Monday was a win for gun-control advocates.
After weeks of publicly criticizing President Biden over the failure of his previous ATF nominee David Chipman and the slower-than-they’d-like pace of his “ghost gun” kit ban, they had their wishes granted. The President put up another ATF nominee that gun-control groups favored and moved up the ban’s finalization.
The success comes as something of a surprise.
With the President’s gun-control agenda stalled in Congress, his executive orders tied up in the rulemaking process, and Chipman failing to capture 50 votes, his capital on guns seemed spent. Given the difficulties of finding a new ATF candidate that pleased both the gun-control groups and moderate Senate Democrats and the pressures of an election year, taking another shot at filling the position seemed politically improbable. And pushing either of his two major rule changes through faster seemed as though it would run up against the practical reality of responding to hundreds of thousands of public comments.
But the gun-control groups put public pressure on from nearly the moment Chipman’s nomination failed. The nominee himself, who still works for Giffords, went on a media tour where he directly attacked the administration for not doing more to support him. The attacks only intensified from there with March for Our Lives and Guns Down America saying Biden had failed in February.
“47,611 gun deaths into the Biden Administration, we’re urging all Americans to visit ShockMarket.org and demand that the president take the urgent executive actions he’s promised survivors in order to reduce gun violence,” the groups said. “So far, he has failed to deliver the plan that the country needs.”
These complaints often felt odd to watch from the outside. President Biden is clearly an ally of the gun-control groups, and he was already pushing Congress to pass new gun restrictions and pursuing two significant rule changes without them. And, frankly, it seems difficult for the gun-control groups to justify pinning Chipman’s failure on Biden.
Chipman was a bombastic gun-control advocate with a history of making controversial remarks and a lot of personal baggage. Most of what caused his nomination to flounder were well known before he was nominated. And, given that he literally worked directly for a gun-control group and had no direct connection to Biden, it’s very likely Chipman was selected on the advice of those groups.
So, the gun-control groups deserve more political blame for that nomination’s failure than anyone else.
But they seem to have concluded the exact opposite. And they weren’t shy about letting President Biden know it. That’s a stark contrast to how the NRA and other gun-rights groups handled former president Trump.
While the NRA occasionally publicly contradicted Trump‘s calls for new gun-control laws and other gun-rights groups filed suit against his rule banning bump stocks, gun-rights proponents were hesitant to attack him. They often preferred trying–and, to be fair, largely succeeding–behind-the-scenes tactics to dissuade Trump from pursuing new restrictions. However, Trump never rewarded that loyalty with any attempt to institute gun reforms favored by the groups through executive action or an ATF nominee they wanted, let alone two of them.
But the full-court press paid off for the gun-control groups. They got the President to spend more political capital on their interests.
Biden is taking a real risk nominating another gun-control advocate to lead the agency that regulates the gun industry. It isn’t clear he’ll get to 50 votes, and his nomination fight could stretch out to election season. That, combined with the “ghost gun” kit ban and upcoming pistol brace ban, could make guns a higher priority in the midterms, which may not work out well given how poorly the President and his party have polled on firearms in recent months.
It will be interesting to see how all of this affects the elections, but it’ll be even more interesting to see if Biden caves further to their demands. There is another ask many of the groups wants from the President: a cabinet-adjacent position dedicated to gun policy.
Will the President give in and appoint a gun-control czar?
How much more is Biden willing to do for the gun groups? They clearly haven’t worn out their welcome with him to this point. Can they get even more?