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Senate confirms Dettelbach to head firearms agency as gun violence grows

Steve Dettelbach speaks during an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11.
Drew Angerer
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Steve Dettelbach speaks during an event about gun violence in the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11.

Updated July 12, 2022 at 4:51 PM ET

The Senate voted 48-46 on Tuesday to approve former U.S. Attorney Steven Dettelbach to lead the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, making him the first confirmed head of the agency in seven years.

Republicans Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Rob Portman of Ohio joined with Senate Democrats to approve Dettelbach's nomination.

"While certainly not a panacea to the gun violence epidemic plaguing our nation, having Mr. Dettelbach at the helm of the ATF will ensure the feds have all hands on deck in the fight to stop gun trafficking, prevent illegal possession of firearms and make sure our kids can't get their hands on dangerous weapons," Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said after the vote.

Dettelbach will oversee the nation's gun laws at a moment when those policies are under intense public scrutiny. A string of deadly mass shootings and increasing gun violence across the country have placed additional pressure on the ATF and other federal agencies.

A former U.S. attorney in Ohio during the Obama administration, Dettelbach has won support from the National Sheriffs' Association and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The White House has touted his background as a career prosecutor with a history of working closely with law enforcement on major cases involving gun crimes, gangs and hate crimes.

"Today's vote is another important sign that both parties can come together to support law enforcement and stand up against the horrific scourge of gun violence," President Biden said in a statement after the vote. "I thank the Senate for their support. And it is my hope that we can continue working together to keep Americans safe — especially our children — from mass shootings like those in Uvalde, Buffalo, and Highland Park, as well as the daily acts of gun violence that don't make national headlines. We have so much more to do."

Biden's first nominee for the ATF post withdrew after key Senate Democrats expressed doubt about his background. Dettelbach's own confirmation was delayed for several months after Biden first announced the nomination in April. The Senate Judiciary Committee was deadlocked on the nomination in May and Democrats were forced to push back a floor vote several times.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kelsey Snell is a Congressional correspondent for NPR. She has covered Congress since 2010 for outlets including The Washington Post, Politico and National Journal. She has covered elections and Congress with a reporting specialty in budget, tax and economic policy. She has a graduate degree in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. and an undergraduate degree in political science from DePaul University in Chicago.