Then-U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach speaking at an event in 2012. (Photo by Lonnie Tague, U.S. Department of Justice/Released)
On Tuesday the Senate confirmed Steven Dettelbach, President Joe Biden’s second choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) — which enforces the nation’s gun laws — even after the nominee admitted he has never owned a gun.
In a Tuesday afternoon floor vote, Senators voted 48-46 in favor of Dettelbach’s nomination. Republican Sens. Susan Collins (ME) and Rob Portman (OH) joined 46 Democrats in approving Dettelbach’s nomination, helping Democrats reach the majority needed to confirm Dettelbach, despite the absences of Sens. Chuck Schumer (NY), Richard Blumenthal (CT), Patrick Leahy (VT) and Ben Ray Luján (NM). Republican Sens. Ben Sasse (KS) and James Risch (ID) were also absent.
In June, Dettelbach confirmed he had never owned a gun and had never been issued one in a professional capacity. Dettelbach’s expertise is as a career prosecutor. He joined the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division in 1992, where he worked as a trial lawyer in the criminal section. Dettelbach volunteered with President Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign and Obama later nominated him to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio from 2009 to 2016. Dettelbach also ran as a Democrat candidate for Ohio’s Attorney General but lost out to Republican Dave Yost.
As the director of the ATF, Dettelbach’s responsibilities will include enforcing federal gun laws and regulations. In recent years, the ATF has repeatedly found itself in the position of reviewing the legality of new firearms and firearms parts such as bump stocks, specialized triggers and pistol braces.
Dettelbach is the second nominee Biden has put forward to head up the ATF after withdrawing his first choice, David Chipman, over bipartisan opposition. Chipman had a history of gun control advocacy and told Senators he supports banning popular semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 and criminalizing private firearm sales.
Following Dettelbach’s confirmation, Biden said, “The Senate just took an important, bipartisan step by confirming Steve Dettelbach, an extraordinarily qualified and decorated career prosecutor with strong support across the law enforcement community, to be the first permanent head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in over 7 years.”
Biden said, “Following the passage of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, today’s vote is another important sign that both parties can come together to support law enforcement and stand up against the horrific scourge of gun violence. I thank the Senate for their support.”
Biden concluded his remarks about Dettelbachs confirmation by saying, “As ATF Director, Steve will play a leading role in ensuring robust implementation of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and driving forward other executive actions to fight crime and save lives.”
Even before the Senate began considering Dettelbach’s nomination, and before Dettelbach admitted to never having owned a firearm, gun rights groups like the Firearms Policy Coalition expressed opposition to his nomination.
In April, the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) tweeted, “Dettelbach’s nomination is nothing short of a stealth attempt by the Biden Administration to appoint someone with the same radical values as David Chipman, but without the extensive public paper trail.”
In April, the National Rifle Association (NRA) also accused Biden of choosing to “rinse and repeat” by nominating Dettelbach after the Chipman nomination failed.
“Like Chipman, Dettelbach is a dedicated gun controller with a background that proves he would be neither fair nor objective as head of ATF,” the NRA said. “When running for Ohio Attorney General in 2018, Dettelbach endorsed gun bans, restrictions on lawful firearm transfers, and further expansion of prohibitions on who can lawfully possess a firearm. In short, it’s unclear what gun control measures Dettelbach doesn’t support.”
Following Dettelbach’s confirmation, the FPC said, “The Senate failed the People today. The purpose of agency directors is to serve ministerial duties, not to subvert law and cheerlead the abrogation of our rights. By confirming an anti-rights zealot to helm one of the nation’s most infamous agencies, the Senate has all but promised that the ATF will continue, or even worsen, its violations of the trust of the People.”