First-time gun owners are saying it loud and clear. They won’t sit around and wait to be a criminal’s victim. That’s not all they’re doing.
New gun owners are filling up gun ranges and classrooms to learn to use their firearms. It’s a rebuke of David Chipman’s portrayal of them. Chipman, of course, is President Joe Biden’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and he reduced new gun buyers to rubes who are clueless about the responsibilities of gun ownership.
David Chipman mocked first-time gun buyers in 2020, likening them to Joe Exotic, the “Tiger King,” and saying they more closely resemble zombie apocalypse preppers.
Gun owners are defying his stereotype. They’re busy getting educated and trained.
Standing Room Only
During his U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Chipman was drilled about his statements bemoaning new gun owners who, “went out to the gun store and bought a gun with no training whatsoever.” He said they were likely to “hide their guns behind the cans of tuna and beef jerky that you’ve stored in the cabinet, and only bring that out if the zombies start to appear.” When pushed by senators, he sheepishly walked it back.
In 2020, firearm retailer data showed 40 percent of gun buyers were first-time buyers, more than 8.4 million. This year, gun sale numbers remain consistent and one thing’s clear. Buyers are seeking training and practice.
Geneva Solomon, owner of Redstone Firearms, described what she saw on the ground. New buyers are flocking to safety and training courses. “We’ve definitely seen an uptick in the class options we offer,” Solomon said. “Before they would never sell out. Now they sell out two days after we post them.” Customers are white, Black, Asian and Hispanic and Solomon says their goal is to calm the nerves of first-time buyers so they’re comfortable in class.
Rogers Anderson of the Bay Area chapter of Black Gun Owners Association leads training and safety courses at local shooting ranges. He described attendance in his classes as way up. “June 2020 – when the riots were hitting different cities – my students increased.”
Robin Lewis’s brother was the victim of criminal violence in 2000. She decided to take initiative and get some training. She practiced with rifles and handguns and bought a firearm to protect herself. “I didn’t know shooting could be a hobby, but it’s all about learning. The less you know the more you fear it,” she said.
Denver, Colo., is home to 1770 Armory and Gun Club, the state’s first Black-owned firearm store that includes a simulator and practice range. African-Americans purchased firearms at a 58 percent higher rate in 2020 than they did in 2019 and 1770 owner Anubis Heru said the jampacked training courses weren’t surprising. “The value of these groups is learning with people who know your struggle and understand what’s happening and has been happening with this country.”
It’s clear millions of Americans have purchased firearms at historic levels over the past 18 months. It’s also clear they are seeking to be educated and trained.
Showing His True Colors
As America’s gun owners prove their goal is safety, Chipman’s true colors are shining through. It’s why his nomination is faltering in the U.S. Senate. His numerous degrading statements towards gun owners shouldn’t surprise anyone, given his staunch support for gun control as a paid lobbyist for the major groups, including Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords. His Senate Judiciary Committee hearing was rocky to put it nicely.
Since then, senators he needs for confirmation aren’t satisfied with what they’ve heard. Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.) floated Chipman’s nomination could be withdrawn. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) is skeptical, hailing from gun-friendly West Virginia where 66 percent of voters can’t support Chipman to lead the ATF.
Maine’s Independent Sen. Angus King, who caucuses with Democrats, told The White House he’s leaning “No,” signaling the nomination is sinking. If one Democrat opposes Chipman during a vote, he fails. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) knows it and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) knows it.
If Chipman didn’t think his nomination was imperiled before, new reports corroborated that he made racist remarks about his African-American colleagues at ATF. Former agents told the Senate he’s unqualified.
The director of ATF is charged with carrying out the mission of the agency and enforcing the laws, respecting law-abiding gun owners no matter who they are. Chipman has proven he’s wholly unqualified to do either. First-time gun owners have proven they’re seeking training, safety and education to go along with their new purchases. The classrooms remain packed.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.