ATF Director Steven Dettelbach Details Procedures Agency Takes In Absence Of Federal Gun Owner Registry


Mariane Angela Contributor
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Steven Dettelbach, the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), shed light on the challenges his agency faces in tracing guns linked to crimes due to the absence of a federal gun registry during a “Face the Nation” interview Sunday.

Dettelbach emphasized the agency’s reliance on a process of sifting through a system of records.

“That means that we have to work within that system. That means that we have more people there pouring through records,” Dettelbach told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan. “For what we call a normal trace, right now we’re running at about an eight-day lag.”

The ATF’s hands are tied by federal legislation which forbids the creation of a centralized database of gun ownership, compelling the agency to manually process millions of records each month, the director said. This limitation not only hampers the efficiency of tracing firearms used in crimes but also highlights the intensive nature of the investigative work required, according to CBS News. Dettelbach highlighted the extensive efforts involved in tracking down the original purchaser of a firearm. (RELATED: Federal Court Strikes Down Dem State Law That Hamstrung Young Gun Owners)

“The way it doesn’t happen is we punch in a person’s name, and up comes, ‘Oh, they own so many guns,'” Dettelbach said. “Congress has prohibited us from doing that.”

Dettelbach pointed out a unique constraint faced by the ATF as they need to disable search functions in their software to align with U.S. laws, which prohibits easy access to gun ownership data based on the names of individuals.

“We have to do an old-fashioned investigation, go to them, find out what they did with it, who they are,” Dettelbach said. “So this is an investigative intensive process that we work on with state and local law enforcement every day.”

Despite these hurdles, the ATF, as the sole federal agency dedicated to combating violent crime, plays a crucial role in the national effort to investigate and address those issues. With a team of just 5,000, however, Dettelbach argued the agency is significantly under-resourced given the scale of its mission.

In 2023, the ATF completed 645,000 gun traces, according to CBS News.

House Republicans previously proposed to abolish or cut funding for the ATF over concerns the Second Amendment rights of Americans were being curtailed by the agency through its regulations, according to the Hill.