Updated Apr 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Biden announces pick for ATF and plans to trace "ghost guns"

biden ghost guns

President Biden holds a 9mm pistol build kit as he speaks on measures to combat gun crime from the Rose Garden of the White House on April 11. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden on Monday announced Steve Dettelbach as his nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, as well as new plans to regulate so-called "ghost guns."

Why it matters: With gun violence ravaging communities across America, the Biden administration is looking for administrative solutions to address the proliferation of illegal firearms.

  • "This rule will make it harder for criminals and other prohibited persons to obtain untraceable guns," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
  • Ghost guns, assembled at home from "buy build shoot" kits, have posed a challenge to law enforcement because these guns don't contain serial numbers, making them difficult to track.
  • Some 20,000 suspected ghost guns were recovered in criminal investigations last year, according to government data.

Driving the news: Biden announced the new rules during a Rose Garden event on Monday, along with Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.

  • He named Dettelbach, a former U.S. attorney from Ohio, as his second choice to lead the ATF.
  • Last year, in a sign of how contentious politics around gun regulation can be, Biden was forced to pull his first nominee, David Chipman, a former ATF agent and gun control advocate.
  • While Chipman was opposed by gun rights groups and Republican senators, Biden wasn't confident he had the backing from Maine's independent senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats.

The big picture: Biden has been looking for opportunities to highlight his approach to addressing increased crime, and used his State of the Union address to proclaim: "The answer is not to defund the police."

  • As part of his 2023 budget plan, Biden announced some $30 billion to provide more money for law enforcement.
  • The House last year passed gun control legislation to expand background checks, with the aim of closing the loopholes that allowed white supremacist Dylann Roof to purchase a firearm, which he used to kill nine worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.
  • The Senate has not acted on the legislation.

What he's saying: Ghost guns "are weapons of choice for many criminals. We're going to do everything we can to deprive them of that choice," Biden said during Monday's event.

  • The president the new rule would "help save lives, reduce crime and get more criminals off the street."

Flashback: Last May, The Biden administration announced new rules to require retailers to run background checks before selling firearm kits, which allow anyone to assemble them at home to make a firearm.

What to expect: With Monday's action, the administration plans to reclassify the key components in gun kits as "firearms," allowing the government to better track them.

  • The Biden administration also wants local officials to use some of the $1.9 trillion in COVID relief funds to bolster police departments.
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