptable.
“This would be the same as if President Trump had nominated [longtime NRA leader] Wayne LaPierre to lead ATF, ”Oliva said. Oliva also suggested that the NSSF would not oppose the nomination of Regina Lombardo, the agency’s current acting director, if Biden nominated her for the full-time position.
A handful of Democrats say they are still undecided about Chipman’s nomination, including Senators Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona) and Maine Senator Angus King, who is running with the democrats. . Gun control advocates believe they can convince at least one Republican to vote for Chipman, but only if all 50 Democrats back his nomination.
“You want to bring in someone who can unite the ATF and unite them all. We’re just working on it, making sure we have the right person, ”Manchin told HuffPost on Tuesday.
Majority whip in the Senate, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Acknowledged that some of his members were at stake political considerations. He did not say when the nomination would be voted on.
“There are a lot of problems,” Durbin told HuffPost. “I think the members understand that this is a very controversial position. It’s been vacated because Republicans and Democrats couldn’t find anyone to fill the job, so it’s no wonder we’re having some difficulties. “
A Democrat whom Chipman’s opponents hoped to persuade, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (DN.H.), told HuffPost she would support the nominee.
The NRA has not been absent from the fight. The group retains a huge membership, has spent millions on television spots in key states, and has already spent more on federal lobbying in 2021 than in all of 2020. But gun control advocates said the NSSF’s role has surprised them and highlights the growing prominence.
Records show that NSSF federal lobbying spending has risen steadily in recent years, from just $ 300,000 in 2010 to $ 2.9 million in 2013 and peaking at $ 5.3 million in 2019 and $ 5 million in 2020. NRA spending over the same time period has been less consistent, peaking at $ 5.2 million in 2017 and dropping to $ 2.2 million last year.
So far this year, according to lobbying records, the NRA has spent $ 3.3 million and the NSSF has spent $ 2.7 million.
Ryan Busse, a former firearms industry executive who now works at Giffords, said the NSSF’s most important role highlights the extent to which the arms industry sings the same hymnal.
“Those of us who have been in the industry for a long time know that there really is no daylight between the industry and the NRA,” Busse said. “The NRA has always been there to put up with anything, but you could see that the NSSF was going radical.”
“I think the NSSF at first saw this as a way to scare people [and] generate more sales, ”he continued. “But now they think they can knock on the door [Chipman] outside.”
In fact, the NSSF’s criticisms of Chipman borrow from the NRA’s over-the-top playbook. The group’s television ad directly states that Chipman wants to “ban guns,” something the ATF director does not have the power to do. The NSSF has also paid for Facebook ads claiming that “not a single major law enforcement organization” has endorsed Chipman, which is endorsed by the Police Executive Research Forum and groups representing law enforcement officials. Black and Hispanic police.
In a blog post, the NSSF’s top lobbyist discussed a photo of an FBI agent standing in front of the burned-out Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, and falsely claimed it was a photo of Chipman, echoing an incorrect report that it went viral in the conservative media. . (Chipman was not involved in the deadly siege of the compound, but was assigned to investigate what went wrong after the fact.)
Oliva said the NSSF removed the paragraph mentioning the photo after learning the information was false.
The coronavirus pandemic has reshaped the country’s relationship with guns, with both sales and violent shootings rising, although criminologists and law enforcement experts agree that the two trends are not directly related. . One study Researchers from Harvard and Northeast Universities found that about 6.5% of Americans bought a gun in 2020, compared to 5.3% in 2019, with about a fifth of buyers in both years purchasing guns for the first time. . TO Brookings Institution analysis found that 3 million guns were sold in the first three months of the pandemic alone.
Meanwhile, homicides increased in most of the country’s large cities in 2020 and have continued to rise in 2021.
Biden and Garland have relied on the ATF as part of their response. Biden has directed the ATF to develop a rule cracking down on so-called “ghost weapons” and has also lobbied the ATF to immediately revoke the licenses of gun shop dealers who violate federal law by selling to a prohibited person or failing to run a required background check.
Public polls suggest that Americans have a generally negative view of how Biden has handled crime and gun violence.
Igor Bobic contributed reporting.
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