Confirmation of Biden's gun-banning pick as ATF chief heads to Senate floor

AP Photo/Morry Gash

Joe Biden’s second choice to head up the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives is likely to be approved next week, with both Joe Manchin and Angus King approving of Steve Dettelbach’s nomination over the past two weeks. Those nods give former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach at least 50 votes in favor of his confirmation, and Vice President Kamala Harris could cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm him along party lines when the Senate officially takes up his confirmation.

That could happen as early as next week, but the preliminary vote will likely happen this afternoon, after the Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked 11-11 earlier today, requiring the Senate to vote on a motion to discharge his nomination from the committee.

“Dettelbach unquestionably deserved bipartisan support, but either way he’s going to move forward,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday morning.

“We need a fully functional, fully staffed ATF in order for that agency to fulfill its mission of keeping our communities safe from gun violence,” he said.

Schumer and company could have had that months ago, but Joe Biden decided to nominate a committed gun control activist to head up the agency, which led to his nomination being pulled over objections by King and Manchin.

Unfortunately for gun owners and the firearms industry, Dettelbach is just as anti-gun as David Chipman, but in part because he doesn’t have the close ties to the gun control lobby that Chipman had, and partly because King and Machin are now willing to “do something” to help their Democratic colleagues chalk up a gun control win, Dettelbach’s confirmation is almost assured at this point.

Dettelbach’s time as a U.S. Attorney is fairly non-controversial. It’s the positions he took in his failed bid to become Ohio’s Attorney General in 2018 that have raised concerns among gun owners and Second Amendment organizations. On the campaign trail he endorsed “universal background checks” and a ban on AR-15s and other modern sporting rifles, but claimed during his confirmation hearing that politics would play no role in his position if confirmed to lead the ATF.

“Politics can play no role in law enforcement. None at all,” he said.

“I worked under Republican administrations, and I worked under Democratic administrations as a federal prosecutor and I have lived that credo and I vow to continue to do it because people need to have confidence that people in law enforcement’s only agenda is to enforce the law – and if you’re at the ATF to catch the bad guys and protect the public,” he said.

“I vow to never let politics in any way influence my action as ATF director,” he added.

Yeah, I suspect that vow will expire the same day he’s confirmed. Joe Biden and his anti-gun allies have specifically been looking for a gun control ideologue to run the ATF, and after Chipman’s failure to launch, Dettelbach was seen as a candidate who didn’t bring as much baggage but still had the same view of guns and gun control.

For his part, Dettelbach has played his cards close to the vest, even when directly questioned about his past support for bans on modern sporting rifles.

Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas pressed the nominee to define the term assault weapon after noting that during Dettelbach’s 2018 campaign for Ohio attorney general he supported a ban.

“What is an assault weapon – can you define it for me?” Cotton asked.

“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. That would only be for the Congress if it chose to take that up,” the nominee said.

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

“I think it’s very telling that you’re nominated to lead the ATF and and you don’t have a definition of assault weapon,” Cotton said. “The point is there is really no such thing as a category of weapons known as assault weapons. There are rifles, there are shotguns, there are pistols, they have properties, they have features, but there is no such thing as a category of assault weapon.”

How can you talk about wanting to ban something that you can’t define? Dettelbach knows exactly what he was referring to when he called for banning “assault weapons”; semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns in calibers larger than, say, .22LR. The cosmetic features don’t really matter to the gun control lobby. Their real definition of assault weapon is simply “a gun I want to ban.”

I would love to be proven wrong about my skepticism towards Dettelbach. In fact, I’m hoping that I have to write an article at some point where I own up to my own mistake in judgement, but at this point I see no reason to believe that Dettelbach will be any better than David Chipman. The two men may have chosen different career paths, but seem to be in lockstep agreement when it comes to the Second Amendment and regulating away the right to keep and bear arms.