Remarks on the Nomination of Steven M. Dettelbach To Be Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and Efforts To Reduce Gun Violence
The President. Wow. [Laughter] Thank you, Madam Vice President, Deputy Attorney General Monaco.
And, Mia, you're an incredible young woman. We spoke for a moment inside the Oval Office. And a lot of people here who have lost someone—and too many here have lost someone—know that no matter what the occasion, how celebratory or not it is, when you have to repeat it, you relive it like it just happened a moment ago. Your poise, your confidence, and your intellect are really impressive, honey. I mean, they really are. And you know, I think most people here can tell you who have gone through serious loss that the best way to deal with it is to find purpose, and you found real purpose. And you are impressive.
And thank you for sharing your strength, for helping us remember your friend Dominic Blackwell and Gracie Muehlberger. You know, Dominic and Gracie's parents are with us today. Are you prepared to stand up if—I don't want to embarrass you, but would you stand up? If you have a moment afterwards, maybe you can come into the Oval with me. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to talk to you.
Frank and Nancy, Bryan and Cindy, everyone here, as they say, feels your pain a little bit, particularly if they've suffered a serious loss. You've now joined a terrible fellowship of loss that many people have experienced.
There are too many survivors and advocates here for me to name everyone today, but let me say: The loss in this crowd is incalculable, but so is the strength—so is the strength. I believe our Nation will be safer for your bravery, and I really mean that.
Survivors like Mia and Manny and Claudia, a Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff who survived an ambush by a shooter with a ghost gun, represent individuals and families all across this country whose lives have been forever changed by a ghost gun. Some made national headlines; many others did not.
Today we honor your strength and your action. A year ago this week, standing here with many of you, I instructed the Attorney General to write a regulation that would rein in the proliferation of ghost guns, because I was having trouble getting anything passed in the Congress, but I used what we call "regulatory authority."
A year later, we're here. We keep that promise. The gun lobby tried to tie up the regulators in paperwork for a long, long time. The NRA called this rule I'm about to announce, "extreme." [Laughter] "Extreme."
But let me ask you: Is it "extreme" to protect police officers? "Extreme" to protect our children? "Extreme" to keep guns out of the hands of people who couldn't even pass a background check?
Audience members. No!
The President. Look, the idea that someone on a terrorist list could purchase one of these guns is extreme? It isn't extreme; it's just basic common sense.
You know, if you buy a couch you have to assemble, it's still a couch. If you order a package, like this one over here, that includes the parts you need, the directions for assembling a functioning firearm, you bought a gun.
Take a look. Take a look at this. It comes in this package. You can see the picture down here maybe. This is the gun.
[At this point, the President held up the upper and lower receivers of a handgun displayed on a table next to the podium.]
It's not hard to put together. A little drill—hand drill at home. It doesn't take very long. Anyone can order it in the mail. Anyone. And, folks, a felon, a terrorist, a domestic abuser can go from a gun kit to a gun in as little as 30 minutes.
Buyers aren't required to pass background checks. Because guns have no serial numbers—these guns—when they show up at a crime scene, they can't be traced. Harder to find and prove who used them. Meaning you can't connect the gun to the shooter and hold them accountable.
In fact, the ATF reports that they've been able to trace less than 1 percent—less than 1 percent—of ghost guns reported by law enforcement. And so it makes sense that police across the country are increasingly finding ghost guns at crime scenes. And by the way, ghost guns can be, quote, "rifles"—essentially assault weapons as well. This is one version of the kit you can buy.
Last year alone, law enforcement reported approximately 20,000 suspected ghost guns to be—to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. That's a tenfold increase in these ghost guns from 2016. Tenfold in 5 years.
These guns are weapons of choice for many criminals. We're going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice and, when we find them, put them in jail for a long, long time.
Law enforcement is sounding the alarms. Our communities are paying the price. And we're acting. Today the United States Department of Justice is making it is illegal for a business to manufacture one of these kits without a serial number. Illegal. Illegal for a licensed dealer to sell them without a background check.
And starting today weapons like the one used at Saugus High School and to ambush deputies with us today—that are here with us today are being treated like the deadly firearms they are. And if somebody sells a ghost gun to a federally licensed dealer—for example, a pawn shop—that dealer must make the firearm and mark it with a serial number before reselling it.
All of a sudden, it's no longer a ghost; it has a return address. And it's going to help save lives, reduce crime, and get more criminals off the streets. And this rule is only part of our strategy to go after ghost guns.
In February, the Department of Justice launched a nation—a National Gun—Ghost Gun Enforcement Initiative, intensifying our efforts to bring cases against those who use ghost guns illegally. We're teaching investigators and prosecutors best practices—how to build these cases—and assigning a coordinator in each of the ATF field divisions to serve as the point person for helping Federal, State, and local law enforcement go after ghost guns.
If you commit a crime with a ghost gun, expect Federal prosecution, not just State. Expect Federal prosecution. This rule is an important step. It's going to make a difference, I promise you. And there are a lot of other things we know work to reduce gun violence and other violent crimes and save lives.
That's why I've put together a comprehensive strategy to supercharge what works while continuing to push Congress to act on sensible legislation to prevent gun violence.
In addition today—in addition to today's rule, we're working on four areas. First, we're going after rogue gun dealers. The last time we had data on this was more than 20 years ago. Five percent of gun dealers sold 90 percent of illegal guns found at crime scenes. Five percent sold 90 percent.
These merchants of death are breaking the law for profit and selling guns that are killing innocent people. And we're cracking down on these gun dealers and the violent criminals they knowingly arm.
Second, we're disrupting illegal gun trafficking. Attorney General Garland has directed all U.S. attorneys to prioritize combating gun trafficking that is moving guns across State lines and city boundaries.
The Justice Department is surging prosecutorial resources to help shut down these trafficking corridors, including the one known as the "Iron Pipeline" that funnels weapons from gun shops in States like Georgia to crime scenes up and down the East Coast.
Thirdly, we're funding strategies we know reduce gun crime: community policing and community violence interruption. Look, I've said it many times: The answer is not to defund the police. It's to fund the police and give them the tools and training to support—they need to be the partners and the protectors of our communities in need.
And I've already made clear that I want cities, States, counties, and Tribes to use some of the $350 billion we sent to them in the American Rescue Plan—that I wrote in the first month—to reduce gun violence, hire police officers for community policing, pay police overtime, purchase crime-fighting technologies. They were given the money. They can do it. Spend it.
And now, on top of that, I'm calling for additional funding to put police on the streets for community policing. One thing we learned in the middle of the crime wave not long ago: When the cop knows by first name who owns the corner drug store, who lives in the apartment above 6B, who the people who are—the pastors of the churches, guess what? People talk to them. They trust them.
My son was the attorney general in Delaware. He'd go around and make sure everybody, literally, in these high-crime-rate neighborhoods—he'd give them his personal cell phone number and instructed all of the cops to do the same thing. And they did. And the crime plummeted. Not a joke. Look at the record. Not just my son, but all across the Nation.
And for the AFT [ATF]* to hire agents they need to help the fight gun crime—more agents.
My budget funds body cameras and makes sure police work with our local communities and are accountable to the local communities.
We're also investing in community violence intervention. These are areas, local programs that utilize trusted messengers—community members and leaders—to work directly with people who are the most likely to commit a gun crime or become victims of gun crime—get to them early. It works. It works. They intervene before it's too late.
Fourth, we're funding jobs and training for young people, summer programs, drug treatment, mental health, housing availability, criminal justice reform, and reentry support for people coming home after incarceration.
Right now you get let out of prison after serving your time, you get a bus ticket and 25 bucks. You end up under the same bridge you left 2, 5, 10 years earlier. If you serve your time, you qualify for Pell grants, you qualify for housing, you're qualified for food, you qualify to get back into the community—give them a fighting chance.
These are all demonstrated ways to reduce crime. And I'm strongly urging cities, States, counties, and Tribes to use the Rescue Plan funding we've sent them to do more in each of these areas. And they need to do more and do it quickly, before the summer, when crime typically surges around America.
So we're pushing in each of these areas, but none of this absolves Congress—with all due respect to my Members of Congress here; they're the wrong people I'd be talking to—for their responsibility to act. We need Congress to pass universal background checks. Universal background checks. And I know it's controversial, but I got it done once: Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
I was getting criticized when I first passed this law when I was a Senator. And guess what? I was down in southern Delaware—they do a lot of hunting and fishing down there—and I was walking up one of the creek beds. And a guy standing said, "You want to take my gun?" I said, "I don't want to take your gun." He said, "Well, you're telling me I can't have more than x number of bullets in a—in my gun." And I said: "What—do you think the deer you're hunting wear Kevlar vests? What the hell you need 20 bullets for? You must be a hell of a terrible shot." [Laughter]
No, I'm serious. Think about it. Think about the mass shootings. As many as a hundred rounds. It's a weapon of war. It has nothing to do with recreation.
Outright banning the sale and possession of unserialized guns.
Eliminate gun manufacturers' immunity from liability. They're the only outfit—they're the only outfit—in the country that is immune. Imagine had the tobacco industry been immune to being sued. Come on.
In February, the families of nine of the Sandy Hook shooting victims achieved a settlement against the maker of guns that was used to kill their children. The Sandy—Sandy Hook folks are here. Do you—will you be embarrassed if I ask you to stand up? These folks right here did more to keep all of this going than anybody. We owe you, man. We owe you. It never goes away, does it? God love you.
Look, this is incredibly rare because gun manufacturers have more immunity from liability than any other American industry, so they have never had to take responsibility for the death and destruction their products cause. But as part of this settlement, Remington agreed to release thousands of pages of internal documents.
You did that. And why—here's why it's so important: Remember, it wasn't until we saw the internal documents that we really understood what cigarette manufacturers were doing to our kids and to our families. Now we may begin to see what gun manufacturers are and are not doing when it comes to making and marketing their deadly products.
And by the way—it's going to sound bizarre—I support the Second Amendment. You have a right. But from the very beginning, the Second Amendment didn't say you can own any gun you want, big as you want. You couldn't buy a cannon when, in fact, the Second Amendment passed. And certain people from the very beginning weren't allowed to purchase guns. It's nothing new. It's just rational.
Look, this should be just the start. We need to repeal the liability shield of gun manufacturers and finally hold them accountable for false advertising and many other things they do.
There's one more action I'm taking today. It's only been—and there's been only one Senate who has confirmed a Director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives in the Bureau's entire history. It used to be it didn't require Senate action when I first got to the Senate. But it's only been one since it became required confirmation.
This is an agency whose mission it is to protect communities from violent criminals, illegal trafficking of firearms, acts of arson and bombing, and a lot more. The mission of this agency isn't controversial, it's public safety.
Today, to lead and support the dedicated men and women of the AFT [ATF],* I am proud to nominate Steve Dettelbach—excuse me, I mispronounced your name—I just—as Director of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
Steve is immensely qualified. He served the Department of Justice for two decades. He worked side by side to support the work of Federal, State, and local law enforcement, including AFT [ATF]* agents. And one of those was he—a case he was—personally tried as a U.S. attorney, where the serial arsonist firebombed the courthouses and police headquarters in Mansfield, Ohio. For his work, Steve got death threats, but the defendant got 60 years.
Steve also partnered with the community leaders and law enforcement to help prevent violent crime. He's worked with the police to combat domestic extremism and to take violent criminals off the street. Steve's record makes him ready on day one to lead this agency.
And by the way, in 2009, the U.S. Senate unanimously confirmed him to serve as a U.S. attorney. I look forward to working with the Senate to get him confirmed once again.
With what I've—know about him and why I was enthusiastic about supporting him, I'd like to introduce my nominee to lead the AFT [ATF]* to you—all of you. Steve, come on up here.
Director-designate Dettelbach. Thank you, Mr. President; thank you, Vice President Harris, for your leadership in protecting the people of this Nation and for placing your trust in me to become the next director of the ATF. [Applause] Thanks.
Thank you, also, Deputy Attorney General Monaco, for all that you and Attorney General Garland continue to do at DOJ to make our Nation safer.
And thank you, Mia, for your incredible inspiration and courage not just here today, but all over this Nation. Thank you.
I also want to thank my incredible, supportive, and often patient family who are here: my wonderful wife Karil and my children Allie and David. Please.
The President. When he's 16 years old, I want to draft him. [Laughter]
Director-designate Dettelbach. Is there an agent in the house? [Laughter]
But seriously, more—most especially today, I want to thank the men and women of the ATF.
You know, I started as a career prosecutor back in 1992. And I have spent three decades watching and admiring agents and staff at the ATF—along with its Federal, State, and local law enforcement partners—as they work tirelessly and courageously to protect the American people.
I would also say they work in anonymity, but that would not be completely true because, sadly, one thing I've also seen over the years is that the ATF often does work in anonymity when its agents are out there risking their lives to protect us only to be thrust into the public eye when it's time for criticism.
You know, law enforcement is a very tough job, and no person and no agency is perfect. But the President is right: The men and women of the ATF and the public that they protect deserve better support from us.
I've seen firsthand the work that so many at the ATF do to protect us from violence. They're dedicated, they're professional, and they're effective. They don't write the laws; their mission every day is just to go out and enforce those laws and protect the public from a wide range of threats.
When I was a U.S. attorney, our office partnered with the ATF and the Cleveland Police as they doggedly investigated and brought a case involving the deadliest home arson in Cleveland history—killed nine people, including eight kids. I also saw the ATF partner with the FBI and our office, first to find and then to bring to justice a bigot who drove from Indiana to outside Toledo to torch the largest mosque in Ohio.
And last and certainly not least, I have partnered with the ATF for decades in its crucial fight against gun violence. You know, whether it was taking a single violent recidivist off the street in Maryland or putting together a big racketeering case against a violent gang in Youngstown, Ohio, I have seen the ATF work with other law enforcement to make so many of our communities safer.
As we emerge from this pandemic, we've got to recognize that many Americans still face fear and isolation not because of a virus, but because of an epidemic of firearms violence. It's not a new problem, and it has many causes. That's why it's going to take an all-hands-on-deck-partnership approach to address that issue. And the ATF will be there.
If confirmed, I promise to support the men and the women of the ATF and to do everything in our power to protect the people of this Nation every single day.
The President. All right, good job.
Director-designate Dettelbach. Thank you, Mr. President.
The President. Thank you all for coming.
And by the way, he was responsible for the weather as well. [Laughter] Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Director-designate Dettelbach. Thank you.
NOTE: The President spoke at 2:42 p.m. in the Rose Garden at the White House. In his remarks, he referred to Mia Tretta, student, Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, CA, who was wounded in a shooting at her school on November 14, 2019, and who introduced the President; Frank and Nancy Blackwell and Bryan and Cindy Muehlberger, whose children, Dominic and Gracie, respectively, were killed in the shooting in Santa Clarita; Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, on February 14, 2018; Claudia Apolinar, a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff who was wounded in an ambush shooting in Compton, CA, on September 12, 2020; B. Todd Jones, former Director, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; and Kevin Dye, who in 2011 was sentenced to 60 years in prison for starting fires at Belcher's House of Rock and the municipal building in Mansfield, OH, in 2009. Director-designate Dettelbach referred to his wife Karil Bialostosky; and Randolph Linn, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison for setting fire to the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg, OH, on September 30, 2012.
* White House correction.
Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on the Nomination of Steven M. Dettelbach To Be Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and Efforts To Reduce Gun Violence Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/355396