- - Monday, July 26, 2021

Like many others from rural America, firearms are a part of my daily life. I am an avid hunter, sportsman, competitive shooter, and reloader. Far beyond a hobby or even passion, firearms are a part of our national heritage. We use them to hunt, protect livestock, and provide peace of mind when law enforcement may be miles away. 

As the Attorney General of Montana, it is my duty to defend the rights of the citizens of our great state and ensure the safety of our citizens. President Joe Biden’s nomination of David Chipman, an overzealous anti-gun lobbyist, to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) deeply troubles me. Mr. Chipman’s past conduct shows that instead of fulfilling ATF’s mission, he would pursue a deeply partisan anti-gun agenda. 

Majority Whip and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin said last week that the vote count to confirm Mr. Chipman is “not where we want it yet.” It will come down to a handful of Democrat senators from red states, including Senator Jon Tester of Montana, who is reported “still reviewing” Mr. Chipman’s record.  

Senator Tester is stuck between a rock and a hard place. He must choose if he will bow to his Democrat party bosses and confirm Mr. Chipman or stand up for his constituents in Montana, which has one of the highest gun ownership rates in the country. 

In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Chipman reiterated his desire for an “assault weapons” ban. Yet when asked how he would define the term, he couldn’t give a clear answer. He eventually endorsed a definition that would ban some of the most owned hunting rifles in the country, including the AR-15 and even .22-caliber plinking rifles. 

Mr. Chipman’s ignorance of basic firearms mechanics was astounding. The ATF has vast rulemaking authority over the manufacture and sale of firearms. Mr. Biden seems to have chosen his nominee based solely on anti-gun zealotry, not knowledge of the products and industries he would be responsible for regulating. 

In the face of skyrocketing murder rates in cities across the nation, the ATF has an important role in upholding the public safety of communities across the country. Its agents, who are often attacked by “Defund the Police” activists, deserve a director who will inspire their confidence. 

I was joined by attorneys general from 20 other states in opposition to Mr. Chipman’s confirmation. As the chief law enforcement and legal officers in our respective states, we understand the importance of having an ATF director who will crack down on violent criminals and criminal organizations – not law-abiding gun owners.  

Given Mr. Chipman’s history of anti-gun lobbying and political activism, Americans cannot be expected to believe he will be an unbiased enforcer of current laws. As former ATF director Michael Sullivan recently wrote, “The American public, and ATF, need a leader who is focused on mission, not policy debates.”  

A coalition of 22 sportsmen and conservation organizations – the majority of which have never opposed an ATF nominee – have also mobilized to urge senators to vote against Mr. Chipman. They are rightfully concerned that he will “weaponize the directorship and lead to the undermining of our Second Amendment rights through punitive administrative actions.” 

Further, the recent increase in gun ownership and ammunition sales has created a boom for wildlife and habitat conservation. An 11% excise tax on rifles, shotguns, and all ammunition and a ten percent excise tax on handguns generate Pittman-Roberts funding that is apportioned for states’ wildlife programs. Mr. Chipman’s positions on gun control “would deny state fish and wildlife departments hundreds of millions of dollars in desperately needed conservation funds,” according to conservation groups. 

Mr. Chipman’s past positions and current promises make it clear that if Senator Tester and the other holdouts want to do more than pay lip service to the Second Amendment, they must oppose Mr. Chipman’s confirmation to lead the ATF.  

• Austin Knudsen is the Attorney General of Montana. 

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