Biden’s ATF nominee addressed gun control, disinformation at confirmation hearing

David Chipman, President Joe Biden’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testifies during his confirmation hearing in Washington on Wednesday. Graeme Sloan / Sipa USA via AP

President Joe Biden’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), David Chipman, spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Wednesday where he addressed numerous topics including gun control and, what he calls, an online disinformation campaign against him.

Chipman confronted head-on the circulation of an image that some said showed him standing in the rubble of a destroyed compound where 76 cult members and four federal agents died in a 1993 raid-gone-wrong. The photo spread like wildfire amongst the political right after it was included in a UK tabloid newspaper article.

“This is not me,” Chipman said. The 55-year-old was directed to report to Waco in May of 1993, a month after the siege had concluded, as an investigator under a group of DOJ employees.

“During the course of the investigation, I interviewed all of the ATF agents at Waco, and that is not an ATF agent,” he added. The author of the article showing the photo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The botched raid began when gunfire erupted as ATF agents attempted to raid a compound belonging to the Branch Davidians religious sect, who the agency suspected of stockpiling weapons.

A siege lasting 51 days was initiated by the FBI after four federal agents died in the gunfight. The FBI initiated a tear gas attack in an attempt to force the cult members out, and soon later, the compound was engulfed in flames. The fire resulted in the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians including 25 children and two pregnant women, as well as the sect’s leader David Koresh.

The events of the incident are widely disputed by various sources. A panel of arson investigators and the Department of Justice have both concluded that the Davidians were responsible for igniting the fire in at least three areas within the compound, while others say the fires were started by incendiary tear gas used by federal agents.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin told Chipman to expect bumps in his road to the confirmation, encouraging him to “weather the storm.”

“Buckle your seatbelt,” Durbin said. “You wanna be head of the ATF? Hang on tight. They’re coming after you, buddy.”

Later, Republican senators grilled Chipman on topics including gun control and a records request involving a 2018 incident where a gun owned by Hunter Biden was found in a trash can near a Delaware school. The ATF declined to turn over records to the senate, citing the FOIA act, which Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley described as “incompetent.”

“If confirmed, what steps will you take to produce records to this committee relating to Hunter Biden’s October 2018 firearm incident?” Grassley asked.

“If I am confirmed as ATF director, I will abide by all ATF policies and DOJ policies to ensure that you receive the records that you require,” Chipman answered. He added that he could only currently speak to what he knows of the incident from the news, however, would be able to provide more information if confirmed.

Chipman, a policy advisor for a gun control advocacy group called Giffords, was confronted on his advocacy for gun regulations, with senator Ted Cruz lobbing questions on his approval of the AR-15.

“The AR-15 is one of, if not the, most popular rifles in America,” Senator Ted Cruz said. “Your public position is you want to ban AR-15s, is that correct?”

“With respect to the AR-15, I support a ban,” Chipman said, echoing the opinion of President Biden, adding that there is no current ban on the rifle. “As ATF director, if I’m confirmed, I would simply enforce the laws in the books.”

Chipman first joined the ATF in 1988, at the age of 22, where he helped monitor firearms being trafficked between Virginia and New York. He retired as a special agent in 2012 after 25 years.

The head position he’s gunning for is so closely intertwined with politics that the Senate has confirmed just one nominee in the last 15 years, Byron Todd Jones, under the Obama administration.