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ATF Director Says He is 'Not a Firearms Expert' When Asked to Define Assault Weapon

Dettelbach was confirmed in July, ending a seven-year vacancy

The director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was stumped when asked to define the term “assault weapon” during a budget hearing.

Director Steve Dettelbach appeared before a House appropriations subcommittee on April 18 where he was asked by Texas Congressman Jake Ellzey to give a 15-second definition of the term.

“I, unlike you, am not a firearms expert to the same extent as you maybe, but we have people at ATF who can talk about velocity of firearms, what damage different kinds of firearms cause, so that whatever determination you chose to make would be an informed one,” Dettlebach replied. 

Ellzey had described himself as having “some expertise in weaponry and self-defense weapons,” noting that he served in the military for 20 years and owns “many different types” of guns.

Other Republican members of the House of Representatives and online political commentators expressed frustration with Dettelbach when clips of his comments were shared online

Joe Biden’s ATF Director just testified in a Congressional hearing that he’s not a firearms expert. Wow,” tweeted Congressman Troy Nehls of Texas. “Maybe the ATF shouldn’t be regulating your firearms then.”

He admits he isn’t a firearms expert, and I appreciate that honesty,” wrote attorney Kostas Moros, who represents the California Rifle & Pistol Association. “But then, why is he head of the ATF? Does he know a lot about alcohol or tobacco or something?”

He’s not an expert but he’ll eagerly propose regulation to be followed like law anyway,” said Dana Loesch.

Dettelbach was President Joe Biden’s second nomination to fill the ATF directorship, which had been vacant since 2015. Dettelbach is a former U.S. attorney general for Ohio. He was confirmed in July after a temporary stall in June.

Dettelbach told the Senate he would “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.”

“Violent crime is increasing. Firearms violence and mass shootings are increasing. Hate crimes and religious violence are increasing, as is violent extremism,” he said during his confirmation hearing in May. “I vow if I’m given the privilege of serving as director, to partner with others to advance the cause of public safety and to approach that task, especially here now, with an open heart with open ears and always with an open mind.”

Dettelback’s confirmation was opposed by a coalition of 15 state attorneys general. In a letter to Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the group said Dettelbach had a history of “activism to restrict” second amendment rights. They warned that as ATF director he would “merely rubber stamp” Biden’s “partisan anti-gun platform.” 

“Steven Dettelbach is now the second person that this administration has backed as ATF Director who has a long history of anti-gun activism,” said Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, one of the letter’s co-signers, per The Daily Caller. “The U.S. Senate should oppose this dangerous and highly partisan nominee. Americans need an ATF Director who will crack down on criminals and enforce the law — not someone who will simply pander to the anti-gun left.”

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