The first U.S. Senate-confirmed director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) in seven years sat for a three-hour Judiciary Committee hearing to address concerns from members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
ATF Director Questioned About Overreach by House Judiciary Committee
ATF Director Steven Dettelbach has been at the helm of the agency for less than one year. Members of the House Judiciary Committee had plenty of questions for him.
Much of the hearing focused on regulations regarding firearms and accessories, firearm retailer inspections, enforcement of President Joe Biden’s executive actions, and false claims about the firearm industry.
The ATF’s Final Rule, reclassifying pistols with attached stabilizing arm braces as short-barreled rifles (SBRs), was a topic of interest. The Final Rule subjects lawful owners to registration under the National Firearms Act (NFA).
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) voiced anger that ATF for 10 years declared pistols with attached stabilizing arm braces as not subject to additional tax and registration. Owners now have until May 31 to either disassemble their lawful firearms, destroy them, surrender or register them or risk becoming felons overnight.
“Earlier this year, ATF issued a rule that unilaterally puts new restrictions on Second Amendment rights,” Chairman Jordan said in his opening statement. “This is not the result of a decision made by Congress – Congress didn’t change the law…This rule, which turns law-abiding gun owners into felons, is the result of unelected bureaucrats simply enacting a new regulation. And that’s not how it’s supposed to work in our great country.”
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) explained that ATF previously wrote a letter to Alex Bosco, the brace inventor, saying attaching the accessory “does not convert that weapon to be fired from the shoulder and would not alter the classification of a pistol or other firearm.”
“Between this letter being issued to Mr. Bosco and the production and distribution of 10 to 40 million of these braces and the implementation of your rule, did Congress pass a law? What changed?” Rep. Massie pushed.
Director Dettelbach explained the Biden administration claims the braces that were submitted for classification are different than those sold today.
President Biden has repeatedly called for Congress to ban so-called “assault weapons.” He tweeted, “In 1994, I led the fight to successfully ban assault weapons… Congressional Republicans need to show some courage.”
U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) asked, “My question to you is a simple one – yes or no – do you know what an assault weapon is?”
Director Dettelbach deferred to Congress to define classes of firearms. Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs) are not the same firearms in use by the military. MSRs are semiautomatic firearms that operate by discharging one cartridge with each trigger pull. The military’s M-16 and M-4 rifles are capable of automatic fire. MSRs are not. This is a crucial distinction.
From 2009 to 2011, Democrats controlled majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Likewise, President Barack Obama was in the White House. They did not pass legislation defining an “assault weapon.” The Democratic majorities in the House and Senate from 2021 to 2023, with President Joe Biden, refused to define it during that time as well.
U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) asked about President Biden’s repeated claims that the firearm industry has “blanket immunity” and that gun manufacturers are “the only industry in America” with liability immunity, referring to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).
Courts of Appeal have repeatedly upheld PLCAA as Constitutional. Similarly, President Joe Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland and the DOJ even defended it.
The claim that gun businesses are immune is a lie. That’s been fact-checked time and again. PLCAA prevents frivolous lawsuits against firearm businesses over criminal actions committed by remote third parties. However, firearm businesses can still be held accountable if they commit a crime. In addition, they can be held accountable if there is negligent entrustment or product manufacture or design flaws.
PLCAA simply means those businesses that lawfully made or sold a firearm cannot be held responsible for the crimes committed by others. It would be the same as if someone attempted to sue Ford and Anheuser Busch for the harm caused by drunk driving or blaming Kia for stolen cars.
PLCAA blocked gun control’s “attempt to circumvent the Legislative branch of government” and “would expand civil liability in a manner never contemplated by the framers of the Constitution.” Those are actual words within the law.
President Biden has been rebuked and corrected numerous times for repeating the lie. This includes the Washington Post, CNN, PolitiFact, and others.
Firearm Industry Real Solutions
U.S. Rep. Lucy McBeth (D-Ga.) questioned Director Dettelbach about implementing aspects of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. And the director immediately plugged the ATF’s partnership with NSSF.
“The other thing I want to say is we work with industry,” Director Dettelbach began. “So a couple of weeks ago, I was in St. Louis with the National Shooting Sports Foundation rolling out the ‘Don’t Lie for the Other Guy’ campaign there. That’s a campaign where we work together to try and educate firearms dealers, licensees – I was in a gun store – to catch straw purchasers. How to recognize it, what to do, because they are often our first line of defense .”
The Don’t Lie for the Other Guy™ initiative is just one of several programs within the firearm industry’s Real Solutions. Safer Communities.® campaign. ATF data shows the cooperative partnerships have reduced burglaries and robberies. Not to mention cutting down on straw purchases and leading to the lowest levels of unintentional firearm fatalities since 1903. 1903 is when data was first reported.
Politics Over Policy
U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) tossed a blatantly false political shot at support for a confirmed ATF director.
“Director Dettelbach, you’re the first permanent director of the ATF since 2015… and you didn’t get a single Republican vote during your confirmation process, did you?” Rep. Johnson asked.
“That’s actually not correct,” Director Dettelbach explained. Rep. Johnson moved along, “Tell me this, sir, Republicans have blocked the confirmation of every ATF director since 2015 – what impact has that had on gun violence in this country?”
“As director, it’s hard for me to talk about political impacts… I believe in the name of good government that regardless of which party is in the White House that we should have a confirmed director of ATF,” Director Dettelbach explained.
NSSF supported the nomination of Acting Director Michael Sullivan by George W. Bush in 2007 when the position first required Senate confirmation. NSSF also supported the confirmation of President Barack Obama’s nominee, B. Todd Jones, who was confirmed by the Senate, and President Donald Trump’s nominee Chuck Canterbury in 2017.
NSSF only opposed President Biden’s first ATF director nominee, David Chipman, who was an avowed gun control advocate employed as a gun control lobbyist for Everytown for Gun Safety and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Story originally posted to NSSF.org.