Biden ATF nominee made questionable statements about suppressors, automatic weapons

Gun control advocates have praised Chipman, who was an ATF special agent for 25 years

David Chipman, President Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has some questionable ideas on gun suppressors and assault weapons. 

Gun control advocates have praised the nomination of Chipman, who was an ATF special agent for 25 years and currently serves as senior policy adviser to gun violence prevention group Giffords, highlighting the significance of the ATF director's role in enforcing gun laws.

Gun rights advocates, on the other hand, have expressed alarm at Chipman's stances on gun-related topics, including suppressors and assault weapons.

"Anyone who has worked in law enforcement for as long as I have will tell you that silencers were not designed to protect hearing, they were designed to make it difficult for people to identify the sound of gunfire and locate active shooters," Chipman said in a 2017 statement.

Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), a gun violence prevention group where Chipman previously served, said in a 2017 tweet opposing the Hearing Protection Act that earplugs protect gun owners better than silencers. 

Gun suppressors tweet (Twitter)

Gun suppressors tweet (Twitter)

A Washington Post fact check gave the claim a rating of three "Pinocchios."

Conversely, during a 2017 congressional hearing on the Sportsmen's Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act, the ATF nominee asserted that a person would "absolutely" need to wear ear protection while using a suppressor "if they cared about their ears."

Alan Rice, a firearms instructor and New Hampshire state director of Gun Owners of America, said gun suppressors are "absolutely designed to protect hearing."

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Suppressors have been around for about a century, and people use them on a range of firearms, including hunting rifles and home defense guns, Rice explained.

"If you have a home invasion in the middle of the night, you don't want to defend yourself and lose your hearing. ... You want to defend yourself and keep your hearing," he said. "In a stressful situation ... I know someone is not going to reach for earmuffs."

He added that suppressors are not like those shown "in the movies"; they do not silence guns. Instead, gun owners use suppressors to lower the decibel of the sound a firearm makes when it goes off "to a level that will not damage hearing."

Giffords Law Center Senior Policy Adviser David Chipman speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Giffords Law Center Senior Policy Adviser David Chipman speaks at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on assault weapons on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, File)

Chipman, however, said in a 2019 interview with the Virginia-Pilot, after 12 people and a gunman were fatally shot during a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, that a suppressor "makes a gun sound sort of like a handgun."

The gunman used a legally purchased suppressor attached to a .45-caliber handgun before carrying out the massacre, prompting local and federal politicians to draft gun reform legislation banning suppressors. 

Later in 2019, Chipman told NPR that the primary purpose of a suppressor "is for someone who is on the offensive to maintain the element of surprise longer."

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Rice refuted this and brought up the Virginia Beach mass shooting as an exception in his explanation of suppressors. He said that when Gun Owners of America analyzed active shooters across the country, if found most criminals do not use suppressors.

"Criminals don't really use suppressors," he said. "Criminals are sneaky people, and they want to hide their guns. Suppressors make guns much longer...and more difficult to hide."

Additionally, most armed criminals do not want to go through the process of legally obtaining a firearm, which can take up to a year in some cases, Rice said. 

People who want to purchase a suppressor in the U.S. need to go to a Class 3 federally licensed gun dealer, chose a suppressor, fill out an application with personal information, provide photo ID and fingerprints, submit the application with a $200 fee to the AFT and wait for the ATF to approve the application. 

Gun silencers or suppressors are becoming increasingly popular in the real world as hunters and other gun owners adopt them for hearing protection. (Reuters/ Jim Urquhart)

Gun silencers or suppressors are becoming increasingly popular in the real world as hunters and other gun owners adopt them for hearing protection. (Reuters/ Jim Urquhart)

"A person who wishes to buy [a suppressor] needs to go to a Class 3 gun dealer, pick one out, fill out a form with all kinds of personal information, provide [photo ID] and fingerprints, and they have to submit the form with a $200 payment to the ATF, and the ATF will approve or deny sale with no time limit," Rice said.

He added that even with suppressors in the equation, most people are able to identify the sound of gunfire.

"It doesn't make a gun sound like a nail gun," Rice said.

According to documents obtained by the American Accountability Foundation, Chipman authored a beginner's guide to firearms called "Firearms 101" in collaboration with gun violence prevention group ARS and the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence that mislabels several guns as "assault weapons."

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The guns presented in Chipman's guide under the label of "assault weapons" are not classified as such under federal law. Guns are classified by their functions and components as defined in chapter 44 of title 18 of the United States Code.

Two of the guns categorized in Chipman's presentation are categorized as National Firearms Act (NFA) firearms. A fully automatic AK-47, for example, is classified as a "machine gun" under the NFA. A semi-automatic AK-47 is classified differently and can fall under the category of a rifle. Similarly, an AR-15 can be classified as a pistol, rifle, short barrel rifle and so on depending on its functions and components.

"Firearms 101" slide (Credit: American Accountability Foundation)

"Firearms 101" slide (Credit: American Accountability Foundation)

Rice noted that Chipman's labels resemble the 1994 definition of the term based on the decade-long Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which prohibited the manufacturing, distribution and sale of more than a dozen different semi-automatic firearms and features that resembled fully automatic, military firearms.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban definition differs from the more traditional definition of an assault weapon, which is a military firearm that can switch between semiautomatic and fully automatic fire.

"The ammunition was the same or even less powerful than a common hunting rifle, but the common hunting rifle had a different outward physical appearance," Rice said of the weapons included in the 1994 definition.

Rice believes "assault weapon" is a "junk term coined by people who disagree with citizens owning any firearms whatsoever," he said.

He added that there were school shootings and violent crimes in the 10-year period of the assault weapons ban, and the only people who obeyed the ban were law-abiding gun owners. 

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Chipman has expressed skepticism about the feasibility of confiscating assault weapons from their current owners.

In an op-ed he penned in The Roanoke Times last year, Chipman described himself as a "proud gun owner" who has sometimes been "mischaracterized as a gun grabber." Chipman noted that he supports gun safety regulations that would "save lives" but wouldn’t take guns away from law-abiding citizens.

"I am a proud and responsible gun owner, as are millions of Virginians," Chipman wrote. "I am also permitted to carry a concealed handgun. I am not afraid of lawmakers in Richmond passing laws to make it harder for criminals to get guns. In fact, I’m part of the majority who demand it."

ATF is a law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice that strives to safeguard the public from criminal organizations and activity, including the illegal use and trafficking of firearms.

Fox News' Stephanie Pagnones contributed to this report.