President Joe Biden appears close to selecting the next head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF, a source familiar with the discussions told NBC News on Thursday.
The federal agency is tasked with enforcing existing gun laws, and the news comes in the wake of several recent mass shootings , including a man accused of killing eight people at three Atlanta area spas and a shooter accused of killing 10 people with a high-powered weapon at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.
At his news conference Thursday, Biden seemed to push pause on any significant actions he might take to tackle gun violence.
“It’s a matter of timing,” he said, noting that his next major initiative would be infrastructure. “As you’ve all observed, successful presidents, better than me, have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they’re doing, order it, decide priorities, what needs to be done.”
Biden stresses he was hired to 'solve problems' in first press conferenceMarch 25, 202101:56
But the president is nearing a decision on personnel that could signal how he’ll use executive authority on gun laws. Administration officials have been interviewing candidates to lead the ATF, and the president now has a “shortlist” of final candidates, a source familiar with the discussions tells NBC News.
Having a Senate-confirmed ATF director was one of the dozens of executive actions the former vice president recommended then-President Obama take in 2013 after Biden was tasked with developing recommendations to tackle gun violence in the wake of the Newtown shooting.
Since Congress has required the director to be confirmed by the Senate, it has largely had only acting leadership. Obama did win confirmation of his choice for that position – B. Todd Jones – in 2013, but barely. Since Jones stepped down in 2015, the agency has again had only acting directors. Regina Lombardo, appointed under Trump, is currently the acting director.
Several of Biden’s 2013 gun recommendations involved potential ATF roles, including encouraging private gun sellers to participate in the background check system. Any eventual nominee would most likely face stiff opposition from Republicans, meaning the White House will have to work to ensure all 50 Democrats support the choice – a key factor in the final decision-making process now.
An administration official told NBC News that choosing a new ATF director was a priority even before the mass shootings in Georgia and Colorado in the past week.
“President Biden is committed to reducing gun violence both, through the policies he pursues and the personnel he places in key positions at agencies like ATF. The Administration is going to revitalize ATF and ensure that our guns laws are vigorously enforced so we can keep illegal firearms off our streets and save lives,” spokesperson Michael Gwin said in a statement.
An ATF spokesperson declined to comment on any internal discussions taking place about potential new steps, saying only that it “routinely reviews our practices, procedures and determinations.”