A.G. Derek Schmidt chides President Joe Biden on ATF, education nominees, as well as teaching of race in schools

Andrew Bahl
Topeka Capital-Journal
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt is joining with other Republicans to voice objections to two of President Joe Biden's nominees.

Attorney General Derek Schmidt joined 19 Republican attorneys general in urging the U.S. Senate to oppose President Joe Biden's pick to lead the federal agency charged with enforcing gun laws.

While the letter, released Wednesday, will likely have little effect on the ongoing debate over David Chipman's qualifications to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, it is the latest in a series of efforts from Schmidt to weigh in on national issues.

Last week, Schmidt joined a group of colleagues in urging Biden's education secretary, Miguel Cardona, to change course from how his department has proposed funding civics and history education in schools. 

The moves come as Schmidt embarks on the early days of his 2022 bid to challenge Gov. Laura Kelly for the governorship. He will first have to beat out his main rival for the Republican nomination, former Gov. Jeff Colyer.

More:The governor's race is officially underway. What role will Sam Brownback and Donald Trump play?

The latest effort focuses squarely on firearms and what Schmidt and his colleagues believe are past statements from Chipman that disqualify him from heading up ATF.

It isn't unusual for the agency to be a political lightning rod — the Senate has only confirmed one director in the past 15 years, dating back to the Obama administration.

But Chipman has drawn significant attention for Republicans owing to his work for a prominent gun control group founded by former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head during an attempted assassination in 2011.

Chipman faced stiff questioning on these issues during his Senate confirmation hearing on Wednesday.

“Given Mr. Chipman’s history of anti-gun lobbying and political activism, Americans cannot be reasonably expected to believe he will be an unbiased enforcer of current laws,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter to U.S. Senate leadership. “As the chief law enforcement or legal officers in our respective states, we are concerned that Mr. Chipman will make Americans less safe by diverting ATF resources to attack the rights of law-abiding gun owners instead of cracking down on violent criminals and criminal organizations.”

Teaching critical race theory in school

And on Thursday, Schmidt and his counterparts urged the Biden administration not to move forward with grants supporting the teaching of critical race theory, or an examination of how laws and institutions contribute to structural racism in American history and society.

Related:What we know about the critical race theory controversy, impact on education

The practice, as well as curriculum rooted in a New York Times project on the historical effects of slavery, has become a flashpoint for conservatives. Lawmakers in Tennessee and Idaho banned teachers from using critical race theory in the classroom.

Legislators in Kansas didn't follow suit, although it is an idea likely to be broached during the 2022 legislative session. There are no indications that schools in Kansas have adopted any critical race theory curricula.

And while it is unclear whether the U.S. Department of Education will actually take steps to help districts create critical race theory courses of their own, Schmidt and his counterparts argued it would be a mistake.

“Congress made clear that the purpose of the [statutorily authorized] programs is to advance a traditional understanding of American history, civics, and government,” the letter, dated last Thursday, said. “The proposed priorities would do little to advance that goal.”