ATF Director Calls for "Assault Weapons" Ban, But Won't Define the Term

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

ATF Director Steve Dettelbach wants Congress to pass an “assault weapons ban”. Just don’t ask him to define what an “assault weapon” actually is.


While speaking at Harvard University’s Institute of Politics this week, Dettelbach was asked what’s on his “wishlist” of legislation that he’d like to see Congress adopt. Dettelbach, who was Joe Biden’s second choice to head up the ATF after it became clear that gun control activist and former ATF agent David Chipman didn’t have the votes to get confirmed, didn’t talk about increasing penalties for straw purchases or thefts from gun stores. Instead, he acted like Biden’s loyal lapdog by backing the president’s call for a ban on so-called assault weapons while declining to define the term.

“I think it would be helpful if we had universal background checks in this country. I think that’s something that makes some sense,” Dettelbach said.

He added that he supports a ban on assault weapons.

“The president has also said, and I agree, that we should consider and reinstate a ban on certain types of assault weapons,” he said.

“I am not trying to be cute when I say this. It is emphatically the job of the United States Congress to write a definition” of assault weapons, he added.

Oh, I don’t think too many people will think he’s being cute with his response. Duplicitous? Sure. Evasive? Absolutely. Cute, not so much.

If Dettelbach believes that “assault weapons” should be prohibited, then surely he must have some idea about what guns would be covered by such a ban. If Congress defined “assault weapon” as “long guns possessed by federal agencies like the ATF”, for example, Dettelbach’s support for a ban would vanish in an instant. So why won’t Dettelbach offer up his own definition of what makes a gun an “assault weapon”?


If nothing else, Dettelbach’s refusal to define the term is proof positive that the phase “assault weapon” has no real definition at all. It’s the opposite of a term of art; a catchphrase with no specific meaning beyond “a gun I want to ban”. California, for instance, has revised its “assault weapons” ban multiple times since lawmakers first adopted a ban back in 1989, and state-level bans vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Some states like Massachusetts ban guns based on both features and by specific models, while other states impose prohibitions based solely on the presence of one or more features like an adjustable stock or a flash suppressor.

So how would Dettelbach himself determine whether a particular firearm is an “assault weapon”? He won’t say, but my guess is it would be as expansively as possible, especially given some of his other comments at Harvard.

Dettelbach said an overemphasis on individual rights, including the Second Amendment right to bear arms, impairs the ability to address gun violence as a public safety issue.

“People who have the view that their rights, their individual rights, are the only thing that should be taken into account — it is just not who we are as Americans,” he said. “We care about our rights, of course, but we respect other people’s rights, too.”

That’s a helluva straw man that Dettelbach constructed on stage. If you don’t support a gun ban, however it might be defined, you’re just selfish; more concerned with your individual rights than public safety, obsessed with your guns and blithely unconcerned about violent crime or mass murder. Dettelbach simply can’t accept that many of us understand that more gun control won’t make us safer. The promise of increased safety at the expense of our individual rights is simply false, and you only have to look at the sky-high homicide rates in cities like Washington, D.C. and Chicago over the decades when those locales had banned the possession of handguns.


I’m sure Dettelbach’s job would be much easier if the ATF could ignore our Second, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights, but that is not who we are as Americans. I’d say that we also don’t blame law-abiding citizens for the actions of violent criminals, but unfortunately that’s not true… at least for the anti-gunner-in-chief, his lackeys, and those Americans hoping we can ban our way to safety.

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