Twenty-four years ago I first left Alaska and raised my right hand in an oath to the U.S. Constitution, an oath I repeated countless times as both the oath taker and in delivery of the oath. Throughout my career as a pilot in the Coast Guard, including two tours back home in Alaska, I saved numerous people from the perils of the ocean. Not once did I ever ask the political affiliation of those I was saving.
Though I may hold strong beliefs about certain issues, not once in my career did those beliefs interfere with the execution of my duties. Now in Alaska permanently as a military retiree, I cannot understand when we as a people collectively decided that nobody should be allowed in public service if they’ve ever had the temerity to state an opinion that doesn’t perfectly align with our own. Yet that’s exactly what people are trying to do to David Chipman — a dedicated law enforcement agent who the U.S. Senate is considering to serve as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
David Chipman honorably served his country for 25 years in ATF during which time he undoubtedly repeated the same oath I did throughout my career. After finishing his service, David became a senior policy adviser at the gun violence prevention organization Giffords. Now David has been nominated by the president to serve as the director of ATF, a position that has largely gone unfulfilled since 2006.
Someone who devotes their career in service to this nation, whether in a uniformed or law enforcement capacity, should receive the benefit of the doubt that they remain loyal to the Constitution — not the party in power. One of the sad realities of public service in this nation is the expectation of abandonment by politicians. Those who screamed “back the blue” loudest are deafeningly quiet as a decorated federal police officer suffers character assassination over politics.
While at Giffords, David helped craft recommendations to reduce gun violence in our country. Because of this, his nomination has many vocal opponents — including the gun lobby. A lot of reasons are cited, but after wading through the easily disproved conspiracies and obsessions over every turn of phrase in public remarks, it seems to really boil down to a fear that he will somehow outlaw “assault rifles.”
Throughout my career, I resented the very small number of situations when I had to risk my life to save someone whose reckless decisions put them in a place where my service was required. However, just as with every other case I was launched on, my personal beliefs never once changed my decision about whether or not to save them because I did what the job required.
David’s personal views should not be a disqualifying factor for this position. He is not being asked to write the laws — only enforce the laws passed by Congress, signed by the president and vetted by the Supreme Court. A common defense to new proposed gun laws is “why don’t we start by enforcing the laws on the books?” Doesn’t it make sense for the Senate to confirm a qualified public servant to do just that?
I have a safe full of legal firearms, and I do not fear that giving a government agency a reliable, experienced director is going to do anything to change that. What it will do is help that agency better keep our streets safe and illegal weapons out of the hands of criminals.
I’ve heard the “slippery slope” argument for as long as I can remember — that any and all gun laws will lead to registration and then confiscation. I am now convinced that argument exists to keep us chasing our tails, because very little in terms of federal gun legislation has been accomplished in this country during my lifetime.
Turning this confirmation into a public battle helps three groups: special interest groups using the confirmation fight as a fundraising opportunity, foreign adversaries who welcome anything that further divides our nation, and criminals who benefit from a federal law enforcement agency absent leadership.
I hope the Senate makes the right choice and votes to confirm David Chipman, though even more so, I hope we can return to a time of mutual respect for those with differing political beliefs.
David Johnson is a retired member of the U.S. Coast Guard.