During his May 26 Senate confirmation hearing, President Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) David Chipman expressed his opinion on what he believes falls into the category of an “assault rifle.” While Chipman, who is a twenty-year veteran of the ATF and who has worked at multiple gun control organizations, has not made it a secret that he would like to see a ban of the popular AR-15, he also suggested that many popular hunting rifles could be in the crosshairs as well.
Chipman, who has worked as paid gun control at the Giffords Center to Prevent Gun Violence, suggested that an assault rifle isn’t just the AR-15 and other semi-automatic firearms that resemble the military’s M16/M4 rifles. His definition was apparently far more board.
During the May 26 hearing, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) asked Biden’s nominee, “Mr. Chipman you have called for an assault weapon ban. I have a simple question for you. What is an assault weapon?”
The vocal opponent of the Second Amendment was evasive, which required Cotton to ask again, “What is an assault weapon? How would you define it if you were the chair, the head of the ATF, how have you defined it over the last several years in your role as a gun control advocate?”
The response was far from direct, and was almost as comedic as United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s answer to explain what he considered to be obscene, answering, “I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”
After being pressed, Chipman responded, “Senator, um if I’m confirmed as ATF director um you know my recollection is the only um process by which ATF has weighed in is I know there’s a demand letter three program which requires multiple reports, multiple sale reports on the southwestern border. ATF in that program has ATF in that program has defined an assault rifle as any semi-automatic rifle capable of accepting a detachable magazine above the caliber of .22…”
As the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) warned, Chipman’s vague definition would include many hunting and target rifles.
“For decades, gun control advocates have endorsed a feature test to determine what firearms are to be defined as ‘assault weapons,'” the NRA-ILA explained. “Under this rubric, a semi-automatic firearm must be capable of accepting a detachable magazine and be equipped with one or more prohibited features in order to qualify as an ‘assault weapon.’ Under the 1994 Clinton ‘assault weapons’ ban, these features included items such as a pistol grip, bayonet mount, and adjustable stock.”
Chipman’s view is thus even more extreme than one proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a long-time opponent of the Second Amendment. The NRA-ILA also noted that the ATF nominee’s view is even more extreme than that of the European Union, and included many semi-automatic target and hunting rifles including the FNAR Competition, Benelli R1 and Winchester Model 100.
In previous testimony to the Senate, Chipman warned that law-abiding gun owners could present a threat to public safety.
“If the term ‘law-abiding’ means someone has lawfully possessed a gun, there are often occasions that that person then goes on to commit a violent crime,” Chipman responded. “If you’re just saying, ‘Characterize the majority of gun owners,’ the majority of gun owners are law-abiding.”
The nominee also said he believes that it the ATF’s responsibility to primarily enforce the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act – but added that if he is confirmed, “Our priority will be focusing on people who break federal laws and attempt to intervene before they kill someone, so that is a balance that we need to strike. But again, the Constitution is the guardrail to that activity.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.