The largest group of Black gun owners in America accused the Biden Administration of prioritizing gun control over diversity on Thursday.
The National African American Gun Association (NAAGA) criticized President Biden for demoting Acting Director Marvin Richardson, an African-American with over 30 years of experience. The group said it was unhappy Richardson was being moved down after twice being passed over for nomination as the permanent director in favor of white nominees.
“While we cannot say with certainty why Mr. Richardson has been passed over twice for directorship and has been currently demoted, the pattern and speed of these actions has the appearance of being racially motivated and/or politically expedient,” NAAGA President Philip Smith told The Reload.
The White House declined to comment.
NAAGA has grown exponentially since its founding in 2015. Fueled by unprecedented recent growth in minority gun buying, it now has over 40,000 members in 130 chapters across the country, according to Main Line Today. The group’s questioning of President Biden’s decisions on who will run the ATF could further jeopardize his latest attempt to install a permanent director. After the failure of his first nominee, David Chipman, President Biden’s second nominee, Steve Dettelbach, is facing an uphill battle for confirmation in an evenly split Senate where every aspect of the nomination will be heavily scrutinized.
Racial issues plagued Chipman’s failed nomination. The former ATF agent turned gun-control activist was accused in an Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint of saying Black ATF agents had to have cheated during promotion assessments. A Black former agent also told The Reload that Chipman had falsely accused him of cheating during a promotion assessment. Chipman has repeatedly denied the allegations since President Biden pulled his nomination, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) defended his record.
“Any allegations of bias against David Chipman are false,” Dena Iverson, principal deputy director of DOJ’s Office of Public Affairs, said at the time, “and in the two times he was the subject of a workplace complaint over a 25-year career at the ATF, the claims were thoroughly investigated and found to be meritless.”
NAAGA said it respected the President’s authority to nominate whoever he wants to lead the ATF. But Smith noted Richardson had the potential to become only the second Black man to be confirmed as the permanent head of the ATF, and the President’s moves made that impossible. He described Richardson as experienced and qualified. He said the acting director “worked his way up from field agent to his current position,” and the Biden Administration did not appear to have a good reason for the way it has treated Richardson.
“With the nomination of Steven Dettelbach, this will be the second time that Mr. Richardson has been passed over for the highest position within the bureau,” Smith said. “As if that were not troubling enough, Mr. Richardson was demoted seemingly without cause only yesterday.”
Richardson came under fire from gun-control activists and The New York Times, who described him in March as “an industry-friendly subordinate” who was “pumping the brakes” on President Biden’s plans to address gun violence. While the ATF had been attending the gun industry’s trade show for many years, Richardson’s attendance at this year’s show was seen by the groups as particularly problematic. Similarly, the groups accused Richardson and the ATF of taking too long to finalize the President’s “ghost gun” kit ban even though the timetable the agency initially gave was similar to past rulemaking.
Ultimately, the President sided with the gun-control groups. He announced Dettelbach’s appointment, demoted Richardson, and moved up implementation of the “ghost gun” rule.
However, Dettelbach was also recently caught up in a nomination fight where complaints about refusing to consider qualified Black candidates appear to have been key. Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown (D.) was set to renominate Dettelbach to his old position as US Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio last year before backlash from civil-rights activists squashed the plan. The Norman S. Minor Bar Association, a collection of African-American lawyers, and Tamir Rice’s mother said Dettelbach’s selection did not reflect an open process where minority candidates could be given an equal opportunity to fill the role, according to Cleveland.com. Senator Brown ultimately reversed course and decided to pursue a broader search rather than recommend Dettelbach.
Smith said NAAGA is similarly “troubled” by how Dettelbach’s ATF nomination has unfolded.
“Like all Americans, we want a fair and transparent process for the selection of our government leadership as we believe this is the best way to ensure that only the most qualified individuals lead our government,” he said. “At this time, we are doubtful that such a fair and transparent process has taken place in the nomination of an ATF Director.”