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Biden finalizes restrictions on 'ghost guns,' names new ATF nominee

The president said he would nominate former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach to head the agency, which has been without a Senate-confirmed director since 2015
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Monday announced new restrictions on homemade guns known as “ghost guns,” as well as a new nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Biden announced the finalization of a rule that would require makers of gun kits to include a serial number on the firearms and for sellers to follow the same standard as with other guns, including requiring a background check for purchase.

"These guns are the weapons of choice for many criminals," Biden said. "We are going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice."

Biden also said he would nominate former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach to be head of the ATF, which has been without a Senate-confirmed director since 2015.

The announcement comes nearly one year to the day that Biden announced from the White House the proposed rule on ghost guns and the nomination of a different ATF head, David Chipman. Biden blamed lobbying from gun rights advocates for delaying the finalization of the rule.

The White House withdrew Chipman from consideration in September following unanimous opposition from Republicans.

Biden pledged during his campaign to make stricter gun control measures, like universal background checks, a priority if elected.

But many of those changes require action from Congress, where lawmakers have been unable to reach a compromise on stricter gun control measures. Gun control advocates have been pushing the White House to go further.

“The president has done more to fight gun violence and keep our community safe than any president in history in his first year in office," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday, adding that the issue was obviously one "that is close to his heart, something he’s passionate about and has been for decades."

Biden said his administration is continuing to go after gun dealers who do not follow the law and gun trafficking across state lines, and is calling for additional funding for community policing programs and the hiring of more police officers.

"The answer is not to defund the police. It is to fund the police and give them the tools and training and support they need to be better partners and protectors of our communities," Biden said.

Law enforcement recovered 20,000 suspected ghost guns last year, a tenfold increase from 2016, Biden said. Because the firearms don’t have serial numbers, law enforcement has difficulty tracking their origin when used in a crime. The ATF said it has been able to trace fewer than 1 percent of the weapons, Biden said.

A senior administration official said they were anticipating a smoother confirmation process for Dettelbach than Chipman faced.

“He should be a noncontroversial candidate because he has a long record of working in law enforcement and for the public safety of the people of Ohio and the American people,” the official said. “We will work hard to make sure that Congress confirms him swiftly.”

Chipman is a senior policy adviser at a nonprofit organization, Giffords, dedicated to reducing gun violence and named for former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who was shot in a 2011 assassination attempt. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., alleged that Chipman was a foe of the Second Amendment.