June 12, 2019

Caution: ATF Nominee Needs Scrutiny

Canterbury has some troubling positions and supported Obama’s anti-gun nominations.

President Donald Trump has nominated Chuck Canterbury to be the first permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) since 2015. Canterbury has been a police officer since 1978 and has served as president of the National Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) since 2003. His nomination heads to the Senate, where there is not yet a time frame for hearings.

Trump has had a good relationship with the FOP, and Canterbury in particular advised the president on criminal-justice reform last year. Nominating him for the ATF post solidifies that relationship.

But what Second Amendment defenders want to know is where Canterbury will stand on those rights.

“I want no mistake to be made,” Canterbury testified to the Senate in 2009, “I take a back seat to no one in my reverence for the Second Amendment.” But the context provides a troubling clue — he was testifying in support of Barack Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. “In fact,” he continued, “if I thought that Judge Sotomayor’s presence on the Court posed a threat to my Second Amendment right, I would not be supporting her here today.” Earlier in 2009, Canterbury also testified in support of Eric Holder’s nomination as attorney general.

Sotomayor’s view of the Second Amendment? In 2004, she argued, “The right to possess a gun is clearly not a fundamental right.” And in 2010 she was on the wrong side in McDonald v. Chicago. We also know Holder’s record is not only anti-Second Amendment but practically criminally so through the Fast and Furious gun-running scheme.

For that reason and Canterbury’s other policy positions (via the FOP opposing national concealed carry reciprocity and supporting “universal” background checks), both Gun Owners of America and the National Association for Gun Rights oppose Canterbury’s nomination.

On the other hand, NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris Cox interviewed Canterbury in 2011, and the two shared a rapport about law enforcement and gun rights. The NRA has yet to make a statement one way or another on Canterbury’s nomination to head the ATF.

Notably, it was in that 2011 interview that Canterbury made an important point about the FOP’s sometimes incongruous opinions on the Second Amendment: “Many [police] department chiefs are political, and they go with the anti-gun line, especially in the big cities. But our members in the rank and file know the reality on the streets.” Indeed, police chiefs serve at the pleasure of mayors, which in big cities are most often Democrats. That skews a chief’s views far afield from rank-and-file officers, who by and large support the rights of law-abiding citizens. Perhaps Canterbury was taking the positions he thought he needed to take at the time, and he’ll be most trustworthy serving under a Republican president.

But Trump, who often shoots from the hip, last year declared, “Take the guns first, go through due process second.” He directed the ATF to ban bump stocks without Congress, and he recently expressed opposition to suppressors. So forgive us if we won’t just take on faith his nomination of anyone for the ATF. Canterbury’s nomination in particular bears watching with caution. We’d encourage Republican senators to probe for his true views on our first civil right and just maybe withhold that rubber stamp.

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