Steve Dettelbach faced scrutiny of his gun prosecution record during his Wednesday confirmation hearing.
Senator Josh Hawley (R., Mo.) questioned President Joe Biden’s (D.) pick to head the ATF on a decrease in firearm and explosive prosecutions during his time as US Attorney of Northern Ohio. Dettelbach did not provide a specific explanation for the reduction but emphasized that his office did not alter its guidelines.
“When you became the US attorney there were about 120 firearms and explosives prosecutions a year. By the time you left, there were half that number. And in fact, there was a pretty continuous decline over three years, lower year on year” Hawley said. “What accounts for that?”
Dettelbach said his office continued his predecessor’s “aggressive program” and that the drop in prosecutions should not be attributed to any change in approach. He also noted that the office and law enforcement had staffing issues during his tenure.
“So, I can’t tell you what causes ups and downs in those numbers,” Dettelbach said. “But I’ll tell you one thing that didn’t cause it was any change in our approach to what cases should be prosecuted.”
How Senators judge Dettelbach’s approach to combating gun crimes will impact whether he is confirmed to be the head of the federal law enforcement agency tasked with blunting gun violence. That is especially true as the horrific shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas brought gun violence to the forefront of the American consciousness.
Hawley continued to push, noting that the prosecutions went back up under Dettelbach’s successor.
“Was this not something you were pushing? Or what you said earlier was this the police’s fault?” Hawley said.
Dettelbach denied that it was the fault of the police and insisted that his office pursued prosecutions actively. He said firearm prosecutions were something he “devoted significant time and attention” to.
“I never saw a situation where any person who worked for me in my office was declining cases,” he said.
Hawley again cited the significant decline in prosecutions during the period between 2009 and 2016 when Dettelbach was US Attorney.
“Did you look at these numbers and say this is disturbing this needs to change,” Hawley said. “When do you get tough?”
Dettelbach reiterated that his office prosecuted cases as they came across them.
“I know we never changed our policy senator and I know that it was an office priority,” he said.
The ATF nominee will now face written questions about his record before being given a vote to move out of the committee. If his nomination is passed out of the committee, he could receive a floor vote in the next few weeks.