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“We Must Operate Within the Limits of the System,” Says ATF Director Steven Dettelbach in Absence of Federal Gun Registry.

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Washington — Steven Dettelbach, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Sunday that without a federal gun registry, the agency has to go through a “system of records” to trace crime guns.

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

The ATF is prohibited by federal law from creating a centralized database of registered gun owners. Instead, they must sort through a system of records, of which they are sent millions per month, according to Dettelbach.

The director said tracing crime guns is one of the areas of intelligence that is “so important.” But the process isn’t especially straightforward.


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Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms director Steven Dettelbach on “Face the Nation,” March 3, 2024.

CBS News

“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 said that the agency pays to have the search function taken out of their software, explaining that the function that other customers use must be removed in order to comply with U.S. law.

Instead, the ATF works to find the initial purchaser of the firearm through its system of records, before being able to confirm whether they or someone else committed the crime.

“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.”

Dettelbach said that as the only federal law enforcement agency to solely deal with violent crime, “if you’re really concerned about violent crime in the United States, this agency is way, way, way too small” with 5,000 people total.

Still, despite the cumbersome process and size of the agency, Dettelbach said that last year, the ATF did 645,000 traces, noting that “we work within the law as best we can with our resources to turn these things around.”

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Aging on the Job: The Human Realities of Biden, Trump, and Dr. Bob

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In a small town in Minnesota, Dr. Bob Ross, aged 75, was the go-to expert on the challenges of aging. He had been a trusted physician in Ortonville for nearly five decades, caring for generations of residents as they navigated the complexities of growing old in America. His days were filled with consultations with elderly patients, addressing a range of issues from arthritis to cognitive decline.

As he tended to his patients, Dr. Bob couldn’t help but notice the parallels between their struggles and those of the country’s two leading presidential candidates, Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Both men, in their 70s and 80s, were vying for the highest office in the land, facing questions about their health and cognitive abilities.

Dr. Bob’s interactions with his patients highlighted the human realities of aging. From sore knees to memory loss, he witnessed the myriad ways in which the body and mind deteriorated with time. Despite his own struggles with aging, including hearing loss and hand weakness, he continued to work tirelessly, finding purpose and fulfillment in caring for his community.

As Dr. Bob grappled with the challenges of aging, he also faced the difficult task of confronting his own mortality. With a family history marked by tragedy and loss, he was acutely aware of the fragility of life. Yet, he approached each day with determination and resilience, determined to make the most of his remaining years.

The aging process, Dr. Bob knew, was relentless. It brought with it a host of physical and cognitive challenges, from memory loss to reduced mobility. Yet, he believed in facing these challenges head-on, preparing for the inevitable decline while also embracing the joys and opportunities that each day brought.

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Dr. Bob’s commitment to his patients and his community was unwavering, even as he grappled with his own aging process. As he navigated the complexities of growing old, he found solace in the knowledge that he had lived a life of purpose and meaning, touching the lives of countless individuals along the way.

Erin Schaff contributed reporting.

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