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Biden Tries Again For an ATF Nominee

The administration also announced new actions to crack down on “ghost guns.”

After his previous nomination to lead the firearms agency failed, President Biden Monday nominated a former U.S. attorney for the position, which has been filled by acting officials for seven years. 

Steve Dettelbach, the pending nominee for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, previously served as a U.S. Attorney as well as in senior Justice Department roles over his 30 plus year career. 

“He has a proven track record of working with federal, state, and local law enforcement to fight violent crime and combat domestic violent extremism and religious violence – including through partnerships with the ATF to prosecute complex cases and take down violent criminal gangs,” a fact-sheet from the White House stated. “Dettelbach also worked closely with local law enforcement and community leaders to develop and implement data-driven and neighborhood-based efforts to prevent and fight violent crime.”

This is the president’s second nominee for the agency that has lacked a permanent director since 2015. Last April, Biden nominated David Chipman, who spent 25 years at ATF and has done gun safety advocacy work, but then withdrew the nomination in September 2021 when he couldn’t secure the needed votes. 

The position of ATF director ––a “controversial position”––became subject to Senate confirmation in 2006 following lobbying from the National Rifle Association, Alain Stephens, correspondent for The Trace, a news organization that covers gun violence in the United States, explained on PBS NewsHour last year. 

“Since then, they have been in a near perpetual cycle of acting directors, with only one confirmed director in the last 15 years in the form of B. Todd Jones under the Obama administration,” Stephens said.

However, Biden argued that “the mission of this agency isn’t controversial, it’s public safety” during his remarks on Monday afternoon. “Steve’s record makes him ready on day one to lead this agency.” He also noted that in 2009 the Senate confirmed Dettelbach unanimously to be a U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

In a related move, the Justice Department on Monday announced a final rule to crack down on the use of “ghost guns,” which are firearms without serial numbers and therefore hard to trace. Individuals can either make them on their own or buy them in parts. 

“This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns, will help ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes, and will help reduce the number of untraceable firearms flooding our communities,” according to a statement from Attorney General Merrick Garland. “I commend all our colleagues at the ATF who have worked tirelessly over the past 12 months to get this important rule finalized, and to do it in a way that respects the rights of law-abiding Americans.”

The final rule will take effect 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register. 

"Today's announcement is one of many efforts by the Department of Justice to protect our communities from violent crime and gun violence,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said.

John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit advocacy group, applauded the administration's actions. He tweeted that implementation of the rule “requires a strong ATF, which we haven’t had in decades” and Dettlebach is the “right leader.” 

Meanwhile, Gun Owners of America, a nonprofit lobbying organization, came out against both. 

Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris and Justice Department Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco are expected to deliver remarks on Monday afternoon about the forthcoming regulation and nomination.

This post was updated to include comments from President Biden.