Steven Dettelbach
ATF Director Steven Dettelbach (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
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President Joe Biden’s second nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Steve Dettelbach, answered questions from U.S. Senators in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The hearing was held in the shadow of the incomprehensible tragedy in Uvalde, Texas.

The president’s first nominee, David Chipman, was forced to withdraw his nomination after his record and questions about unprofessional conduct led even Senate Democrats to reject him.

Dettelbach, a former U.S. Attorney in Ohio, answered questions during the three-hour hearing.

‘Zero Tolerance’ Policy

During the committee hearing, Dettelbach was asked pointed questions about how he would lead the agency that oversees and regulates federal firearms licensees (FFLs), the firearm retailers in communities across the country. Those retailers are very often the first line of defense against would-be criminals attempting to purchase firearms, as well as offering tips to local ATF agents to help keep neighborhoods safe.

Dettelbach largely kept his answers focused on four main themes, including; the importance of partnering with state and local law enforcement; vowing to stay above politics; strong and fair law enforcement; and using the tools that Congress gives him.

Several questions for Dettelbach related to President Biden’s announced “Zero Tolerance Policy” against firearm retailers the president considers “rogue.” Firearm retailers that “willfully” transfer a firearm to a prohibited individual should be held accountable. The firearm industry agrees – it always has – and Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) asked Dettelbach about it.

“Last June, the president announced that the ATF would be going after ‘rogue’ gun dealers who ‘willfully’ violate the law with a zero-tolerance policy,” Sen. Grassley said. “You’ll be in charge of overseeing this policy if confirmed. Define rogue gun dealer for me. Can you tell me what counts as a willful violation? Would it include a clerical error that would have historically been treated with a warning?”

Dettelbach explained, “The key to enforcement programs, it has to be fair, it has to be consistent, and it has to be effective,” he said. “As a lawyer, the word willful implies something more than an inadvertent error. It implies an intentional misstatement. I have… communicated with people who represent and who are in the industry. And I would commit… to continue doing that, to hear all perspectives to be a fair regulator.”

Sen. Grassley finished by asking Dettelbach about the proactive approach to keeping neighborhoods safe that firearm retailers often take, stating it is local retailers providing tips and information that lead to criminal prosecutions.

“I have been told by people I’ve talked to in the run up to this hearing that it’s often the ATF does get tips from people in the industry. I’ll go through the ATF or the FBI or local police,” Dettelbach explained.

‘Assault Rifle’ Definition

President Biden, Democrats in Washington, D.C., and national gun control groups continue to push for a renewed ban on so-called “assault weapons,” their misleading terminology for semiautomatic centerfire modern sporting rifles (MSRs). More than 20 million MSRs are in circulation and the rifle has become dramatically more popular for recreational sport shooters, hunters and for owners who purchased the firearm for self and home defense.

While ownership has greatly expanded, violent crime actually went down in the years following the expiration of the previous 10-year “assault weapons” ban, according to a report from the CDC. It said, “the Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), which also restricted magazine capacity, did not reduce crime rates.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) keyed in on this and used time to question Dettelbach about his campaign for Ohio State Attorney General in 2018. Dettelbach supported a ban on so-called “assault weapons” and it earned him endorsements of gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety.

Sen. Cotton asked, “What is an assault weapon? Could you define it for me?” Dettelbach couldn’t define the rifle he wants to ban. “I did talk about restrictions on assault weapons. I did not define the term, and I haven’t gone through the process of defining that term,” he told Sen. Cotton. “That would only be for the Congress if it chose to take that up to do.”

“So you’re running for public office and you called for a ban on assault weapons, but you don’t have a definition for assault weapons? Is it because that there’s really not a category of weapons known as assault weapons? I mean, there’s rifles, there’s shotguns, there’s pistols,” Sen. Cotton added.

“I acknowledge that’s a very difficult issue. That is for this body to decide,” Dettelbach said.

Road Ahead

President Biden, Senators and Members of Congress are anxious to “do something,” about gun control. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) notified his colleagues they may vote on House-passed gun control bills upon returning to Washington, D.C.. President Biden is feeling the heat from gun control groups and allies for his failure in getting more gun control passed already.

Indications are the Senate may give Dettelbach the nod. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who said he would not support Chipman in the first nomination process, has already come out in support of Dettelbach.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has again stated he will not blow up the filibuster to pass gun control, and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) have both remained open too, as well as a handful of swing Republican Senate votes. Votes from the committee as well as the full Senate could happen in the next few weeks.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

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  1. Frankly anyone that is confirmed is bad for gun rights…

    To be fair he did give a decent answer to the assault weapon question and let Congress define it. By doing that he inadvertently admitted that ‘assault weapons’ is a political term.

    • Huh? He ran a campaign saying he would ban “assault weapons” but he didn’t have any idea of what that meant? How is that not a load of BS?

      The logical follow on question would have been…
      “I know that you know what the standard features are on the hugely popular AR15 type rifle. Do you consider the AR15 an Assault Weapon? That’s a simple YES or NO question.”

      • Politicians can’t answer yes or no questions.
        That wouldn’t leave them any way to weasel out of whatever BS they happen to be spewing.

  2. “ATF Nominee Dettelbach: I’ll Enforce Gun Laws Using the Tools Congress Gives Me”

    Another Biden Administration gaffe. Dettelbach’s taking points note stated” I’ll Enforce Gun Laws Using the Tools I decide Congress Gives Me”

    • We’ll have to ensure he’s only permitted to enforce the laws the Supreme Court rules are “constitutional”.

  3. He’ll do what he’s told to do by the people holding his leash. We know it. They know it. And he knows it. But, the show must go on.

  4. Ok so Biden wants this guy to basically go after all the rogue Comancheros with FFL’s who are trading whiskey and women for guns, but…

    What about Hunter Biden and the falsified 4473?

  5. “What about Hunter Biden and the falsified 4473?”

    Right wing conspiracy theory attributable to Mike Lyndell. You gotta watch more broadcast news programs.

  6. Dettelback should enforce the 2nd Amendment. It’s the only “gun law” there is supposed to be in America.
    I grade him with a F-. He’s flinks the course IMO.

  7. he is a goose stepper…And incompetent, placid congressional Republicans should cease asking soft ball questions that do nothing but provide standing for Gun Control. Grow some RINOs and ask doodlebug to define Gun Control by its history of racism and genocide. Ask him to justify surrendering The Constitution of The United States to a racist and nazi based agenda.

  8. So the tool will rely on his tools. There’s a subtle irony in that.

    He’s just another gun grabber who needs to be kicked in his nuts.

  9. “DettelBACH” eh? A member of the anti-gun 13th “tribe”, the Marxians, of course he is.

  10. Assuming the pubs take congress, they should impeach every man, woman, and other, that Biden has helping him ruin the US as soon as possible.

    • The list of impeachments should be a long one.
      Acted on as quickly as possible.
      Every scumbag it’s possible to impeach.

  11. I’d like to hear his answer to the question “What is a woman?” And …”Can men get pregnant ?”
    Mainly because he doesn’t know what an “Assault Weapon” is….LOL

    • Ask him that and he’ll stutter and stammer never getting a single word out of his koksocket.

  12. “ATF Nominee Dettelbach: I’ll Enforce Gun Laws Using the Tools Congress Gives Me”

    Let me finish that for you Dettelbach…

    I’ll Enforce Gun Laws Using the Tools Congress Gives Me …. based upon my interpretation, Joe Biden’s delusions, and the ones we make up as we go along.

  13. So the “totally non-racist” regime demotes a qualified black guy for doing his job and can’t keep this white trash in his position as prosecutor for Ohio because they want a black guy in that position; so they shuffle the white guy over to replace the black guy they demoted and no one in our completely honest media calls out the obvious racism in that decision?

    ‘K. It’s time to pare down the bureaucracy and disband the BATFE.

  14. Of course the Times article is behind a pay wall. I wouldn’t give that rag my last penny if they were all starving, so I will take OP’s word for what they said.

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