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Transcript: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms director Steven Dettelbach on "Face the Nation," March 3, 2024

Extended interview: ATF director Steven Dettelbach
Extended interview: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms director Steven Dettelbach 35:42

The following is a transcript of an interview with Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms director Steven Dettelbach that aired on March 3, 2024.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Thank you for making time and welcoming us here.


MARGARET BRENNAN: So, President Biden said this week that the U.S. has one of the lowest rates of all violent crime in more than 50 years. But there was a caveat. He said, violent crime is up a bit. Why?

DIR. DETTELBACH: So, if you look at 2023, 2023 saw a precipitous drop in- in violent crime and in gun crime in particular, in about 175 cities as a metric double digit percentage reductions, both in homicides and in non-fatal shootings. I was in Baltimore a few weeks ago with the law enforcement there, and it's like, almost a 20% drop in homicides, but looks to me the caveat is that for many years in this country, we've had a very serious gun crime problem. And we are the outlier among almost all Western modern nations, and not the outlier in a good way. If you compare our- that's not just one- any one year, it's over decades. If you compare our gun crime rate—gun crime deaths, let's say—to Great Britain, where our- our legal forefathers came from, right? We have the same amount of gun crime as they have in a year—not gun crime, let's say gun deaths—in a year, we do it every day. One day, the United States. And by the way, it would be a really good day, where we would equal or surpass a year of gun deaths in Great Britain. And so there's- I don't know President Biden's quote, but I know he feels passionately about this, that we have to do everything we can to drive down violent crime with our state and local law enforcement partners, which we are, but we- we have to do more. We're- we- this level of gun crime is not acceptable, to him, to me, to the cops I work with, to the agents, it should not be acceptable to the American people. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because that statement that, you know, violent crime is down. A lot of people don't feel that way, certainly.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Well, I look at- look, I mean, data doesn't lie. 


DIR. DETTELBACH: Violent crime is down. But I just think the bigger issue that we're facing as a country is what can we do to try to tackle violent crime in the long run, and especially violent crime committed with firearms, which we are way, way out of step with so many of our peer nations. And this is a problem that is unique here. And it's a problem that we have to work on together here to come up with solutions so we can move forward. So- so that is, I think, that's where I am on this.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Why do you think it's so unique?

DIR. DETTELBACH: I mean, one of the- the things that you learn in this job is that every time somebody suggests some cause or some cure, the first thing somebody else says is, well, that's not the problem, that won't solve the problem. Right? Well, I think we're- we're looking at this through the wrong lens. The test isn't whether any one thing to answer your question is going to solve the problem or is the only driver, right, the test for whether we do something should be two to me. Number one, is  it legal? Number two, will it help save lives? Something that is legal and will help save lives, we should be strongly considering, even if it's not going to solve the whole problem. It took us a long time to get here. So to me, is- is- is it a problem that we have people out there who are just really violent people, who are driving the shooting cycle who we need to get out of the community? Yes. Right, is it a problem that those same people, who everybody agrees, and the law says, shouldn't get guns, can easily get guns, maybe more easily than ever in the history of this nation? Yes. Is there a mental health problem in this country? Yes. Is- this- is there a problem with- with giving kids alternatives so that they don't, at younger and younger ages, like we're seeing, engage in these violent acts? Yes. All of these things are problems, right? Only one, maybe one small part of it falls under ATF's world. But all of these things are problems. And we have to have, and we do have, a comprehensive strategy to try to combat violent crime, that is an all of the above approach.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So the President claims he's taken more executive actions to stop the flow of illegal guns than any other administration, but executive actions can be overturned easily by the next president, unless something is actually codified into the law, right? And you need Congress to do that. So is there any single request you would make to Congress now that would make a difference in the trend you're talking about?

DIR. DETTELBACH: So again, really, you know, people ask me, what's my top priority? What's my- what's my wish list? I think the reality is it's going to be a lot of things that we have to do to get out of this situation to make things better. And we've talked about some of them, right. One of the things the President's talked about repeatedly is the idea of making it harder for criminals to get guns. It's the idea of background checks, right, which stops every year, thousands and thousands of people from- from getting firearms. Now under the current law, we have background checks for a whole host of people. And by the way, not everybody's following that current law. So number one is being better at enforcing the current law, right. But number two is, if- if Congress wants to consider more on universal background checks, this is a program which has been shown to work. But again, I mentioned a whole list of things, help the people with- with mental help, state legislatures, not just Congress, are a huge part of this- of this equation. So state legislatures all around the country are considering various different measures. You know, as the head of ATF, you know, I think it's fair to say that for the agency, that is the only federal law enforcement agency that solely deals with violent crime, if you're really concerned about violent crime in the United States, this agency is way, way, way too small.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Five thousand people.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Five thousand people total. Twenty-five hundred agents. Let me give you a sort of a baseline. In one city, New York City, there are 36,000 police officers, right? Seventeen times the entire ATF agent corps for the entire country. If you want to ask New York, New York's- they're 36,000, I'm just over 30, to deal with gun crime in New York. So I mean, if there's no such thing as public safety on the cheap, you know, we have to support the police. And we have to support the federal agents that are out there risking their lives every day, running toward gunfire for total strangers.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So it sounds like one of the- your requests to Congress would be, give me more money to expand. But is there a way to use what you have now in a sharper way, in a more targeted way?

DIR. DETTELBACH: We have to do that, right. That's the name of the question that I have every day.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So you need more investigators? What do you need?

DIR. DETTELBACH: So- so what we're doing, let me tell you, if- if we don't get any more resources—the President's asked for more—if we don't, what we are doing to try and sharpen, as you said that. So- so number one, we use what's called crime gun intelligence, which is a fancy term, but basically, it applies to being able to follow the gun, to take a crime gun, right. So a crime gun, which is something that's involved with a crime, and squeeze every last bit of evidence and intel we can out of the thing that comes out the front of the gun, the bullet; the cartridge casing that's ejected out the back of the gun; the outside of the gun, things like the serial number; and the inside of the gun, the markings inside of the gun. And right now, we can do that better than we've ever been able to do before, to identify the shooters. That's the name of the game. And we sit in what's called crime gun intelligence centers, or CGICs, in 60 of them around the country—and we're standing up more—shoulder to shoulder with local cops and deputy sheriffs and troopers, taking that crime gun intelligence, using it to identify the worst of the worst, because that's where we have to focus, right? This many people commit crimes, right? This many are trigger pullers. So let's start with them. And then we have to make cases against them and remove them from the community. But we also, at the same time, have to, as I said, we have to slow down this easy flow of guns to them.


DIR. DETTELBACH: And so we're doing a lot of things with our current resources on that, too. We're improving our ability to inspect gun dealers. Most gun dealers are doing a good job. They're following the rules. There are a few that aren't. Those have to be held accountable. We are using our rulemaking authority to make sure that we're applying the laws that Congress has already passed to current situations as people try to get around the law, sometimes misusing technology. We're forming new- an emerging threats unit here at ATF. We do outreach. I went to the SHOT Show to talk with the regulated communities about things we can do together. We're working on a campaign called, "Don't Lie for the Other Guy", which tries to discourage straw purchasing. We're taking Congress's Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and we've prosecuted hundreds of people under the new statute. So I don't want to go on too much--


MARGARET BRENNAN: I want to ask you more (unintelligible)--

DIR. DETTELBACH: There's a laundry list of things we're already doing to try and do better.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The ATF is prohibited by law from creating a centralized database of registered gun owners. So that means there are actual physical records that have to be sorted through, right? How big of an impediment is that to actually stopping gun traffickers?

DIR. DETTELBACH: So this relates to the tracing process. So one of these areas of crime gun intelligence, which is so important, Margaret, is tracing crime guns. This happened in Highland Park, in the July 4 massacre, right? Firearm serial numbers put in. We- we have to run the trace, we run an urgent trace and get back to the police. In just a matter of hours, the identity of the person who purchased that firearm, they catch the person before they kill again, maybe in Madison, or wherever they were at. Okay, how does that really happen in real life? The way it doesn't happen is we punch in a person's name. And up comes oh, they own so many guns. Congress has prohibited us from doing that. So instead, we have a system of records where we can- we have to go through those records. Every year, we probably get in- First of all, we don't have the all the records, the gun dealers keep the records, most of them. If they go out of business, they send them to us, millions and millions a month. And we have to keep them in- I- I'm the only customer, ATF is of Adobe Acrobat, we pay somebody to take out search function, to remove search function that other customers have to in order to comply with the congressional notion that there can't be a gun registry, the law that there can't be a gun registry in the United States. It's not a notion, it's a law, and we comply with it. That- that means that we have to work within that system. That means we have more people there pouring through records. That means for- for instance, for what we call a normal trace, that's right now we're running about an eight day lag. Right? And that's, that's if- there's an urgent trace, we try to do it quicker-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- Sorry just to be clear. So a crime is committed it takes at least eight days to trace back who that gun could have been registered to because there is no-- 

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Well there's no registering. It's who bought the gun. It's- we don't have a gun registry. 


MARGARET BRENNAN: -- Right. I understand that-- 

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Congress has outlawed that. So, so what we're checking is-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The eight-day lag-- 

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Right, the eight day lag is to find out sometimes who the initial purchaser was, right, of the firearm. Then by the way, once we find out who the initial purchaser was, that may or may not be the person who committed the crime, we have to do an old fashioned investigation, go to them, find out what they did with it, who they are. So this is an investigative, intensive process that we work on with state and local law enforcement every day. And you're right, these are pending cases out there with active leads and real homicide detectives that we've worked with every day in these Crime Gun Intelligence Centers together to try and solve these cases. So we're involved, they're involved, and we work with- within the law as best we can, with our resources to turn these things around. Last year, we did 645,000 traces at ATF.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So much of the argument that we have been seeing in the press happen at the Supreme Court this week in regard to bump stocks has been about whether or not your agency has the regulatory authority to write a rule on them in the first place. Why weren't bump stocks addressed at all in this 2022 law that President Biden signed, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act? 

DIR. DETTELBACH: Well, that I don't know. I wasn't even confirmed an ATF director when that law passed. But the idea I mean- our position which we stated before the Supreme Court, is that the bump stock is covered under the rule that was promulgated, not in this administration, in the last administration, which interpreted something called the National Firearms Act. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: But why didn't the Biden administration seek to put into the law, you work for the Biden administration, so why didn't the Biden administration seek to do that?

DIR. DETTELBACH: I'm not sure that whether or not that happened, I wasn't part- I wasn't there so–

MARGARET BRENNAN: Was this just a blind spot that it would be a problem? 

DIR. DETTELBACH: No. I mean, there was, first of all, there was a- there was a provision in the ATF's rule that dealt with this, and this is a- we have a broader issue, right, with- with machine guns in this country that I will tell you is returning. You asked me about things that I think are really concerning for public safety. It's not just bump stocks, right? All over the streets of the United States, every police chief tells me that the pounding sort of jackhammer-like sound of machine-gun fire is returning to our streets, and bump stocks is one, I'll show you another, right. So this little piece of plastic, this little piece of plastic, which can be made on a 3D printer that costs $170. In about 45 minutes, this little piece of plastic is a machine gun. This is every bit as dangerous and covered as a tommy gun. Right? It goes into an AR, drops right in, it's called the auto sear drops right into the AR, and turns it into a fully automatic weapon to operate the trigger one time and the gun keeps firing. And we're seeing police officers, we're seeing civilians be hurt by these things. So this case is before the Supreme Court. You know, it's pending, so I don't know how much I can talk about it. But the issue of bump- is more than bump stocks. It's about the fact that when Congress passed that law, back in the- in the 30s, and then and then-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- To outlaw machine guns?

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Right to outlaw machine guns, right, and then regulated them. And then in the 80s, it outlawed all new machine guns. Right, except for law enforcement and the military. You know, they wrote that law understanding that people would be converting- try to get around the law, there's an actual specific provision that says if items that are designed to convert a semi-automatic weapon into an automatic weapon, right, those items are machine guns. That's why this whether or not it's in an AR is a machine gun, right. And so our position before the Supreme Court, you know, there's pages and pages and briefs and briefs on this, but our position and the Supreme Court will decide this, is that Congress in the 1930s, well understood the problem of automatic weapon fire, well understood that there would be different mechanisms or functions that would be used to produce automatic weapon fire. And they wrote the statute to allow covering those things. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: So this is very technical, but you're referring to the change after the 2017 Las Vegas massacre that the Trump Department of Justice put in place to restrict bump stock access, because it essentially said the argument you're making, that it converts guns into effective machine guns. But the argument is all about whether or not this agency can regulate this, right? One of the things that stood out in the hearing was Justice Gorsuch discussed that since bump stocks were legal before 2018, and that regulation, as many as 500,000 people could be convicted of felonies, face jail time or lose the right to vote. Is that fear misplaced? 

DIR. DETTELBACH: Yes. And I think it was answered- I'll stand on what was at the oral argument, but the notion that people who possessed bumped stocks prior to the rule being issued under Attorney General Sessions and Barr, that the notion that those people are somehow going to be retroactively, you know, prosecuted before they issued the rule, I think the Solicitor General said, that's just not going to happen, right? And we at ATF, we have a lot of public safety concerns to worry about. There's no way that we're going to go back and during a period of time before the rule was issued, six years ago now- seven years ago, prosecute people for possessing these firearms.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because there was a case in 2019, where a Texas federal grand jury indicted someone, but then the charges were dropped. You're saying, this is-- 

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- Before my time, I don't know what happened. But I know what's going to happen going forward, which is we're not going to go back-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: -- That's not your-- 

DIR. DETTELBACH: -- And the solicitor general said that. The solicitor general clearly said that, so I'll stand- I'll stick with his statement before the Supreme Court, you don't have to listen to me, listen to the Solicitor General who argued the case. You know, what he said, I think, was pretty clear.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So if people have bump stocks, it's not that they're going to be blocked from the right to vote, as Justice Gorsuch raised.

DIR. DETTELBACH: No, no, no. I don't think, to be fair to Justice Gorsuch, I don't think that's what he said. I think he what he said is if people are convicted of felonies–


MARGARET BRENNAN: Right, related to bump stocks.

DR. DETTELBACH: So they have to be convicted of a felony? 


DR. DETTELBACH: People who are convicted of felonies–


DR. DETTELBACH: What I can tell you is what the Solicitor General said, which is that there's not any notion that people who- who possess these items prior to the rule being issued, could or would be prosecuted.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I think clarifying that's important. Because not everyone at home follows the Supreme Court argument on the regulations here – 


DIR. DETTELBACH: No, I know, I know. But what I want people– what I want people to remember at home is that this debate that we heard is about more than bump stocks. It's about these, these, these all these different products, which are being used to turn semi-automatic weapons into machine guns. And if you had asked most police chiefs, or most agents who are running towards this gunfire, it's a very dangerous situation for them too, whether 10 years ago, they thought this was even a possibility, 15 years ago. They'd have said no, machine guns went the way of Al Capone and the tommy gun. Unfortunately, technology can be used for good and technology can be used for bad, right. And what I want people to understand is we at ATF are doing everything we can within the law, to try and protect them under the laws we have from these unlawful machine guns. Now, if somebody wants to pass additional laws, we'll take those. And we'll squeeze every last bit of public safety we have out of them just like we have with the things that were in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. But you know, it is on Congress to take these actions. And as you said, President Biden has said, we have taken many, many executive actions, and we find ourselves in the place where people say, Oh, no, you're doing too much. That's too much executive action, then you asked me, Well, you didn't do enough, right, or people say that. So to me, we live in the space where we have to objectively look at the laws that Congress has passed. 


DIR. DETTELBACH: And take actions within those laws, and then leave it for Congress and the American people to decide if we need more.

MARGARET BRENNAN: The little green knub. Is that illegal? 


MARGARET BRENNAN: Do you need Congress to write a law specific to these innovations?

DIR. DETTELBACH: To that one? No. I mean, unless somebody that's what- that's what ATF believes now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: That's your interpretation of existing regulation. 

DIR. DETTELBACH: Correct. And I don't- I haven't heard people pressing back on that. But I have learned in this atmosphere that, you know, yesterday's consensus item is tomorrow's controversy sometimes. But I will tell you that, you know, the problem with those items, right? Is that, look at them, right? It's tiny. It doesn't look like anything, it sort of looks like one of those things you put over your closet to hang clothes on. Right? And they're- and they're. You can make them on your own. And they're flooding in these conversion devices. Some are called Glock switches. Some are called auto sears. They're flooding in from China. They're being used on 3D printers. So there's a real problem with having enough resources and enough education to keep up with this bad technology and catch these folks.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And it's not metal, so it wouldn't set off a metal detector. 

DIR. DETTELBACH: That one's not metal. Right. There's other ones- they come in- all these devices are so many different ones, force reset triggers. They come in different names, different configurations are all designed to do one thing, which is to convert a legal semi-automatic weapon into an unlawful machine gun.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because it's profitable.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Well, people do it for whatever reason, it doesn't really matter to me, it's not allowed.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Is there any justification for needing to be able to make that conversion?

DIR. DETTELBACH: Well, the law says that you can't do it. So Congress is- how you don't need to take my word for it. 


DIR. DETTELBACH: Congress has said you cannot possess a new machine gun unless you have, you know, you're in law enforcement or the military.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, the Brady campaign said that those were intentionally created to circumvent re- restrictions, arguably for profit, right? But I'm gonna ask you about ghost guns. So the administration has tried to cut back on these guns that are, as I understand, virtually untraceable. That's why they're called ghost guns. The ATF did issue a 2022 ruling that the kits people can buy at a store should and do qualify as firearms, that they should have serial numbers. But then you had this California judge say this past week that that definition doesn't go far enough. How are you planning to respond to that legal challenge?

DIR. DETTELBACH: Well, so- so we have a lot of legal challenges on ghost guns and including a petition before the Supreme Court, the courts will eventually decide this. ATF finds itself in sort of the same space I described before. Right? There's a group of judges and people who say, Oh, this law goes too far. It goes beyond what you were allowed to do, and we're going to vacate it. Right. There's a court that says that right. Then there's another court, says this law doesn't go far enough. You should have gone- this- not law, this rule doesn't go far enough. It should have gone further. Right?  

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well that's what the California court said, in this particular case.

DIR. DETTELBACH: So the courts have to sort that out. What we do at ATF, we do at the Department of Justice, and sometimes it doesn't satisfy anybody on either side, is we- we look at the statute, right here it was about things that are readily convertible to being operable weapons, right? So- and we- we have firearms experts that have spent their whole lives studying the operation of firearms, they're the best in the world. We try to make that determination based upon each individual situation, the facts and circumstances. We, if somebody wants to know whether a certain thing qualifies, they can write us a letter, we will write them back a letter examining they send us the item, we examine it, and then the courts will decide, in the end, what different judicial opinions, where this sort of thing lands. But we- we feel very strongly, and we've said this in court that we believe that the rule that was promulgated in 2022 was a- was a lawful way under the Gun Control Act of 1968, to make sure that everybody's playing by the same set of rules. So if I sell you a traditional firearm, right, there has to be a background check, has to be a serial number. If I'm engaged in the business, that is, if I'm a gun dealer, right, it has to be a background check, it has to be a serial number if I'm engaged in that business for profit.

MARGARET BRENNAN: It doesn't exist with ghost guns.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Ghost guns - right. They're, they're, you know, readily- and these are items if they're readily convertible to being a firearm, Congress thought of that. They said in the law "items that are readily convertible." Right? Now- Now I get it. There's a debate as to how much what's how close you have to get before it's readily convertible, we look at those things. And we've made determinations, for instance, we've- we've written determinations that certain kinds of frames for- for handguns, you know on their own, are readily convertible to being firearms. I made, by the way, one of these guns- and my wife will tell you I can't screw in a light bulb, right? But I made one of those hand guns out of the kit, went down to the range, shot it, shoots just like a traditional firearm, it can wound just like a traditional firearm, it can kill just like a traditional firearm. You said it. It's a ghost gun because it's cold, and that means that criminals love it. Because it can't be traced– 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Because you can't detect it at the federal level. Because there's no serial number.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Because yeah, you can't trace it. And- and- and, you know, and there's- if it's sold at a kit by somebody who's not a FFL, not a federally licensed firearms dealer, there's no background check. It's a huge problem. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who's selling them? 

DIR. DETTELBACH: Well, we hope under the rule, which is in effect, fewer people than before. And so, you know, people are out there still selling things that are readily convertible firearms under the rule, right? We're- we're investigating and bringing those cases. We see, look, I mean, in terms of privately made firearms, we have search warrants we do in gang cases, where it's not even just selling them, right, where they set up a little manufacturing business, to not just make them for myself, but give them to my colleagues, my cohorts, my co-conspirators. And-and they'll be sitting there in somebody's garage in Jersey, and there'll be, you know, a key of cocaine, you know, a bunch of- and a little shop. It's like a new position in a gang. Now as an armorer, I'm the one who makes the guns for the gang, right, to distribute to the gang, right? I mean, so these are real problems that law enforcement is- is facing every single day that communities are facing and we're trying to do, with the tools we have, everything we can to get ahead of it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: In terms of tools you have. So the undetectable Firearms Act, so that's meant to keep these ghost guns off the street, is set to expire in less than a month.

DIR. DETTELBACH: So the Undetectable Firearms Act, which was originally enacted in the 80s as a counterterrorism measure, right, it's- it's- it's meant actually to keep firearms out of courthouses, and airplanes, and airports, and stadiums, and federal buildings, and all Congress, and the Supreme Court, all these places, right. Because it's the law that says that you have to have in your- if you're a gun manufacturer, you have a certain amount of metal in there, so when it goes through the magnetometer or the machine, it will set it off, right. This law has been on the books, it's been a widely bipartisan measure that every time it's set to expire, it is reauthorized either by voice vote or by unanimous consent. And it is our fervent hope and expectation that Congress will- will do what needs to be done to protect the American people, and will reauthorize it again, and that's what we expect will happen. That's what I hope will happen. I think that's what we'll have.

MARGARET BRENNAN: And if they don't, that means walking into a concert, some kind of game, political rally gets a lot more dangerous.

DIR. DETTELBACH: If they don't, it means that people, if they want to, and companies, if they want to, can start manufacturing these items, not just as privately made firearms, but they can start rolling off the assembly line, right, in larger numbers, they'll be lawful products. And I just don't think anybody who flies, anybody who likes to go to a sporting game, anybody who sends their kids to a school, anybody, basically anybody wants that.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Well, there is a bipartisan effort to renew it. Do you have any timeline like it- it's hard for Congress to get a lot done these days.


MARGARET BRENNAN: On this one, are you confident they will?

DIR. DETTELBACH: I'm hopeful that they will. It's up to them. I mean, I don't, you know, I'm not getting, you know, I- the members that I've talked to about this seem to be supportive. But, you know, it really is a job for Congress to do. We've been very clear. I mean, I think the President actually said, you know, in an executive order, this is one of the priorities. So making sure that this was- that this provision didn't disappear. And as I said, I mean, I have- I have hope that this is something that everybody can agree on. It's a counterterrorism measure, and we can get this done. I really do.

MARGARET BRENNAN: So for- for a lot of people at home, they are horrified when it comes to their own children, whatever their view on guns are, they want their kids to be safe. How do Americans protect their children against gun violence in this environment?

DIR. DETTELBACH: I'm a parent, we were talking about that and I've raised two children and I think about this, too. I mean, look, I philosophically think a couple of things, Margaret. First of all, you know, I think the temperature on this issue is way, way, way too high. And it- and I understand why it is, because as you say, this is our kids, right. The leading cause of death of children in the United States is firearms violence, right. Not cancer, not cars. Guns.

MARGARET BRENNAN: This is kids and teenagers.

DIR. DETTELBACH: Right. So- so- so I mean, and on the other hand, people have very passionate feelings about their Second Amendment rights, right. I sat in a room in Lewiston, Maine, last week with families and survivors of the mass shooting that happened in Lewiston a couple of months ago. And there were people in that room, first of all, tremendous grief, unspeakable frustration and anger. There were people in that room who had really different views on these sort of policy questions, right. Everything from how can somebody get a weapon like this in this country, to- to, you know, the solution is not the weapons, and we're not teaching respect, you know, among our young people, but- but I really value my weapons in the same room, weeks after they've lost a brother or a father or been shot themselves, right. Those people were able to sit in that room with all that grief and have a discussion. Tell me what they- what they- their feelings, differing feelings about how we should approach this problem. And they all had ideas. And they, I asked them what I could do, and they said, you can tell them this: what happened here? And I guess my question for the rest of the American people was, and I think this is President Biden's question too, if those people in that grief can disagree with each other, but still sit and have a conversation in a civilized way, what is the excuse for the other 350 million of us not to be able to do that? We owe it to those people to try to get what we can agree on done. That's it. You know, and it doesn't mean you're surrendering your passionate views, you can keep your passionate views. As you can tell, I have passionate views that can't get in the way of agree of the things we agree on getting done. And that is my, you know, in approaching this problem and speaking as a parent about our future of our country, right, we have to be able, as Americans, to not just always begin and end everything with my. My views, my opinions, my rights, my business, my agenda, my whatever it is. That's important. This is America, but this is our country. And eventually, we've got to sit in the same room and talk these things through and get something done to improve things. And that is my message to the parents of this country. You know, having views is part of our history. But getting to solutions, at our greatest, in this country, we have always been able to do that, always been able to get past the disagreement and come to some improvement.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I want you to clarify something, if you would. So there's this claim that's apparently gone viral online that the ATF has changed policies and made it easier for people who enter this country illegally to purchase firearms and that is being linked to a recent death in the state of Georgia. Can you explain what the ATF policy actually is? Because an ATF spokesperson did say there are limited exceptions for people who are here illegally to buy firearms. What does that mean? 

DIR. DETTELBACH: No, so I don't know, I'm not familiar with the ATF statement. I'm not familiar with the online virality, the viral thing that's happened, I'm familiar with the law. Right. And the law has not changed. Nor has ATF policy changed at all on this. And so, so in order to purchase a firearm, right, an American citizen, so long as they're not otherwise prohibited, or a green card holder, right, or, you know, basically somebody here on a non immigrant visa, right. But I'm not gonna go through every part of the statute, the statute sets that out, nothing has changed. Nothing is changing on that front. So I don't-- I can't, it's hard for me to respond to- I think I saw one thing out there that the AP had sort of fact check--


DIR. DETTELBACH: --I read that article and said it was false. 


DIR. DETTELBACH: The AP is correct. It is false. There's been no change. The law is the law remains the law.

MARGARET BRENNAN: I'm being told we need to wrap this up. But I do want to ask you about Alabama. And what just happened there because you have firearms and you have explosives under your purview here. Last Saturday, the Alabama Attorney General said he wouldn't prosecute IVF providers or families, and then an explosive was detonated outside of his office. Do you have any insight into whether this was an individual, whether this was a group what happened?  

DIR. DETTELBACH: So this is a pending investigation. We were among the agencies that had been responding in part of it. I don't think we're the lead, but we're part of it. So I'm not going to comment on that. But I am going to say something about the general nature of this kind of activity. Attorney General Garland has said and I agree these events where there's violence taken against public officials or threatened against public officials are growing. We have a system in this country to resolve our disputes. We have open debate, we have the First Amendment, we have elections. We have legislatures, we have courts. Violence is not ever the solution, nor is it allowed under law. And I think I can't condemn strongly enough or tell you if we catch the people who do these things? They better be ready to go to jail.

MARGARET BRENNAN: When you say people, do you mean to say it's a group of people? 



DIR. DETTELBACH: I'm not commenting-- 

MARGARET BRENNAN: --sophisticated this was--

DIR. DETTELBACH: --at all I'm saying the people in this country who have done thousands of these kinds of, of unlawful events over, over the time, and it seems to be growing. If you're out there thinking about taking the law into your own hands and using violence, you better pack your toothbrush. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: You're worried about this in the upcoming year.

DIR. DETTELBACH: I'm worried about it in general. It's been going on-- 


DIR. DETTELBACH: --for quite some time. It's been growing and growing and growing. I think as Americans, again, this goes exactly to the other extreme of what I said, I'm talking about being able to talk together more civilly and get to some solutions. For crying out loud, you can't exercise violence, because you just happen to believe that you're right, even if you believe it a lot. Right? That's just not allowed. And we will catch if we can, investigate, work with our partners and prosecute those cases.  

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