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Freedom Caucus leader: 'Stop the guy' who'll enforce gun laws

The right's old line: Let's just enforce existing gun laws. The right's new line: Let's "stop the guy" who'll enforce existing gun laws.

At the latest Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) event over the weekend, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) spent some time talking about one of his top concerns: David Chipman's ATF nomination:

"This guy's the most anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment nominee for this position in the history of this country. And so what the Freedom Caucus did -- myself and the Freedom Caucus -- we have lobbied the Senate to stop that guy. The first thing you've got to do is stop the guy that's going to enforce the laws -- and that's Mr. Chipman."

That's quite a quote, so let's take a moment to review how we arrived at this point.

In April, President Biden nominated David Chipman to lead the ATF, and by all appearances, he's a fine candidate: Chipman served as an ATF special agent for 25 years; he's a respected policy expert; and he's a veteran of the Justice Department. Chipman also recently worked as a senior policy adviser at former Rep. Gabby Giffords' (D-Ariz.) organization -- a group committed to reforming the nation's gun laws.

If confirmed, he'd be the first Senate-confirmed ATF director since B. Todd Jones, a former federal prosecutor tapped for the job by then-President Barack Obama, who just barely passed Senate muster in 2015 -- and who's the only nominee to ever be confirmed since this became a Senate-confirmed position 15 years ago.

Senate Republicans didn't even confirm Donald Trump's nominee to lead ATF -- and as a rule, GOP senators saw themselves as rubber stamps for whatever Trump wanted. The trouble, of course, is that Republicans feared Trump's nominee might strictly enforce the nation's gun laws, and the party wasn't prepared to let that happen.

Indeed, one of the central reasons the ATF exists is to address gun crimes, which has led GOP senators for a decade and a half to oppose practically every nominee to lead the agency.

If Andy Biggs -- who is not a senator and won't have a vote on Chipman's nomination -- has his way, the streak will continue. Indeed, at CPAC, the Arizona congressman assured attendees that Chipman will not be confirmed, though that appeared to be more wishful thinking than a fair assessment of the nominee's chances in the upper chamber.

That said, it was Biggs' quote that stood out as amazing: "The first thing you've got to do is stop the guy that's going to enforce the laws."

For many years, the right had a go-to talking point: The United States doesn't need new gun laws, conservatives said, we just need to enforce the gun laws already on the books.

In fact, it wasn't too long ago when the NRA's Wayne LaPierre made this pitch during congressional testimony. "The fact is, we could dramatically cut crime in this country with guns and save lives all over this country if we would start enforcing the 9,000 federal laws we have on the books," LaPierre told lawmakers in 2013.

The reference to 9,000 federal gun laws was apparently a wild exaggeration, but the underlying point was nevertheless clear: As far as the right is concerned, federal officials can and should enforce existing gun laws, while resisting calls to approve new gun laws.

Evidently, at least in some conservative circles, that's no longer the popular position. Now, instead of prioritizing enforcement of the laws, the goal is to "stop the guy that's going to enforce the laws."

David Chipman's ATF nomination is currently pending and is expected to get a Senate floor vote sometime soon. Watch this space.