President Biden has withdrawn his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives following word that Sen. Angus King of Maine would not vote for the nominee.

Sen. Angus King, speaking at Acadia National Park in June, withheld key support for President Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Associated Press/Robert F. Bukaty

King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has previously voiced his concerns over the controversial pick of David Chipman, a gun-safety advocate and critic of the National Rifle Association. King’s vote is critical in a Senate that’s evenly split between Republicans and Democrats.

King had not announced publicly that he would oppose Chipman. But, Matthew Felling, King’s spokesman, confirmed Thursday that King had withheld his support for Chipman to head the federal bureau tasked with regulating firearms in the U.S.

“Sen. King was one of a (number) of Senators who hadn’t publicly stated support for (Chipman), expressed skepticism of his fit for the job, and continued seeking out voices on all sides of the issue,” Felling wrote in a brief email to the Press Herald.

The New York Times reported Thursday that the lack of support from King and Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-West Virginia, led Biden to withdraw Chipman’s nomination. It had drawn widespread opposition from Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.

Collins voiced her opposition to Chipman in June, saying she would vote against his confirmation.

“In recent years, Mr. Chipman has been an outspoken critic of the firearms industry and has made statements that demean law-abiding gun owners,” Collins said at the time. “Although he has the right to express his views, I believe this history makes him an unusually divisive pick for this important position.”

King has been tightlipped with the media on the matter and in early August declined to answer a question from a Politico reporter in Washington, saying he was working on the federal infrastructure bill.

Felling did not immediately respond to a request Thursday to speak to King about the nominee.

Gun rights advocates in Maine hailed the administration’s decision to withdraw Chipman.

David Trahan, the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine, said the move by Biden wasn’t a victory for gun rights but rather a victory for the ATF. He praised King and Collins for their roles in opposing Chipman.

“It’s always tough for a president or a governor to withdraw a nomination,” Trahan said. “But this was the right thing to do. Had he gone through, half this country, which supports gun rights, would not have trusted the ATF, ruining the credibility of that agency. This was the best possible outcome for the ATF.”

But those seeking stronger gun control in Maine disagreed.

Geoff Bickford, the executive director of the Maine Gun Safe Coalition, which advocates for strong gun control laws in the state, said he was disappointed with Biden’s decision and King’s involvement.

“He generally stands on the side of gun safety on these issues,” Bickford said of King.

Bickford said the coalition had advocated strongly for Chipman’s confirmation, saying his long career as an ATF agent and consultant for a gun safety organization made him uniquely qualified for the post. He said the agency’s mission and role in reducing gun violence and deaths in the United States was too important to go without a strong leader. Bickford now hopes Biden will nominate an equally qualified individual.

“The daily body count in this country from firearms violence and suicide should make us realize this is an industry and an area that needs more regulation and not less,” Bickford said. He hopes the nominee’s  withdrawal doesn’t send a signal that the gun industry will get to pick its own regulators.

The ATF has gone without a leader that’s been confirmed by the Senate since 2013.

Chipman, a 25-year veteran of the ATF, has backed stricter gun control measures and actively supported the gun safety organization formed by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, an Arizona Democrat and the victim of an assassination attempt and mass shooting that killed six and left 18 others wounded in January 2011.

Chipman, who says he owns guns himself, has been criticized for making condescending comments about gun owners and criticizing the NRA. In a 2017 podcast interview with Jared Huffman, Chipman said the NRA’s business model was un-American: “If your business model depends entirely on people feeling unsafe and scared and need to buy a gun, why would you want to do anything that makes things safer?”

While King and Manchin’s opposition likely torpedoed Chipman’s chances in the Senate, Biden blamed Senate Republicans.

“Unfortunately, Republicans in Congress have made clear that they intend to use gun crime as a political talking point instead of taking serious steps to address it,” Biden said in a statement released by the White House on Thursday. “That’s why they’ve moved in lockstep to block David Chipman’s confirmation, and it’s why they side with gun manufacturers over the overwhelming majority of the American people in opposing commonsense measures like universal background checks.”


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