Dettelbach Interview Does Little to Calm Gun Owner Concerns

AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File

The only reason Steve Dettelbach looked like a better option to head the ATF is because his nomination came after David Chipman's. Chipman was such a complete and total trainwreck that anyone would look good afterward, and that worked to Dettelbach's favor.


But there was never any inkling that he was likely to work with gun owners to respect our right to keep and bear arms. We knew that from the get-go.

Yet he's been on a bit of a tear, recently. He declared gun control activism a "patriotic duty" without a hint of recognizing the irony there, for example.

On Sunday, he continued that with a sit-down on CBS' Face the Nation, where he did little to calm fears gun owners might possess.

There's a lot to unpack, so let's start here:

DIR. DETTELBACH: Violent crime is down. But I just think the bigger issue that we're facing as a country is what can we do to try to tackle violent crime in the long run, and especially violent crime committed with firearms, which we are way, way out of step with so many of our peer nations. And this is a problem that is unique here. And it's a problem that we have to work on together here to come up with solutions so we can move forward. So- so that is, I think, that's where I am on this.

Now, he's not wrong. Our so-called gun violence rates are way out of proportion with other developed nations.

But so are our non-gun violence rates.

The United States is uniquely violence, but Dettelbach is falling back onto the anti-gun line of firearms being the cause of our problems. If that were remotely true, why are our non-gun homicide rates higher than other developed nations' total homicide rates?


It makes no sense.

Yet, to be clear, if that were Dettelbach's only sin, I'd have probably ignore this entire interview. It's not.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the President claims he's taken more executive actions to stop the flow of illegal guns than any other administration, but executive actions can be overturned easily by the next president, unless something is actually codified into the law, right? And you need Congress to do that. So is there any single request you would make to Congress now that would make a difference in the trend you're talking about?

DIR. DETTELBACH: So again, really, you know, people ask me, what's my top priority? What's my- what's my wish list? I think the reality is it's going to be a lot of things that we have to do to get out of this situation to make things better. And we've talked about some of them, right. One of the things the President's talked about repeatedly is the idea of making it harder for criminals to get guns. It's the idea of background checks, right, which stops every year, thousands and thousands of people from- from getting firearms. Now under the current law, we have background checks for a whole host of people. And by the way, not everybody's following that current law. So number one is being better at enforcing the current law, right. But number two is, if- if Congress wants to consider more on universal background checks, this is a program which has been shown to work. But again, I mentioned a whole list of things, help the people with- with mental help, state legislatures, not just Congress, are a huge part of this- of this equation. So state legislatures all around the country are considering various different measures. You know, as the head of ATF, you know, I think it's fair to say that for the agency, that is the only federal law enforcement agency that solely deals with violent crime, if you're really concerned about violent crime in the United States, this agency is way, way, way too small.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Five thousand people.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Five thousand people total. Twenty-five hundred agents. Let me give you a sort of a baseline. In one city, New York City, there are 36,000 police officers, right? Seventeen times the entire ATF agent corps for the entire country. If you want to ask New York, New York's- they're 36,000, I'm just over 30, to deal with gun crime in New York. So I mean, if there's no such thing as public safety on the cheap, you know, we have to support the police. And we have to support the federal agents that are out there risking their lives every day, running toward gunfire for total strangers.


So Dettelbach is saying he needs more agents, but for what? So he can randomly show up at the home of a gun owner to spot check if he actually has the gun he just purchased, without any probable cause? So they can violate the law and take more pictures of gun dealers' records?

And I hate to break it to Dettelbach, the ATF is not focused on violent crime. They're focused on one particular segment of violent crime, namely those involving a firearm.

There are still a lot of crimes that take place in this country that involve knives, hammers, bats, crowbars, and just bare hands. The ATF doesn't give a flying dump about any of those. They're not remotely interested in investigating stranglings, for example. They don't care about a serial rapist who uses a knife.

They only care about guns.

Dettelbach claims the ATF is the only agency that is focused on violent crime, but the truth is that the ATF is the only law enforcement agency expressly dedicated to infringing on a constitutionally protected right.

Once you understand that, you understand why the ATF doesn't need to be bigger, why they don't need more authority, why they shouldn't get their way on pretty much anything else. 

Especially when you remember that so much of their work lately isn't in hunting down criminals trading guns illegally but in jamming up gun stores for paperwork errors.


I get that Dettelbach is going to push for more and more authority and resources. It's kind of what the head of any agency does.

But unless the ATF stops trying to make life difficult for law-abiding gun owners and buyers--and his push for universal background checks in this interview sure doesn't help us--then they're going to be hard-pressed to find any support from this community going forward.

He laments only having 5,000 agents? 

I'd say that's 5,000 too many.

Then, of course, we have the matter of a gun registry. Yes, really.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The ATF is prohibited by law from creating a centralized database of registered gun owners. So that means there are actual physical records that have to be sorted through, right? How big of an impediment is that to actually stopping gun traffickers?

DIR. DETTELBACH: So this relates to the tracing process. So one of these areas of crime gun intelligence, which is so important, Margaret, is tracing crime guns. This happened in Highland Park, in the July 4 massacre, right? Firearm serial numbers put in. We- we have to run the trace, we run an urgent trace and get back to the police. In just a matter of hours, the identity of the person who purchased that firearm, they catch the person before they kill again, maybe in Madison, or wherever they were at. Okay, how does that really happen in real life? The way it doesn't happen is we punch in a person's name. And up comes oh, they own so many guns. Congress has prohibited us from doing that. So instead, we have a system of records where we can- we have to go through those records. Every year, we probably get in- First of all, we don't have the all the records, the gun dealers keep the records, most of them. If they go out of business, they send them to us, millions and millions a month. And we have to keep them in- I- I'm the only customer, ATF is of Adobe Acrobat, we pay somebody to take out search function, to remove search function that other customers have to in order to comply with the congressional notion that there can't be a gun registry, the law that there can't be a gun registry in the United States. It's not a notion, it's a law, and we comply with it. That- that means that we have to work within that system. That means we have more people there pouring through records. That means for- for instance, for what we call a normal trace, that's right now we're running about an eight day lag. Right? And that's, that's if- there's an urgent trace, we try to do it quicker-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- Sorry just to be clear. So a crime is committed it takes at least eight days to trace back who that gun could have been registered to because there is no-- 

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Well there's no registering. It's who bought the gun. It's- we don't have a gun registry. 


Now, Dettelbach doesn't go as far as saying we need to repeal the ban on the feds creating such a registry, but it's clear that he sees the ban as a bad thing.

However, what he fails to comprehend is that the only guns that would be registered would be those that are in the hands of law-abiding citizens. Criminals won't register theirs and they won't alert police when they steal a gun, which is why gun registration isn't really a viable option as a law enforcement tool in most cases.

All a registry is good for is knowing who has what when the time comes to confiscate some or all of someone's firearms.

So, basically, what Dettelbach wants is more money and people as well as a repeal of a law limiting his agency's ability to track who is exercising their constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, all while addressing a problem he clearly doesn't even understand.

I can't imagine why any of us would be hesitant to give him what he wants under the circumstances. It's a mystery.

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