President Joe Biden named his second pick to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives on Monday, as part of a broader push to highlight the administration’s efforts to address gun violence.
Steven Dettelbach, who previously served as a U.S. attorney in Ohio during the Obama administration, would have to go through Senate confirmation to lead an agency that has gone without a permanent director since 2015.
Biden, at a White House event in the Rose Garden that also marked a new rule meant to curb so-called “ghost guns,” said that Dettelbach was highly qualified and highlighted the former federal prosecutor’s history of prosecuting gun crimes.
Biden said that in one case, “for his work, Steve got death threats but the defendant got 62 years.”
The administration faces a narrow window to get Dettelbach confirmed in the current 50-50 Senate. The administration’s efforts to install a new director for the ATF, David Chipman, ended last year amid opposition from gun groups, Republicans and reportedly some Democrats.
On Sunday, an administration official called Dettelbach a “noncontroversial candidate” who should get confirmed by the Senate. Dettelbach is currently a partner at BakerHostetler law firm and ran unsuccessfully to be the Ohio attorney general in 2018 as a Democrat.
Monday’s event included Vice President Kamala Harris, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, gun control advocates and members of Congress. The crowd included Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., whose son was killed by a firearm and Mia Tretta, a victim of a shooting from a “ghost gun”— those assembled from kits or 3D-printed parts.
The Biden administration also announced a new rule that submits ghost guns to the same serial number and background check requirements as traditional firearms.
Biden called the rule “common sense” and noted that local law enforcement reported 20,000 such firearms to the ATF in 2021, a tenfold increase since 2016. Before the new rule, Biden said, such kits would not be considered firearms.
“If I buy a couch I have to assemble, I still bought a couch,” Biden said.
On the campaign trail, Biden called for the passage of a new assault weapons ban and universal background checks and endorsed a federal gun buyback proposal. The administration has found those goals hampered in a closely divided Congress.
Also on Monday, West Virginia’s attorney general and a coalition of other states filed a brief to support a case that wants the Supreme Court to overturn a Trump-era rule that bans the sale and possession of “bump stocks” and other accessories meant to mimic automatic fire in a semi-automatic firearm. The push to ban bump stocks came after one such device was used by the alleged perpetrator of a mass shooting in Las Vegas in 2017 that left 58 people dead.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.