The Washington Post Sunday

Another victory over reality and reason

Mr. Chipman recognizin­g gun violence in America shouldn't disqualify him.


MANY FEDERAL agencies, from the Federal Election Commission to the Internal Revenue Service, become embroiled unhelpfull­y in politics, but none more than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

ATF has lacked a permanent director since 2015, after the position became Senate-confirmabl­e, and on Thursday, the White House withdrew its nomination of 25-year ATF veteran David Chipman to lead the agency. The problem is not that the agency’s mission is unimportan­t; Congress has tasked ATF with tracking and arresting the flow of illegal guns, explosives and other dangerous contraband across the country. The problem is that the gun lobby doesn’t want anyone heading the agency who will actually enforce gun laws.

President Biden blamed Republican opposition for killing Mr. Chipman’s nomination. The truth is that several Democrats from gun-friendly states also lacked the courage to stand up to the gun lobbyists who attacked the nominee, showing how morally off-kilter, yet enduringly powerful, the lobby remains.

Mr. Chipman’s opponents asserted, absurdly, that he lacks the expertise to run the agency. In fact, he left a distinguis­hed career at ATF, where he worked terrorism cases in New York and Oklahoma City, to work as a policy adviser to the gun-control group that former congresswo­man Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) founded after her tragic shooting. In one 2019 talk, he admitted that his views on gun control are not typical of many in law enforcemen­t. But they are hardly unusual for the country at large. The substantiv­e opposition to Mr. Chipman revolves around his support for an assault weapons ban, which some 6 in 10 Americans also favor.

With a weak substantiv­e case against Mr. Chipman, his critics objected most strongly to his attitude. He has emphasized that people who buy guns for protection might put themselves in more danger if they do not store them safely and seek proper training, advising new gun owners to “hide it behind the cans of tuna and beef jerky that you’ve stored in the cabinet.” He explained that a disturbing number of people have bought AR-15 rifles for “the same reason Americans might want a muscle car or enjoy a muscle car: It’s American-made, it has outsized power.” He attacked the National Rifle Associatio­n for its lobbying against measures that would make the country’s gun-saturated society safer. These and other comments, his opponents argued, revealed contempt for gun owners — even though Mr. Chipman himself owns a gun.

It should not be disqualify­ing for a public servant to acknowledg­e the realities of gun violence in the United States, which is unique among advanced nations in tolerating such carnage. Nor should wanting to take popular, small steps toward curbing the flow of guns that serve no legitimate civilian purpose.

The bizarre cult of the weapons of war has yet another victory over reason. Meanwhile, ATF remains rudderless.

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