Dettelbach’s Confirmation Will Hasten the Neutering of the ATF


President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steve Dettelbach speaks during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, Monday, April 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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With last week’s confirmation of Steve Dettelbach to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, gun control advocates and other nanny-staters are celebrating the agency’s first confirmed director since 2015. But what most of them aren’t taking into account is that NYSRPA v. Bruen makes putting an aggressive new leader at the top of ATF a terrible idea for the long-term health of their anti-gun agenda.

Why Pro-Gun and Republican Politicians Have Kept BATFE Without a Permanent Director

Before I get into why nominating a strong anti-gun head is bad for their agenda right now, I want to quickly review why BATFE hasn’t had a permanent Director in so many years.

Here’s a good example of a one-sided interview showing what Democrats think is behind the lack of leadership at the BATFE . . .

No, it’s not that Republicans love guns, hate gun laws, and want to hamper the enforcement of federal gun laws (if only). The reality is basically the opposite. The BATFE has a long history of not only questionable ethics, but downright criminal activity against law-abiding gun owners and people working in the firearms industry. It would take a whole series of articles to chronicle the extent of the agency’s sorry record, but you can search our archives and I found a pretty decent summary of some of the worst abuses here.

The agency had leaders who were appointed by presidents until 2006, when it was changed to a position that requires Senate confirmation. Since then, a combination of mistrust for the agency (due to its sordid history) and the people presidents of both parties have chosen to nominate have made it difficult or impossible to get enough votes in the Senate for confirmation.

The sad truth is that most people who know much about the agency’s misconduct would rather see it dissolved altogether, but there aren’t enough votes for that. So instead, the agency as been hampered in any way possible to keep its agents from harassing law abiding companies and gun owners.

What Anti-Gun Groups Think

Finally getting a permanent BATFE director nominee confirmed seems like a big victory for the gun control industry and their supporters in government and the media. The anti-gun true believers say that by getting an active leader confirmed and in the top spot, it will be able to aggressively enforce laws and regulations to achieve “gun safety.” The anti-gunners actually think getting Dettelbach confirmed will be a great way to begin to clamp down on civilian firearms ownership and enable a more powerful government.

Why They’ve Actually Shot Themselves In The Foot

While anti-gun activists and politicians have been playing checkers, Justice Clarence Thomas recently dealt out a truly epic 4D chess move with his ruling in NYSRPA v. Bruen. We’ve covered this extensively here, but in short, the case’s application of a new standard by which to evaluate gun control laws means that very few of the laws currently on the books will survive court challenges.

Why? Because instead of applying a balancing test, like intermediate or strict scrutiny, courts are now required to apply a text and history test for laws that seriously burden the right to keep and bear arms. If a gun law or regulation in question wasn’t common and in widespread practice around the time that the Second Amendment was ratified, it can’t be considered within the meaning of the text of the Amendment.

In 1791, there were no bans on short barreled rifles, machine guns, or other NFA items. There was nothing like the National Firearms Act of 1934, or the Gun Control Act of 1968, or the offending portions of the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986 (closing the machine gun registry). There were no waiting periods for gun purchases, limits on barrel lengths, no widespread bans on concealed carry, regulations on carrying guns in vehicles, or anything like those.

It isn’t totally over for any particular gun law until the Supreme Court sings, but they’ve set the tune now. They’ve vacated a number of lower court rulings and sent them back for reconsideration under Bruen. 

By putting someone the gun control industry perceives as a a “go-getter” in charge of ATF, Democrats have probably only accelerated this process. To the extent that Dettelback quickly takes steps to clamp down on gun makers, dealers and owners, the sooner these issues will find their way into court (and West Virginia v. EPA won’t help them either).

So the the Civilian Disarmament Industrial Complex may have cheered and claimed what they thought was victory last week, but in the long run, it may only be seen as something that hastened their cause’s ultimate demise.

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