May 26, 2020
By Mark Chesnut
President Donald Trump on Tuesday, May 19th withdrew his nomination of Kenneth Charles “Chuck” Canterbury as head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) because of concerns by gun-rights advocates in the Senate over Canterbury’s past statements concerning gun control, including his apparent support of an “assault weapons” ban.
The move comes after Trump re-nominated Canterbury for the ATF position in February. Originally nominated last May, Canterbury’s nomination was put on hold because of concerns within the Senate Judiciary Committee about some of the nominee’s stances on gun control.
As David Codrea reported here about a year ago, many in the pro-gun community had grave concerns about Trump’s nomination of Canterbury, although at the time most expected it to eventually receive approval.
Canterbury was the head of the National Fraternal Order of Police in 2017 when that organization publicly opposed national concealed carry reciprocity, which would have allowed law-abiding Americans to carry their guns across state lines for the purpose of self-defense.
Another perceived problem involving Canterbury’s nomination resulted from the testimony he gave to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2009 when he was backing gun-ban proponent Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court. “In fact, 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,” Canterbury said. At the same time, he said that it was already well known that Sotomayor was “one of only three federal appellate judges in America to issue a court opinion saying that the Second Amendment does not apply to states.”
While heading the FOP, Canterbury also championed “universal” background checks and supported a so-called “assault weapons” ban. Upon his nomination, pro-gun advocates moved quickly to point out Canterbury’s faults. The National Association for Gun Rights quickly sent out an alert warning, “Anti-Gunner Nominated as Next ATF Director.”
Last year during initial hearings before the Senate following his original nomination, Canterbury’s troubling answers didn’t satisfy many pro-gun members of the committee.
“I like straight answers, and you are being evasive,” Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana, told Canterbury at the time. “You have been nominated to run ATF. I think every member of this panel, both my Democratic friends and Republican friends who have feelings about the Second Amendment, are entitled to know both morally and legally what you believe.”
After the nomination was shelved last year, Trump’s February re-nomination of Canterbury brought a similar reaction from Second Amendment supporters in the U.S. Senate, where such nominations are considered. Several prominent Republican senators, including Judiciary Chairman Lindsay Graham, who called Canterbury’s nomination “very problematic,” continued to oppose the nominee, leaving no path forward for the administration’s pick to head the ATF.
In the end, it’s a very good thing that Republican Senators stood up against the president’s ill-conceived nominee, as even a moderately anti-gun ATF head could be devastating to Americans lawful gun owners for years to come. Let’s hope the president learned a lesson from Canterbury’s failed nomination and moves forward in search of a new nominee with a stellar record concerning the constitutional right of Americans to keep and bear arms.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.