Dettelbach offers word salad when asked if "ghost guns" are illegal

(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

ATF Director Steve Dettelbach recently sat down with the CBS affiliate in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for an interview, but those hoping to learn some specifics about the agency’s warrantless visits to gun owners’ homes or even details about the new rules regarding “ghost guns” are going to be sorely disappointed. Between the questions from the clueless reporter and the non-answers from Biden’s anti-gun pick to run the agency enforcing federal gun laws, there wasn’t much substance to the interview.

Take this exchange about the ATF’s new rules on “ghost guns,” for example.

Self-assembled firearms; detractors call them ghost guns. Until two weeks ago, they weren’t defined as firearms at all, but Dettelbach says they’re every bit as lethal.

“They’re not ghosts guns, they’re not called ghost guns because they don’t hurt people. They hurt people like regular guns. They’re called ghost guns because they’re impossible to trace,” he said.

In recent years, hundreds of thousands of gun part kits were sold online for buyers to assemble at home, but unlike regular guns, they did not have serial numbers and buyers were not subject to a background check, earning them the nickname ghost guns.

According to the ATF, in the past six years, law enforcement has been unable to trace 45,240 ghost guns, including 692 recovered in homicide or attempted homicide investigations. The new ATF regulation just gone into effect aims to change that.

Sheehan: “Are ghost guns now illegal in the United States?”

Dettelbach: “So as we sit here today, the law on privately made firearms, which some people call ghost guns, is the law. But individuals who are producing things that are now defined as firearms or were before need to both run background checks and have serial numbers on those firearms.”

The law is the law? Well thanks for clearing that up, Steve. But what exactly is the law that, you know, is the law?

The new ATF rule requires companies that produce do-it-yourself gunmaking kits that contain unfinished frames or receivers to serialize that uncompleted component. Confusingly, though, the agency has been telling companies that produce those parts that as long as they are sold separately and not as part of a kit, then they can still be sold unserialized and without background checks; something the gun control lobby is already trying to change.

On the public radio program Marketplace, Alain Stephens of the pro-gun control website The Trace tried to make the case that companies who are continuing to sell unfinished frames and receivers are somehow exploiting a loophole, even though the ATF itself has said that the regulations that took effect last month only apply to unserialized parts kits and not to 80% complete frames and receivers sold by themselves.

“So the Biden administration decided they needed to do something about this. And anyone who follows the gun space knows that congressional law regarding gun policy has pretty much been at a stalemate, and so they went through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and used their rulemaking capability to try to create regulations on people selling these ghost guns parts kits. But it only applies to the parts kits. So these dealers, after the rule went into effect, they simply just break up the kits and sell each piece individually, and now they’re just back in business.”

The rest of the report on Dettelbach’s interview wasn’t much better, with the reporter at one point getting one of the new components of the Safer Communities Act all wrong.

“We’re tracking firearms that are coming into our cities, whether it’s Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, from other places, and we have put together cases of firearms trafficking and gun running,” said Dettelbach.

But the bigger problem has been so-called straw purchases, where adults buy guns and then sell them to teenagers who are not legally eligible to own them. Recently Congress passed the so-called Boyfriend Law, making this a more serious crime.

Uh, no. Straw purchases aren’t about buying guns for teenagers. A straw purchase is any purchase where the buyer of the firearm is not the actual recipient. It’s buying a gun for someone else, no matter their age. And the so-called “boyfriend loophole” addressed in the SCA has nothing to do with straw purchases. Instead, it makes it  illegal for anyone convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor against a dating partner to purchase or possess a firearm.

Since the ATF is apparently making Dettelbach available for interviews, you think he’d be willing to talk to any reporter or media type who actually knows a little bit about gun policy and what’s going on with the agency? I’d be happy to welcome the ATF’s newest director on Cam & Co, and I’m sure that The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski would be happy to do the same. There are any number of pro-2A podcasters and YouTubers who could pose tough but fair questions for Dettelbach, but I’m pretty sure the Biden administration doesn’t want Dettelbach anywhere near those informed interviewers when they can do puff-piece sit-downs with local reporters who don’t have a firm grasp on the topic at hand.