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Dettelbach confirmed as ATF director, first to be confirmed by Senate in 7 years

For the first time in seven years, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has a Senate-confirmed director after Steve Dettelbach was approved on Tuesday.

Dettelbach was narrowly confirmed, receiving 48 votes supporting him and 46 votes against. Two Republicans senators made the difference, as Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted in his favor.

“As the first permanent ATF Director in seven years, Steve will work tirelessly to keep Americans in every corner of the country safe,” Sean Rankin, president of the Democratic Attorneys General Association said in a congratulatory statement. “His leadership will be instrumental in the fight for gun violence prevention, and we look forward to seeing what his unique perspective will bring to this vital office.”

Dettelbach himself hoped to be a Democratic attorney general in 2018 when he ran for the position in the state of Ohio. His platform during that campaign was the basis for some Republican opposition to his ATF nomination.

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During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dettelbach was grilled by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., who called him out for supporting an assault weapons ban despite not knowing what that would mean. 

“When I was a candidate for office, 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,” Dettelbach acknowledged.

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Dettelbach explained that deciding which weapons fall under the category of “assault weapons” is the job of lawmakers. He recognized it “would be a difficult task” to define what assault weapons are, because making it too limited in scope would not “offer the protections that are intended,” while making it too broad “infringes unnecessarily on the rights of citizens.”

President Biden's pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven Dettelbach, testified Wednesday, May 25, 2022, before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Dettelbach has extensive government experience, including being a prosecutor with the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio from 2009 to 2016. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Dettelbach has also worked in private practice, most recently as a partner with the law firm Baker Hostetler. 

President Biden chose Dettelbach after he withdrew the nomination of a previous pick, David Chipman. 

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