David Chipman, President Biden’s nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Wednesday that he supports banning the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, one of the most popular guns in America.
In his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Chipman endorsed a Democratic bill that would ban “assault weapons,” including the AR-15, which Mr. Biden has also endorsed.
“With respect to the AR-15, I support a ban as it has been presented in a Senate bill and supported by the president,” he said. “The AR-15 is a gun I was issued on ATF’s SWAT team. It’s a particularly lethal weapon and regulating it as other particular lethal weapons I have advocated for.”
But Mr. Chipman acknowledged that he wasn’t aware of any data that support claims that a ban on the weapons would be effective. He said studies on whether a ban would reduce gun violence have reached “mixed conclusions.”
Sen. Ted Cruz, Texas Republican, pressed Mr. Chipman about the Senate bill that was introduced by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, and has 35 Democratic co-sponsors.
Mr. Chipman said the measure doesn’t go far enough because it doesn’t address the weapons currently in possession of private citizens. He suggested that the bill should require Americans who currently own assault weapons, including AR-15s, to register them under the National Firearms Act.
But Mr. Cruz assailed that plan, saying it would target people who legally own AR-15s by submitting them to “onerous restrictions” and registration requirements.
“What I’ve said publicly, is that as an advocate, I prefer a system where the AR-15 and other assault weapons are regulated under the National Firearms Act,” Mr. Chipman responded.
Gun rights advocates and conservative groups slammed Mr. Chipman’s response.
“Americans deserve an ATF director that will crack down on violent criminals and criminal organizations — not law-abiding gun owners. President Biden’s nominee clung to his position that commonly owned firearms should be taxed and registered in a federal database,” Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen said in a statement.
The bill, introduced in March, faces a tough road in the evenly divided Senate where 60 votes are usually required to pass legislation. A similar bill introduced by the Senate Democratic majority in 2013 only received 40 votes.
AR-15s are popular among Second Amendment advocates, including for self-defense, but gun control groups say they are the weapon of choice for domestic terrorism and mass shootings. There are an estimated 10 million to 20 million legally owned AR-15s in the United States.
The proposed bill would ban more than 200 guns, including the AR-15 style, AK-47 and Uzi models. Weapons purchased before the proposed ban is enacted would be exempt, but gun owners could participate in a voluntary buy-back program.
Ms. Feinstein said earlier this year that semi-automatic weapons were used in the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, the 2018 shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, and, in 2017, the mass murder of 58 people at a Las Vegas country music concert.