Across multiple focus groups, voters have voiced their concerns about crime. Now President Joe Biden is apparently trying to address these concerns… by appointing a longshot nominee to to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
On Monday, Biden announced the nomination of an Obama-era U.S. attorney to run the ATF. Plus, his administration unveiled its formal rule to rein in ghost guns, privately made firearms without serial numbers that are increasingly cropping up at crime scenes.
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The nominee, Steve Dettlebach, served as a U.S. attorney in Ohio from 2009 to 2016.
Dettlebach’s confirmation is likely to be an uphill battle for the Biden administration. Biden had to withdraw the nomination of his first ATF nominee, gun-control advocate David Chipman, after the nomination stalled for months because of opposition from Republicans and some Democrats in the Senate.
Chipman failed to gain the support of swing voter Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. — along with Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mt., and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.
Biden withdrew Chipman’s nomination before the Senate could hold a vote.
With this new nominee, Biden is likely hoping to win the support of Manchin: the shadow president.
Still, both Republican and Democratic administrations have failed to get nominees for the ATF position through the politically fraught process since the director’s position was made confirmable in 2006. Since then, only one nominee, former U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones, has been confirmed. Jones made it through the Senate in 2013 but only after a six-month struggle. Jones was acting director when President Barack Obama nominated him in January 2013.
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The administration has also submitted the finalized version of its ghost gun rule, which comes as the White House and the Justice Department have been under growing pressure to crack down on gun deaths and violent crime in the U.S.
According to The Hill, the new rule reinterprets the 1968 Gun Control Act’s use of the word “firearm” to include all firearm parts, like handgun frames or long gun receivers.
“This morning, the department is submitting a final rule that will help keep guns out of the hands of criminals and save lives,” Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote in USA Today on Monday.
“These updated regulations make clear that parts kits that can readily be converted into assembled firearms will be treated under federal law as what they are: firearms. And the manufacturers and sellers of these kits will be subject to the same federal laws as all other gun manufacturers and sellers. This means that those who engage in the business of dealing in these guns will be required to mark every frame or receiver with a serial number so that the guns can be traced if they are used in crimes.”
The rule would also require firearms dealers to run background checks before they sell ghost gun kits that contain parts needed to assemble a firearm, Garland said.
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For nearly a year, the ghost gun rule had been making its way through the federal regulation process. Gun safety groups and Democrats in Congress have been pushing for the Justice Department to finish the rule for months. It will probably be met with heavy resistance from gun groups and draw litigation in the coming weeks.
Police across the country have been reporting spikes in ghost guns being recovered by officers. The New York Police Department, for example, said officers found 131 unserialized firearms since January.
Justice Department statistics show that nearly 24,000 ghost guns were recovered by law enforcement at crime scenes and reported to the government from 2016 to 2020. It is hard to say how many are circulating on the streets, in part because in many cases police departments don’t contact the government about the guns because they can’t be traced.
A gunman who killed his wife and four others in Northern California in 2017 had been prohibited from owning firearms, but he built his own to skirt the court order before his rampage. And in 2019, a teenager used a homemade handgun to fatally shoot two classmates and wound three others at a school in suburban Los Angeles.
For years, federal officials have been sounding the alarm about an increasing black market for homemade, military-style semi-automatic rifles and handguns. As well as turning up more frequently at crime scenes, ghost guns have been increasingly encountered when federal agents buy guns in undercover operations from gang members and other criminals.
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Some states, like California, have already required serial numbers to be stamped on ghost guns.
The critical component in building an untraceable gun is what is known as the lower receiver, a part typically made of metal or polymer. An unfinished receiver — sometimes referred to as an “80-percent receiver” — can be legally bought online with no serial numbers or other markings on it, no license required.
Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., has voiced concerns that Biden’s ghost gun rule would prevent law-abiding citizens from making their own guns.
.@RepThomasMassie is spot on – Biden’s proposal to create a comprehensive national gun registry and end the online sale of gun parts without the passage of a new law exemplifies his disregard for the Second Amendment. https://t.co/lIQRPpwQRr
— Gun Owners of America (@GunOwners) April 11, 2022
The Horn editorial team and the Associated Press contributed to this article.