Selection of America’s Next Top Cop to Regulate Firearms

May 23, 2022

The importance of selecting a qualified applicant for the Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is no small task. The mission of the ATF is to protect the public “…from crimes involving firearms, explosives, arson, and the diversion of tobacco products; regulates lawful commerce in firearms and explosives; and provides worldwide support to law enforcement, public safety, and industry partners” (DOJ, 2021). Correspondingly, in the agency’s values statement, the ATF highlights the goal of upholding the U.S. Constitution (ATF, 2022). To effectively carry out the mission, vision, and values of the ATF, the nominated and later-appointed director’s background must align with the objectives of the ATF. Clarified by U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley, former Chairman of the Committee on the Judiciary, the Senate committee that considers the ATF Director nomination, in a letter to President Joe Biden, the role of the ATF Director is to foster public safety while simultaneously equitably administering the Nation’s gun laws, and at a minimum, the director should exhibit respect for Second Amendment rights, so as to uphold the Constitution (Grassley, 2022). Unfortunately, the decision by the Biden Administration to nominate Steve Dettelbach is problematic given his history of supporting unconstitutional gun control measures, politicizing the Second Amendment, and demonstrating a lack of understanding of basic facts of gun ownership, all of which do not align with the scope and duties of the ATF Director.

Introducing The White House Nominee for the ATF Director

On April 11, 2022, the White House announced its intention to appoint political leadership needed to enforce gun laws and combat gun violence by nominating former U.S. Attorney Steve Dettelbach as ATF Director (The White House, 2022). The White House indicated that this decision is based on Dettelbach’s record of extensive and revolutionary efforts in fighting criminal activity and violence, as well as previous bipartisan approval and backing from all levels of law enforcement (The White House, 2022). The American Presidency Project confirmed in early May that a bipartisan group made up of 140 former federal prosecutors and Department of Justice (DOJ) officials, together with 30 Republican appointees, two former Attorney Generals, and six former Deputy Attorneys General, had endorsed Dettelbach to serve as the director in a letter to Congress, stating that the nominee understands the mission of the ATF and the importance of avoiding partisanship (The American Presidency Project, 2022).

Why the Nominee is Unsuited for the Position

Given his history, Dettelbach would likely be unable to impartially execute the duties of the ATF Director as defined by the DOJ. Arguably, statements made by Dettelbach demonstrate that he lacks awareness about the reasons for and realities of lawful gun ownership, which likely partly explains his support for overreaching gun control (The American Presidency Project, 2022). One can see Dettelbach’s lack of awareness in a 2013 opinion piece in which he argues for universal background checks. In this piece, he expresses concern for the “gun show loophole,” a widely debunked argument that proponents of gun control often cite. Recent research conducted by Congressional Research Service actually found that gun show firearm purchases were not a primary origin of firearms for incarcerated people convicted of crimes with a firearm (Krouse, 2019). 

Furthermore, the ATF Director is charged with overseeing the enforcement of laws that intersect with one of America’s most attacked constitutional rights. This right is designed to protect Americans and allow them to defend themselves and others. This suggests that extraordinary caution and due diligence should be exercised. During his campaign for Ohio Attorney General in 2018, Dettelbach was quoted in an interview with National Public Radio’s Andy Chow advocating for the reinstatement of the assault-style weapon ban. He acknowledged that officials like himself have the responsibility to keep children safe in any setting but then disagreed with a common-sense suggestion to arm teachers and staff with prior military and law enforcement training as a way to protect against would-be school shooters (Chow, 2018). Dettelbach’s stance shows that he is more interested in politicizing the work of the ATF instead of acting as an impartial administrator of the law.

Dettelbach’s social media activity clearly reflects a political ideology supporting gun control. Recent polling found most voters do not want stricter gun control laws, and 61% of gun owners feel safer than those without (Rasmussen, 2022). On August 4, 2019, Dettelbach tweeted in response to the Dayton, Ohio, shooting that left nine people dead and 17 injured saying “Who allows madmen such easy access to firearms?” (Dettelbach, 2019). Only moments prior, he tweeted out, “But what will WE do…” while linking to a CNN article that discussed the tragedy and emphasized that the weapon was an “assault-style” firearm—a term that Dettelbach should know has no official classification. In fact, the media frivolously invented the term, which those advocating for government confiscation of firearms have since adopted. America’s top cop responsible for regulating firearms should, at minimum, have a working knowledge of firearms and their classification and certainly should not be pushing false narratives tied to a political agenda. Further, Dettelbach previously retweeted a petition demanding action for gun control from the organization Sandy Hook Promise (Dettelbach, 2019). Together, these remarks make it exceedingly difficult to imagine how Dettelbach would, in the words of Senator Grassley, “…[have] an appreciation for the role that firearms play in the lives of Americans, as well as serving as a credible, effective liaison with the firearm business community” (Grassley, 2022).   

In May of 2013, Dettelbach spoke at a forum for The City Club of Cleveland, stating, “…the rule of law must continue to work as the great equalizer in this great democratic experiment,” while this point of view holds true, Dettelbach himself has a much weaker position on the rule of law presently (Dettelbach, 2013). The rule of law ensures that no one is above the law—that the development of laws, the enforcement of laws, and how legal rules are coordinated are equal among all citizens. But the law or its interpreted enforcement must protect the rights of the citizens, not diminish or infringe upon them, specifically the right to bear arms, and in turn, the people cannot defend themselves against a tyrannical government.  


The most fundamental aspects and obligations of the ATF Director are parallel with the mission, vision, and values of the ATF. To successfully execute the job, the director must be able to promote the safety of the public and fairly administer U.S. gun laws. Similarly, there must be respect for the Constitution’s Second Amendment, the legal firearms industry that operates under those same protections, and the rule of law. It goes without saying that any high-level official honored with the public’s trust must navigate the position with truth, accuracy, and honesty. Prior writings, interviews, and social media activity underscore support for partisan agendas, increasing the likelihood of the politicization of the ATF. Having a platform to distribute misinformation simply to advance a political agenda is dangerous. When it comes to enforcing the laws and protecting American citizens and their rights, politics has no place. The position calls for a fair administrator of the law, not another politician.

Works Cited

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