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Biden set to announce executive action on guns and new ATF chief

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President Biden is set to nominate David Chipman, a former special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to lead the agency, according to a senior administration official.

The president is set to formally announce the pick on Thursday when he unveils other steps he’s taking through executive action to address gun violence.

Chipman is a widely-quoted expert on gun violence and in recent years has served as policy director for Giffords, the gun control organization founded by former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was wounded in a 2011 assassination attempt.

If he’s confirmed, Chipman would be the first permanent director of the agency in more than six years. Given the fraught nature of gun politics, only one ATF director has been confirmed by the U.S. Senate in the last 15 years, leaving the agency mostly run by a string of acting bosses.   

Full details of what the president will announce on Thursday were not immediately available, but CBS News has learned the steps are poised to include beginning the process of reclassifying ghost guns — handmade or self-assembled firearms that don’t include serial numbers — as firearms, requiring anyone who buys them to undergo a federal background check.

Two people familiar with the forthcoming announcement, who requested anonymity to speak frankly about still-evolving plans, confirmed that steps regarding ghost guns are one part of the president’s announcement. Several others confirmed an announcement is coming on Thursday and said they expected to learn more details from the White House later Wednesday.

“I expect the president will have more to say tomorrow,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Wednesday when asked about a potential announcement.  She declined to share specifics.

Organizations pushing for stricter gun laws and Democratic lawmakers have been pushing for years for the federal government to reclassify ghost guns and force purchasers to undergo background checks.

“Ghost guns are guns, too. And it’s time to close the loophole,” Democratic Congressman Adriano Espaillat, who’s pushed for legislation to regulate ghost guns, tweeted Wednesday

Growing in popularity but difficult to track broadly given the lack of a serial number, ghost guns have been used in multiple shooting-related crimes in recent years.

The Biden administration has been reluctant to publicly discuss gun control amid its initial focus on the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic downturn. During his first formal news conference last month, the president signaled he would not be rushed to address the issue despite recent mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado and that his administration would remain focused primarily on pushing legislative responses to the pandemic and his multi-trillion dollar infrastructure plan.

His decision has allowed critics to highlight how Mr. Biden came up short on fulfilling a notable campaign pledge. Appearing in Nevada in February 2020, Mr. Biden vowed  to send legislation to Congress on his first day in office that would repeal the liability protection for gun manufactures and closing loopholes in the federal gun background check system. 

For weeks, administration aides have said plans were still in the works — a posture that didn’t change in the wake of those recent shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Colorado.

News of Mr. Biden’s plans were first reported by Politico.

Corey Rangel and Nancy Cordes contributed to this report.

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