How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Turned an N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy’

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How the A.T.F., Key to Biden’s Gun Plan, Became an N.R.A. ‘Whipping Boy’

The mere presence of a permanent leader like Mr Chipman has the potential to be transformative, former agency officials said.

“I’ve never been the president’s man, and being the president’s person means people are less likely to push back against you,” said Mr. Brandon, the former interim director. “It gives you a lot more road credit.”

Mr. Chipman served as a special agent during a 22-year ATF career that ended in 2010, first in the hectic Detroit office, then in stations on the Interstate 95 corridor, the country’s largest illegal firearms canal, and in the headquarters of the office. There, he told The Trace website, he observed “the disastrous drawbacks of the gun lobby’s efforts to prevent the ATF from modernizing”.

Gabrielle Giffords, the former Arizona Congressman who became a gun control activist after being seriously wounded in an assassination attempt, pushed for Mr. Chipman’s hiring along with other gun security groups in mid-November, shortly after Biden was elected, according to several people with knowledge the situation.

But for weeks after the inauguration, the White House and its Senate allies paused, in part to save gun-friendly Democrats like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin III from a tough vote as they focused on the pandemic and spending.

The shootings that killed 18 people in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado in mid-March changed that.

Shortly thereafter, Mrs. Giffords wrote to Mr. Biden asking him to meet with her to discuss Mr. Chipman. By this point, Mr. Biden’s chief of staff Ron Klain had thrown his support behind Mr. Chipman, and Mr. Biden later said to Ms. Giffords that he was ready to fight for the nomination, according to an administrative officer with knowledge of the exchange.

Almost immediately, the NRA announced plans to spend $ 2 million to defeat Mr. Chipman and cut a complaint against Senator Susan Collins, a moderate Republican from Maine.