Biden Announces ATF Director Nominee, New Ghost Gun Regulation
WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced a ban on kits to create unlicensed “ghost guns” on Monday while introducing Steve Dettelbach as his nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In remarks delivered from the White House Rose Garden, Biden said the new rule to be enforced by the Department of Justice bans kits used to assemble firearms without having to submit to background checks. The rule issues a clarification regarding the weapons, classifying them as firearms under the Gun Control Act and compelling commercial manufacturers to include serial numbers and conduct a background check prior to a sale.
“These merchants of death are breaking the law for profit and selling guns that are killing innocent people,” Biden said. “We’re cracking down on these gun dealers and the violent criminals they knowingly arm.”
ATF, the chief federal law enforcement agency responsible for enforcing gun laws, has not had a permanent director since 2015. Dettelbach, a former United States attorney for the Northern District of Ohio during the Obama administration, will need to pass a Senate confirmation process before leading ATF.
The president was joined by gun violence survivors and families of victims during the event. Biden said that felons, terrorists and domestic abusers who otherwise would not be able to obtain firearms could assemble the kits in as little as 30 minutes.
“This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns, will help ensure that law enforcement officers can retrieve the information they need to solve crimes, and will help reduce the number of untraceable firearms flooding our communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a written statement.
“I commend all our colleagues at the ATF who have worked tirelessly over the past 12 months to get this important rule finalized, and to do it in a way that respects the rights of law-abiding Americans.”
Around 20,000 suspected ghost guns were reported to ATF officials by law enforcement in criminal investigations last year, according to data shared by the White House. Excluding suicide, there were 20,726 gun deaths in the United States in 2021, according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive.
Between January 2016 and December 2021, ATF received around 45,240 reports of suspected privately-made firearms recovered by law enforcement, according to the DOJ. Of those reports, 692 of them involved homicide or attempted homicide investigations.
“Ghost guns can be purchased on the Internet and assembled at a kitchen table,” Harris said. “They can be bought without a background check by people who otherwise would be legally prohibited from gun ownership — domestic abusers, gun traffickers, individuals convicted of violent crimes, and even young children.”
“Traditional guns are required to have serial numbers, which can help law enforcement identify a firearm that has been stolen from its lawful owner or found at the scene of a crime,” Harris continued.
Harris said that because ghost guns lack serial numbers, they are “practically untraceable” and make it harder for police officers to enforce the law. Adding ghost gun kits under the umbrella of federal regulation is a step to ultimately making communities safer, she said.
The DOJ’s rule to update firearm definitions to include ghost guns took almost a year to clear the federal regulatory process. While the rule goes into effect 120 days from the date of its publication in the Federal Register, it is expected to be met with legal challenges from gun advocates prior to its enactment.
“Expanding federal gun regulations only makes it more difficult for law-abiding citizens to own guns,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a written statement in response to the new DOJ rule. “If Biden wants to crack down on crime, he should begin by enforcing existing laws and prosecuting violent criminals.”
In September, Biden withdrew the nomination of David Chipman for ATF director. Nominees need 50 votes in the Senate for agency approval, a hurdle that Chipman apparently couldn’t clear because of objections from Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W. Va., and Angus King, I-Maine.
In 2009, the Senate unanimously confirmed Dettelbach to serve as a U.S. Attorney. Biden said Dettelbach’s record as a U.S. attorney qualifies him “on day one” to lead the agency.
“Steve Dettelbach is an experienced public servant who served Ohio as U.S. attorney with honor and integrity,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said in a written statement. “He has demonstrated a strong commitment to justice, inclusive leadership, and to strengthening relationships between law enforcement and the community. He would serve our nation well as ATF Director.”
Reece can be reached at [email protected]
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