Incoming House Judiciary chair puts Dettelbach, ATF on notice

Incoming House Judiciary chair puts Dettelbach, ATF on notice
AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

When Republicans take control of the House come January, it will provide the first opportunity for real oversight over executive branch agencies in a couple of years, and it looks like the GOP is ready to shine a spotlight on the actions of the ATF and its director Steve Dettelbach in the new year.

Rep. Jim Jordan, who’s expected to chair the House Judiciary Committee in the next session of Congress, has sent a letter to Dettelbach calling out the agency he oversees for allegedly failing to respond to record requests and demands for information about the ATF’s new and pending rules on unserialized firearms and pistol stabilizing braces. In his letter, Jordan warns the ATF director to get ready for a grilling.

Jordan also told Dettelbach his committee “may be forced to resort to compulsory process to obtain the material we require,” warned it “may require prompt testimony from ATF employees” and asked Dettelbach to “preserve all existing and future records and materials in your possession” relating to the gun rules.

The dispute over Jordan’s requests sets up a Washington showdown between Ohioans from opposite sides of the aisle. Before heading ATF, Dettelbach served U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio and was the Democratic party’s 2018 nominee for Ohio Attorney General.

One of the new policies that Jordan dislikes attempts to crack down on so-called “ghost guns” that are difficult for law enforcement to trace because they are made from kits and lack serial numbers. President Joe Biden unveiled the rule at the same White House event where he nominated Dettelbach for the ATF job.

Jordan says the ghost gun rule “goes well beyond the authority granted to the agency in any applicable federal statutes,” and expands the legal definition of a firearm beyond what Congress intended. A prior letter from Jordan to ATF declared the rule “appears to be a deliberate attempt to usurp the authority of Congress,” and said it unconstitutionally infringes “on American citizens’ fundamental Second Amendment rights and privacy rights under the Fourth Amendment.”

Jordan also objects to a new ATF policy that classifies “stabilizing braces” intended to allow disabled shooters to better control their weapons as short-barreled rifles subject to extra regulations under the National Firearms Act if they modify pistols to be fired from the shoulder. The National Firearms Act imposes heightened regulations on short-barreled rifles because they are easily concealable, can cause great damage, and are more likely to be used to commit crimes, according to the Justice Department.

Jordan says Congress hasn’t “criminalized the use of a pistol arm-stabilizing brace” under the Gun Control Act of 1968, or allowed for its regulation under the National Firearms Act.

“Through its proposed rule, ATF seeks to subject stabilizing braces to GCA criminal penalties and NFA regulation without Congressional prohibition of the underlying activity,” Jordan said in a prior letter to ATF.

With the ATF expected to play the most important role in Joe Biden’s gun control plans over the next couple of years, it’s great to see that Jordan and the House Judiciary Committee already have the agency on their radar. That oversight is going to be critically important, especially if Biden decides to adopt the arguments of the gun control lobby and attempt to impose a gun ban through executive action; a ban that would certainly be challenged in court, but also in at least one chamber of Congress.