Former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on May 25.

Former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearing to be the next director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on May 25. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The ATF Finally Has a Confirmed Leader After Seven Years

The Senate voted 48-46 to confirm Steve Dettelbach to lead the agency that has been without permanent leadership for seven years. 

On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate voted 48-46 to confirm President Biden’s pick to lead the firearms agency, which has lacked permanent leadership for seven years. 

After his first nomination failed, Biden in April named Steve Dettelbach to be director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, an agency that deals with politically charged issues. Dettelbach served as a U.S. attorney as well as in senior Justice Department roles over his 30-plus year career.

Democrats and activists have said the agency has been underfunded and understaffed over the years, blaming Republicans and the gun lobby. ATF has lacked a Senate-confirmed leader since 2015.

“From the agents, of course, who respond to horrific crime scenes and they risk their lives standing shoulder-to-shoulder with state and local cops on the street to the analysts and staff who anonymously pore over evidence and data late into the night to try to make a case to the bomb technician responding to a horrible incident ... to the lab person who’s working against time trying to make a ballistic match and more, I want those people and the others at the ATF to know that I honor that service,” Dettelbach said during his confirmation hearing in May.

He also said he holds the “core value” that “politics can play no role in law enforcement, none at all,” and noted that he’s worked under both Democratic and Republican presidential administrations. 

The confirmation comes on the heels of the recent mass shootings at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York; an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas (which was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history); and a Fourth of July parade in the suburbs of Chicago earlier this month. Overall, there have been over 300 mass shootings in 2022, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a not-for-profit corporation, which defines a mass shooting as four victims or more being shot (injured or killed), not including the shooter. 

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said on the Senate floor on Tuesday that the enactment of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was “important [and] a long overdue progress, finally” and confirming Dettelbach is an “important step in protecting Americans from violent crimes.” There is “no better person for this role” than Dettelbach who is “a son of Ohio, a career public servant with the experience and the record to combat violent crime and keep Americans safe.” The senator also noted Dettelbach has received “broad support from across the ideological spectrum.” 

On Monday, the White House hosted an event to commemorate the passage of the new gun safety legislation.  “We have finally moved that mountain—a mountain of opposition, obstruction and indifference that has stood in the way and stopped every effort at gun safety for 30 years in this nation,” Biden said during his remarks. “It’s an important step. And now we must look forward. We have so much more work to do.”

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