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Senate confirms Steven Dettelbach as ATF director, overseeing enforcement of gun laws

Gun violence prevention advocates praised the vote to confirm Dettelbach, the agency’s first permanent leader since 2015.
Joe Biden
President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steve Dettelbach, speaks at an event in the Rose Garden on April 11.Carolyn Kaster / AP file

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 48-46 on Tuesday to confirm Steven Dettelbach to be the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, making him the first permanent leader of the agency since 2015.

Dettelbach, who was a U.S. attorney in Ohio during the Obama administration, will lead a law enforcement agency tasked with overseeing firearms in the wake of numerous high-profile mass shootings and a new federal gun violence prevention law.

The successful vote was praised by gun violence prevention advocates, who spent months urging President Joe Biden to find an ATF leader after opposition from the gun lobby contributed to the sinking of a previous nominee, David Chipman, in September.

“Steve Dettelbach is a proven and effective leader who will helm ATF, catalyzing the agency’s work and helping to implement President Biden’s gun violence prevention strategy," said Kris Brown, who leads the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"The importance of a Senate-confirmed director cannot be overstated," Brown said, saying ATF is important to "enforcing the nation’s gun laws and reduce gun trafficking and the supply of firearms that are fueling our nation’s gun violence crisis."

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said the confirmation will help implement gun laws “because he’s a law enforcement guy.”

“He’s not going to be the savior, but I think it’ll help,” he said.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio joined Democrats in voting for the nomination. Some senators missed the vote, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., whose office said he is working remotely this week after he tested positive for Covid.

"It's important to have somebody at the ATF," said Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., whose wife, former Rep. Gabby Giffords, survived a shooting at a constituent event in 2011 and went on to form a gun violence prevention group. "It needs that leadership," he said.