Ex-Justice officials call on Senate to confirm Biden's ATF director to fight gun violence


Steve Dettelbach is President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A bipartisan group of more than 140 former officials at the Department of Justice on Wednesday sent a letter to Senate leaders calling for the confirmation of Steve Dettelbach, President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Dettelbach served from 2009 to 2016 as the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

Citing the "surge of gun crime across our country in recent years," the letter noted the importance of the confirmation of a director who "will help keep our communities safe by taking gun traffickers and other violent criminals off our streets."

Among those who signed the letter are former U.S. attorneys general Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, former acting U.S. Attorney General Sally Yates, and former U.S. Attorney and Alabama Sen. Doug Jones.

The bureau has been without a permanent director for seven years and has not had a director confirmed by the Senate in 16 years.

At the same time, gun violence has been increasingly on the rise. The Gun Violence Archive has catalogued 20,726 nonsuicidal gun deaths in 2021, more than in any year since the nonprofit organization was founded in 2014 and an increase from 19,510 such deaths in 2020.

The Biden administration has addressed the problem of gun violence in recent months, most notably through the establishment of a federal rule classifying so-called "ghost guns" as firearms. Ghost guns, which are unserialized and untraceable weapons assembled from kits, have been cited by police departments as playing an increasing role in gun crimes.

Biden nominated Dettelbach in April after withdrawing the previous nominee, David Chapman, in September 2021. Chapman had faced unified opposition from Republican senators and a few Democrats.

Dettelbach's nomination has been supported by an array of groups in addition to the former Justice officials.

The Major County Sheriffs of America, representing 110 of the largest elected sheriff's offices in the United States, endorsed his nomination. Sheriff Dennis Lemma of Seminole County, Florida, serves as the group's president and sent a letter to the Senate noting that Dettelbach has a "proven track record of working with federal, state, and local law enforcement in fighting violent crime" and has "worked alongside the ATF through cases fighting domestic terrorism, anti-religion, hate crime and violent extremism."

The American Pediatric Surgical Association called for Dettelbach's confirmation, specifically citing the importance of curtailing gun violence against children.

"The mission of the ATF is to protect the public from crimes involving firearms, which too often impact children," the group said in a letter to Senate leaders. "APSA surgeons speak to the importance of this mission from firsthand experience in the care of children who sustain firearm injuries."

Gun violence prevention groups are behind the nomination as well. Everytown for Gun Safety said that the confirmation should proceed "if senators are serious about reducing gun crime," while Brady: United Against Gun Violence called the nominee "well qualified" for the role.

Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has said that confirmation hearings are "ready to go" as soon as he is given the "thumbs up" from the rest of the committee as it reviews Dettelbach's nomination.

The momentum for the nomination has come at the same time that Republican elected officials have been attacking the very existence of the ATF.

House Republican Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA), Matt Gaetz (FL), Paul Gosar (AZ), and Ralph Norman (SC) have proposed legislation to "eliminate the ATF."

The view is shared by Republicans currently running for office, including Senate candidate J.D. Vance, who recently won his party's nomination in Ohio.

"All the more reason to get rid of the ATF," Vance wrote in response to news of Dettelbach's nomination.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.