Senate confirms Biden's pick to lead gun regulation agency

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The Senate approved Steven Dettelbach’s nomination Tuesday to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, making him only the second Senate-confirmed director in the gun regulatory agency's history.

In a 48-46 vote, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio joined Democrats in supporting the former U.S. attorney.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said before the vote that confirming a permanent director is “another important step in protecting Americans from violent gun crimes.”

“Steven M. Dettelbach understands that politics must play no role in running the ATF,” Brown said. “His experience and record bear that out.”

Dettelbach’s confirmation to be the nation’s top guns regulator comes amid back-to-back mass shootings, including at a July 4 parade in Highland Park, Ill., an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, N.Y. The Senate vote also took place less than a month after Congress passed a bipartisan gun package, the most significant step lawmakers have taken on firearm safety in nearly 30 years.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May, Dettelbach faced questions from Senate Republicans about his support for an assault weapons ban during his failed 2018 bid to become Ohio attorney general. Dettelbach vowed to enforce the country’s gun laws and to work with law enforcement.

Tuesday’s vote was not Dettelbach’s first Senate confirmation. The Senate also confirmed him by voice vote in 2009 to become U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio.

ATF director nominations, which did not require Senate approval until 2006, are notoriously tough to get through the chamber. Prior to Dettelbach, the only permanent ATF director was B. Todd Jones, who was confirmed in 2013 under former President Barack Obama and left the role in 2015. Former President Donald Trump withdrew his choice for the job, Chuck Canterbury, in 2020, after he faced concerns from conservatives.

Dettelbach is President Joe Biden’s second nominee for ATF director. The White House withdrew his initial pick, David Chipman, last September, amid opposition from Sen. Angus King (I-Maine). Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) also never formally backed Chipman. Dettelbach’s confirmation became a foregone conclusion in June after Tester and Manchin announced their support, shortly after King, followed by the GOP backing from centrist Collins and retiring Portman.

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