Key Takeaways from Dettelbach's 'Face the Nation' Sit-Down

Townhall Media

My colleague Tom Knighton already touched on some of ATF Director Steve Dettelbach's more asinine remarks in his big interview with CBS News Face the Nation host Margaret Brennan, but there's still plenty to discuss on today's Bearing Arms Cam & Co, starting with Dettelbach's determination to shift the conversation from bump stocks to auto sears. 


It's not like Brennan was exactly grilling Dettelbach to begin with, as my friend Stephen Gutowski pointed out. Instead, she repeatedly lobbed softballs at Dettelbach with no pushback at all. 

The closest Brennan came to asking that question was asking Dettelbach why Congress hasn't tried to pass a bump stock ban of its own over the past few years. Dettelbach demurred on responding, saying that the Trump administration enacted the ATF's ban before he was with the agency, but when Brennan wondered why the Biden administration hadn't taken any steps of its own to get Congress to adopt a ban, Dettelbach brought up auto sears instead of answering her question directly. 

DIR. DETTELBACH: No. I mean, there was, first of all, there was a- there was a provision in the ATF's rule that dealt with this, and this is a- we have a broader issue, right, with- with machine guns in this country that I will tell you is returning. You asked me about things that I think are really concerning for public safety. It's not just bump stocks, right? All over the streets of the United States, every police chief tells me that the pounding sort of jackhammer-like sound of machine-gun fire is returning to our streets, and bump stocks is one, I'll show you another, right. So this little piece of plastic, this little piece of plastic, which can be made on a 3D printer that costs $170. In about 45 minutes, this little piece of plastic is a machine gun. This is every bit as dangerous and covered as a tommy gun. Right? It goes into an AR, drops right in, it's called the auto sear drops right into the AR, and turns it into a fully automatic weapon to operate the trigger one time and the gun keeps firing. And we're seeing police officers, we're seeing civilians be hurt by these things. So this case is before the Supreme Court. You know, it's pending, so I don't know how much I can talk about it. But the issue of bump- is more than bump stocks. It's about the fact that when Congress passed that law, back in the- in the 30s, and then and then-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- To outlaw machine guns?

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Right to outlaw machine guns, right, and then regulated them. And then in the 80s, it outlawed all new machine guns. Right, except for law enforcement and the military. You know, they wrote that law understanding that people would be converting- try to get around the law, there's an actual specific provision that says if items that are designed to convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon, right, those items are machine guns. That's why this whether or not it's in an AR is a machine gun, right. And so our position before the Supreme Court, you know, there's pages and pages and briefs and briefs on this, but our position and the Supreme Court will decide this, is that Congress in the 1930s, well understood the problem of automatic weapon fire, well understood that there would be different mechanisms or functions that would be used to produce automatic weapon fire. And they wrote the statute to allow covering those things. 


Bump stocks and auto sears are two very different things, no matter how much Dettelbach wants to conflate the two in the minds of the general public. An auto sear does change the function of a trigger by allowing for multiple shots to be fired with just one trigger pull, while the non-mechanical bump stocks banned by ATF fiat don't change how triggers function at all. A semi-automatic rifle with a bump stock attached is still a semi-automatic rifle, but Dettelbach's position seems to be that anything that could increase the rate of fire should be considered a machine gun. What's more is that Dettelbach seems to be hinting that, if auto sears and Glock switches keep popping up despite the fact that they're prohibited under federal law, it might be time to take a look at the semi-automatic guns that can accept them. 

... what I want people to remember at home is that this debate that we heard is about more than bump stocks. It's about these, these, these all these different products, which are being used to turn semi-automatic weapons into machine guns. And if you had asked most police chiefs, or most agents who are running towards this gunfire, it's a very dangerous situation for them too, whether 10 years ago, they thought this was even a possibility, 15 years ago. They'd have said no, machine guns went the way of Al Capone and the tommy gun. Unfortunately, technology can be used for good and technology can be used for bad, right. And what I want people to understand is we at ATF are doing everything we can within the law, to try and protect them under the laws we have from these unlawful machine guns. Now, if somebody wants to pass additional laws, we'll take those. And we'll squeeze every last bit of public safety we have out of them just like we have with the things that were in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. But you know, it is on Congress to take these actions. And as you said, President Biden has said, we have taken many, many executive actions, and we find ourselves in the place where people say, Oh, no, you're doing too much. That's too much executive action, then you asked me, Well, you didn't do enough, right, or people say that. So to me, we live in the space where we have to objectively look at the laws that Congress has passed. 


That's completely absurd given the multiple courts that have found the ATF acted outside of its authority when crafting its rules on bump stocks, unfinished frames and receivers, pistol stabilizing braces, and the rule under consideration expanding the definition of who is "engaged in the business" of selling firearms. If the ATF was honestly taking an objective look the laws passed by Congress we wouldn't be seeing these lawsuits filed over the ATF's proposed rules, and we certainly wouldn't have courts ruling in favor of the gun owners who are challenging the agency's mandates. 

There was another exchange between Brennan and Dettelbach not captured in the official transcript of the interview that was also very revealing. Rather than just looking at the laws passed by Congress, Dettelbach pressured FFLs around the country to take the extraordinary step of reporting customers who use cash to make their purchases. 

We know that the gun control lobby is already trying to mandate the use of merchant category codes for gun stores, as well as cutting off access to "buy now, pay later" options for gun purchases. This is the first time, at least that I'm aware of, that Dettelbach or the ATF has argued that allowing cash purchases is somehow fueling cartel violence, but that fits right in line with the anti-gunners' plans of having Big Brother monitor every gun sale in the country. How long before the ATF considers an FFL accepting cash in gun sales as an official black mark against a gun store owner? Maybe not before November, but it's a definite concern if Joe Biden gets four more years to continue his attacks on the Second Amendment. 


Dettelbach's interview with Brennan wasn't quite as light and fluffy as a conversation with Seth Myers or Jimmy Fallon might have been, but it was certainly a friendly chat and not the grilling that Brennan would have given a Second Amendment advocate. Even without having to face tough questioning Dettelbach still gave some very revealing answers, and all of them point to an administration with nothing but contempt for our fundamental right to keep and bear arms. 

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