By Josh Campbell and Paul LeBlanc, CNN
Updated: Wed, 26 May 2021 20:08:07 GMT
Several national organizations representing law enforcement officers are applauding President Joe Biden's pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives ahead of his confirmation hearing Wednesday, according to correspondence obtained by CNN.
In a series of letters addressed to the Senate Judiciary Committee, national policing groups endorsed the nomination of David Chipman -- a fierce advocate for gun control -- whose hearing comes as the nation faces a spike in mass shootings.
"David has enormous credibility as a 25-year veteran of ATF with on-the-ground experience," wrote Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, adding Chipman had demonstrated deep understanding of gun crime issues.
The ATF has been without a permanent director since 2015.
Other organizations expressing their support included the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, Women in Federal Law Enforcement, Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association, and the National Black Police Association.
If confirmed, Chipman would return to the agency where he worked for over two decades as a special agent.
After leaving the ATF in 2012, Chipman became a senior adviser at Everytown for Gun Safety, and later as a senior policy adviser at Giffords. It's in these roles that Chipman's voice as a fierce advocate for gun control was elevated, as he frequently wrote op-eds and made media appearances to advance the cause.
Gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association, have blasted the pick, calling Chipman an "extremist."
"It's hard to imagine choosing a nominee who is more hostile to the rights of American gun owners than Chipman," the group said last month. "It is clear that, if confirmed, Chipman would use every tool at his disposal to attack the rights of law-abiding American gun owners."
Police and progressives share common ground
The past year has seen continued calls for policing reform by progressive groups -- but the issue of gun control is one where progressives and police have frequently found common ground.
For example, the International Association of Chiefs of Police has been a "strong supporter" of banning assault weapons, according to one of the group's position papers, as well as the creation of a national registry for people convicted of violent gun crimes.
Police experts have pointed to the fact that officers are often on the receiving end of gunfire from suspects possessing illegal weapons as a reason for their support of stricter gun control laws.
"Law enforcement officers know exactly how dangerous it is to work in a society in which gun ownership is so widespread, and they know the toll gun violence takes on individuals and communities," said Rosa Brooks, professor at Georgetown Law Center and author of the new book "Tangled Up in Blue: Policing the American City."
In their letter to the Senate supporting the nomination, the National Black Police Association cited Chipman as "an expert advising organizations at the forefront of gun violence prevention" and highlighted his work advising policy makers and testifying before Congress on firearms legislation.
Looking for stability
Law enforcement veterans say Chipman's confirmation would bring much-needed stability and direction to an agency that has been led by acting directors for over five years.
"The lack of a permanent director impacts morale," said retired ATF special agent Mark Jones, adding that field agents faced shifting priorities with each new temporary agency head.
Jones also believes Chipman will focus not just on the ATF's law enforcement role, but on its unique responsibility of regulating the proliferation of illegal firearms.
"ATF needs to actually regulate the firearms industry instead of merely paying lip service to that aspect of its mission," he said. "For many years now, ATF has been out of balance, and I expect David to return the bureau to its core missions."