Biden visits Buffalo after ten people were killed in a mass shooting at a grocery store on May 14.

Biden visits Buffalo after ten people were killed in a mass shooting at a grocery store on May 14. NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images

The White House Repeats Its Call for a Confirmed Guns Agency Director After Buffalo Tragedy

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has lacked a permanent director since 2015.

The tragic shooting in New York state over the weekend has prompted the White House to reiterate its call for a confirmed leader of the federal agency overseeing firearms.

“What we saw in the country this weekend [is] an urgent reminder of how important it is to have confirmed leadership at [the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives],” said Karine Jean-Pierre, newly instated White House press secretary, during the briefing on Monday afternoon. “ATF agents are playing a key role in the investigation in Buffalo and they are risking their lives every day to combat domestic terrorism and crack down on gun traffickers to keep our streets safe from violent crime.” 

On Saturday, the accused gunman, a white 18-year-old, opened fire at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, which killed 10 people and injured three, most of whom were Black. The suspect reportedly posted plans for the shooting online in recent months. The Justice Department is investigating this as a hate crime and act of racially-motivated violent extremism. On a visit to Buffalo on Tuesday with the first lady, President Biden said this was “domestic terrorism” and denounced the racist conspiracy theory espoused by the suspect online before the attack.

Jean-Pierre called on the Senate to confirm Biden’s ATF nominee, Steve Dettelbach, to lead the agency. This was the president’s second nominee for the agency that has lacked a permanent director since 2015. In April 2021, 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. He tapped Dettelbach last month. 

“Dettelbach is a career prosecutor who was confirmed unanimously last time he was before the Senate,” Jean-Pierre continued. “He has the support of former prosecutors from both parties, including the team that prosecuted the deadly Oklahoma City bombing domestic terrorism case. He has the backing of major law enforcement groups, including one that represents many of the rank-and-file ATF agents he's going to lead as ATF director.” 

Other groups that have sent letters of support for Dettelbach to the Senate Judiciary Committee include: International Association of Chiefs of Police, a group of 141 former Justice Department officials (who served in Democratic and Republican administrations), the U.S. Conference of Mayors (signed by a bipartisan group of 102 mayors), the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, the Major County Sheriffs Association, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and Women in Federal Law Enforcement. 

“Confirming Steve Dettelbach as the director of [ATF], the top federal agency responsible for enforcing common-sense gun laws and stopping gun trafficking, will save lives and help keep our communities safe,” Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., chairman of the House Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, tweeted on Tuesday. “It’s time for the Senate to act and confirm President Biden’s nominee.” 

Gary Restaino, U.S. Attorney for Arizona, took over as acting ATF director in late April, replacing acting Director Marvin Richardson, who was serving in the role since June 2021. Then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said at the time the president made this decision under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act. 

The tragedy in Buffalo was one of eight incidents of gun violence between May 13 and May 15. This comes as the firearm homicide rate increased by 35% from 2019 to 2020, which affected Black people the most, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released last week.