Former federal prosecutor Steve Dettelbach was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday as the new director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, marking the first time in seven years that the agency has a permanent, Senate-approved leader at the helm.
Dettelbach assumes control of the agency, which imposes and issues federal firearm regulations, during a surge of gun violence and mass shootings in the United States. He will also be tasked with enforcing the country’s new sprawling gun legislation, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which is the most significant new federal legislation to address gun violence in decades.
Dettelbach was confirmed by the US Senate and officially sworn in during a private ceremony last week.
During Tuesday’s ceremony at the ATF headquarters, Dettelbach said being sworn in as the agency’s director is the “single greatest honor of my professional life” but also that it is “most certainly the greatest professional challenge of my life.”
“Make no mistake, the agency and its mission are challenged as never before…Rising crime, rising firearm violence, rising mass shooting incidents and a rising tide of extremist violence that threatens people and safety in this nation,” Dettelbach said. “And it’s going to take all of us in this nation, in law enforcement, working together to address those threats.”
He vowed to members of the agency that “you have my heart, my soul, you have everything that I can give to try to join you in this effort.”
“Time and again this year, we have been tragically reminded of the essential role that ATF plays in the fight to protect our communities from gun violence,” Attorney General Merrick Garland, who administered the oath of office for Dettelbach, said during the ceremony.
Garland touted ATF’s work tracing the weapon found at the scene used in the Highland Park mass shooting on July 4 to help identify the suspect in the shooting, tracing the gun used in the Brooklyn subway shooting in April through old transactions, and establishing a connection to the shootings targeting homeless men in Washington, DC, and New York to the same gun.
The ATF had operated under a series of acting directors since its previous Senate-confirmed leader stepped down in 2015. Dettelbach is only the second Senate-confirmed ATF director in the bureau’s history, according to a Justice Department spokesman. ATF was established in 1972 as an agency and moved under the Justice Department’s purview in 2003.
Dettelbach previously served as the US attorney for the Northern District of Ohio under President Barack Obama. He was recently a partner at the law firm BakerHostetler, helping to lead the firm’s white-collar investigations and securities enforcement and litigation team.
He also was counsel for the Senate Judiciary Committee, an assistant US attorney in Cleveland, and a former federal prosecutor for the Justice Department’s civil rights division.
CNN’s Kate Sullivan and Evan Perez contributed to this report.