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Sen. Mike Lee goes after ATF nominee’s ‘disdain’ for gun owners

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., listen in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington.
Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, right, and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., listen in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on April 28, 2021 on Capitol Hill in Washington.
Tom Williams, Associated Press

Sen. Mike Lee went after the Biden administration nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives over what the Utah Republican called a “troubling, flippant” attitude toward gun owners.

David Chipman, former ATF agent and gun control advocate, appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this week in a sometimes contentious hearing.

Lee went after Chipman over his past statements on criminal background checks for gun purchasers and gun owners.

The senator took issue with this Chipman post on Reddit in 2019: “While at ATF I conducted studies involving people who failed background checks to determine how many later committed crimes with a gun — many did. This is a perfect opportunity to arrest people before committing crimes rather than responding after the fact.”

Lee said Wednesday he found the comment “very troubling,” especially for someone nominated to serve as ATF director.

Chipman, he said, compounded that with another statement in an interview last year with Cheddar News that showed a “certain degree of disdain” toward gun owners, and in particular new gun owners.

“In the interview, you openly mocked first-time gun owners saying they were more like Tiger King. Then advising them in quite a mockery to hide their gun ‘behind the cans of tuna and beef jerky they have stored in a cabinet and only bring that out if the zombies start to appear,’” Lee said quoting Chipman.

Lee said he watched the clip several times hoping that he was missing context, hoping there was something that would make it less troubling.

“It concerns me that you as the nominee to be the director of the ATF would have such a flippant and, if I may say, so utterly condescending attitude toward first-time gun owners in this country,” the senator said.

Lee also cited a National Shooting Sports Foundation survey showing gun retailers reported that the highest percentage of increased sales in the first half of 2020 was among Black people. Sales to women, Hispanic and Asian Americans also increased, he said.

“Why would you choose to insult so many of your fellow Americans with a statement like this, based on the fact that they’ve purchased a gun?”

Chipman said his statements were misunderstood and taken out of context.

People who lie in an attempt to buy a gun commit a serious federal felony, he said, and he was suggesting agents could do research to determine if those people were more likely to later commit a violent crime.

“I do believe it would be ATF’s mission, that of prosecutors, to prosecute those people who committed a serious federal felony before striking again and killing someone,” he said.

In the Cheddar interview, Chipman said he was trying to use self-deprecating humor, and the person who had the gun stored behind the tuna and beef jerky was himself.

“I was saying that all of us were acting in new ways as a response to COVID,” he said, adding he was trying to say that people who bring guns into their homes should be properly trained. “I’m sorry for any confusion I may have made when trying to point out the fact that sometimes bringing a gun into your home if you’re untrained is a particularly dangerous thing to do.”

Lee and Chipman also tangled over a bill the senator is running to make it easier to buy silencers for guns. Chipman earlier said the law would only benefit gun lobbyists and criminals who want to kill people.