President Trump’s pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives frustrated senators Wednesday as they tried in vain to get him to reveal his opinion on the major gun-rights debates facing the country.
Appearing for his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Canterbury said he is still president of the National Fraternal Order of Police, so he could not stray from that organization’s official positions.
And when asked what he would do if confirmed, Mr. Canterbury dodged, saying he couldn’t take a position until he consulted with the bureau’s other leaders.
Both Democrats and Republicans were rankled by his performance.
“Are you telling me you have no positions independent of the FOP relative to firearms and, if so, how are we, as a committee to evaluate where you stand on questions of policy?” asked Sen. Mike Lee, Utah Republican.
Sen. John Kennedy, Louisiana Republican, said Mr. Canterbury’s vague answers may cost him support.
“I like straight answers, and you are being evasive,” Mr. Kennedy said. “You have been nominated to run ATF. I think every member of this panel, both my Democratic friends and Republican friends who have feelings about the Second Amendment, are entitled to know both morally and legally what you believe.”
The exasperated senator repeatedly pressed Mr. Canterbury to name any gun ownership restrictions he might support. Mr. Canterbury said he wasn’t familiar enough with ATF policies to know if he could even implement restrictions.
“If you’re not familiar with the process running the ATF, then you are not qualified,” Mr. Kennedy said.
Mr. Lee assailed Mr. Canterbury for repeatedly telling lawmakers he would rely on Justice Department and ATF experts for guidance.
“We are talking about investing immense regulatory power in you,” he said to the nominee. “Your answers today have not alleviated the concerns that I hoped you would alleviate today.”
Mr. Canterbury eventually offered an opinion to Sen. Ted Cruz, telling the Texas Republican he would not support a ban on military-style semiautomatic rifles should he win confirmation to lead the ATF. He also told Mr. Cruz he would not support an expansion of federal background checks on private gun sales.
Those stances differ from what he has said as head of the FOP, where he’s been since 2003.
Gun rights groups gave Mr. Canterbury’s performance mixed reviews.
“If Sens. Lee and Kennedy are concerned about how he answered questions, then we are concerned because they look out for Second Amendment rights in the Senate,” Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, told The Washington Times.
Eric Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America, said his group still has questions about the nomination
“While we were glad to see that Chuck Canterbury today walked back many of his previously anti-gun positions, GOA still has concerns,” he said. “Furthermore, his treatment of the right to keep and bear arms as a privilege is, and will continue to be, an area of concern for gun owners.”
A spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents the firearms industry, said Mr. Canterbury still has its support.
One of the nation’s largest gun control advocacy groups said it would oppose Mr. Canterbury’s nomination because of his opposition to expanding background checks to cover all gun sales.
“We were disappointed to see Mr. Canterbury reverse his position on background checks today, and must oppose his nomination,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.