The mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, that left 21 dead cast a new urgency on a confirmation hearing Wednesday for President Joe Biden's pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Gun control policy hung over the Senate Judiciary Committee's hearing for the nomination of Steve Dettelbach to lead the ATF, which has had a series of interim directors since the last Senate-confirmed director stepped down in 2015. Nearly everyone who spoke referenced the shooting in Texas and how the ATF could lead efforts to combat future gun violence.
Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) opened the hearing by reflecting that his 10-year-old granddaughter could have been one of the children killed Tuesday.
BIDEN ATF PICK OPPOSED ARMING TEACHERS
"It is unforgivable that we as leaders have come to the point where we mouth words and do nothing," Durbin said, adding that "we need to identify the risks and threats and finally do something."
Throughout his testimony, Dettelbach said he would take a tough stance on gun crimes.
“Violent crime is increasing. Firearms violence and mass shootings are increasing. Hate crimes and religious violence are increasing, as is violent extremism,” said Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio. “If confirmed, I promise to do everything I can to enforce the law, to respect the Constitution of the United States, and to partner with law enforcement to protect the safety and the rights of innocent and law-abiding Americans.”
During his questioning time, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) asked Dettelbach if his record as a federal prosecutor reflected this promise, citing the drop in firearms charges in Dettelbach's district while he was a U.S. attorney. Dettelbach defended his record against Hawley's charges and against Sen. Tom Cotton's (R-AR) concerns that he would crack down on the sale of "assault weapons."
"I think it's very telling that you're nominated to lead the ATF and you don't have a definition of 'assault weapon,'" Cotton said after Dettelbach said he would enforce assault weapon litigation based on Congress's definition.
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Dettelbach is Biden's second attempt to fill the position after his first choice, David Chipman, failed to earn the Senate's confidence due to his anti-gun policy work. Biden withdrew Chipman's nomination in September and announced Dettelbach's in April. Dettelbach ran for Ohio attorney general in 2018 and at the time said he was against arming teachers to deter school shootings.
“I think this is a politician’s plan, quite frankly. I mean, it doesn’t protect people in any meaningful way. It’s more than a day late and much more than a dollar short," Dettelbach said during his campaign.
He needs to sway several centrist Democrats to secure the nomination.