Senators Make Gun Arguments During ATF Nominee's Hearing

Agency hasn't had a confirmed head in 7 years
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 25, 2022 6:45 PM CDT
Senators Make Gun Arguments During ATF Nominee's Hearing
Steven Dettelbach, President Biden's pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, testifies Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.   (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Less than a day after a gunman shot to death 19 children and two teachers at an elementary school in Texas, a Senate hearing for President Biden’s pick to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reflected the deep political divisions over guns. Steve Dettelbach would be the first confirmed head of the ATF in seven years, and the process can be fraught, the AP reports. For his part, Dettelbach vowed Wednesday to run the agency without political interference in the hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee. "Politics can play no role in law enforcement. None at all," he said.

The Texas massacre carried out with an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle cast a long shadow over the hearing, with Democrats making emotional pleas to restrict the similar firearms, especially for younger buyers. Authorities have said the gunman bought the guns legally just after his 18th birthday. An 18-year-old killed 10 people in Buffalo earlier this month, officials said, also using an AR-15-style semi-automatic. "The shooters in Texas and New York weren't able to buy a beer, but they were old enough to buy an assault weapon," said Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Shootings rose sharply after the decade-long federal assault weapons ban expired in 2004, she said.

"The kind of weapons being used by the Russians in Ukraine have no place in a school," said Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy. Republican Sen. Tom Cotton questioned Dettlebach on the definition of "assault weapon," a term that can refer to various firearms. "The point is, there's really no such thing as a category of assault weapons," he said. Dettlebach, who has previously supported a ban, said a legal definition would have to come from Congress. Republican Sen. Mike Lee said the country should be looking at the "root causes of rampage violence" rather than passing new gun restrictions. "It raises questions—could things like fatherlessness, the breakdown of families, isolation from civil society and glorification of violence be contributing factors?" Lee said.

(More gun control stories.)

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