By MICHAEL BALSAMO
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Senate on Tuesday confirmed Steve Dettelbach, a former federal prosecutor, to run the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, making him the agency’s first confirmed director since 2015.
Dettelbach takes the reins of the agency as the Biden administration and the Justice Department are fighting to combat a surge in violent crime, gun violence and mass shootings that has touched both big cities and small rural communities across the nation.
Dettelbach was confirmed by the Senate in a 48-46 vote. He’s racked up endorsements from law enforcement officials, former Justice Department officials who worked for both Republican and Democratic administrations and victims of violence. Two Republican lawmakers, Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio, voted to confirm Dettelbach.
President Joe Biden hailed Dettelbach’s confirmation and said Dettelbach “will play a leading role in ensuring robust implementation” of the widest ranging gun violence bill Congress has passed in decades and other action to drive down violent crime.
“We have so much more to do,” Biden said in a statement. “I will continue to call on Congress to build on this momentum and ban assault weapons, expand background checks, and pass safe storage laws.”
Biden called Dettelbach an “extraordinarily qualified and decorated career prosecutor with strong support across the law enforcement community.”
Dettelbach is a former federal prosecutor who served as U.S. attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016 and has run in the past for attorney general of Ohio. He worked in several other positions in the Justice Department and was involved in the prosecution of a man who firebombed an Ohio courthouse. He also served as the chairman of the civil rights subcommittee as part of the attorney general’s advisory committee under former attorneys general Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch.
Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his first ATF nominee, gun control advocate David Chipman, after it stalled for months because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.
Both Republican and Democratic administrations had long failed to get nominees for the ATF position through the politically fraught process since the director’s position was made confirmable in 2006. Since then, only one nominee, former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed. Jones made it through the Senate in 2013 but only after a six-month struggle. Jones was acting director when President Barack Obama nominated him in January 2013 and left the role in 2015.
Earlier this year, the Biden administration removed the agency’s acting director, Marvin Richardson, from his position and replaced him with the U.S. attorney in Arizona, Gary Restaino. Restaino has juggled both jobs as Dettelbach’s nomination waded its way through the Senate. Richardson has been the agency’s deputy director.
Dettelbach’s confirmation was immediately hailed by advocates who highlighted his experience as a prosecutor and his work with law enforcement.
“Steve Dettelbach’s bipartisan confirmation vote is a watershed victory for the gun safety movement and further proof that the Senate logjam around this life-or-death issue is finally breaking,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
His nomination had been staunchly opposed by gun rights groups, including Gun Owners of America, which wrote a letter Tuesday to Senate leaders urging them to vote against him.