Senate confirms Dettelbach to head firearms agency as gun violence grows

Steve Dettelbach speaks during an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House April 11, 2022.
Steve Dettelbach speaks during an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House April 11, 2022. [Drew Angerer / Getty Images]

The Senate voted 48 to 46 to approve former U.S. attorney Steven Dettelbach to lead the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, making him the first confirmed head of the agency in seven years.

Republicans Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio joined with Senate Democrats to approve Dettelbach's nomination.

"While certainly not a panacea to the gun violence epidemic plaguing our nation, having Mr. Dettelbach at the helm of the ATF will ensure the feds have all hands on deck in the fight to stop gun trafficking, prevent illegal possession of firearms, and make sure our kids can't get their hands on dangerous weapons," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the vote.

Dettelbach will oversee the nation's gun laws at a moment when those policies are under intense public scrutiny. A string of deadly mass shootings and increasing gun violence across the country has placed additional pressure on the ATF and other federal agencies.

A former U.S. attorney in Ohio during the Obama administration, Dettelbach has won support from the National Sheriff's Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The White House has touted his background as a career prosecutor with a history of working closely with law enforcement on major cases involving gun crimes, gangs and hate crimes.

"As we saw with the tragic shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo – where ATF agents have played a key role in the investigations," the White House said in a statement in May. "With daily gun violence plaguing too many of our communities, now is the time to provide ATF the leadership it needs to redouble its work to enforce our gun laws and make our communities safer."

President Biden's first nominee for the ATF post withdrew after key Senate Democrats expressed doubt about his background. Dettelbach's own confirmation was delayed for several months after Biden first announced the nomination in April. The Senate Judiciary Committee was deadlocked on the nomination in May and Democrats were forced to push back a floor vote several times.

Additional reporting by NPR's Carrie Johnson

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