President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steve Dettelbach speaks during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, April 11, 2022. Credit: Carolyn Kaster / AP

The BDN Opinion section operates independently and does not set newsroom policies or contribute to reporting or editing articles elsewhere in the newspaper or on bangordailynews.com.

Jonathan Sahrbeck is the Cumberland County District Attorney

During a single week in April,  three Maine communities were rocked by gun violence, including the shooting death of a man in Portland. Gun violence also struck Bangor and Lewiston days apart.

Gun violence is also a problem in rural parts of the state, including Washington County, which has seen a  spike in violent crime this year.

As district attorney in Cumberland County, I see the lives that are shattered when guns are used to commit a crime and understand the fear that can be created in the communities where those crimes occur.

That’s why I strongly support the  nomination of Steve Dettelbach as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and hope for his confirmation by the U.S. Senate.

Dettelbach is a former U.S. attorney and prosecutor who has earned  bipartisan support for his nomination based on his track record in Ohio, and has the backing of members of the  law enforcement community, including  Major County Sheriffs of America and  other prosecutors.

During his time as a prosecutor, Dettelbach has taken on violent criminal gangs, hate crimes and the KKK, church arson and gun violence. And while he’s worked to keep our streets safe, he’s also worked to support the victims of crime and the survivors of violence.

Dettelbach has worked closely with the ATF on high-profile investigations, and is the right person to lead the bureau as our country deals with an  increase in violent crime.

According to a new  report by the Council on Criminal Justice, the number of homicides in 2021 increased by 5 percent over 2020, while gun assaults were up by 8 percent.

The  ATF is the federal law enforcement agency within the Department of Justice that’s responsible for enforcing federal gun laws. The bureau also fights other types of violent crime, including domestic extremism, religious violence and arson.

Unfortunately, the political fight over gun safety reform and gun laws has placed the ATF in a perilous position. In 2006, the director’s position was changed to require Senate confirmation. Since then, only one person has been confirmed for the job and it’s been seven years since the bureau had a Senate-confirmed director.

While the people who have served the agency have worked hard, the instability and lack of a permanent director has undermined the ATF’s work to keep our communities safe.

The fight over the confirmation of the ATF director has become a proxy for issues that are really decided at the policy level by the White House, the Department of Justice and Congress. The job is too important to leave unfilled and this nominee unconfirmed. If the Senate wants to truly support law enforcement efforts and crack down on violent crime, they must act swiftly to confirm Dettelbach as director.

ATF needs a  strong, smart and tough leader, who will implement the law – as enacted by Congress.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives faces an enormous job that is difficult and dangerous. In the last five years, the bureau has traced  1.3 million guns that were used in crimes, helping local and state law enforcement agencies to solve crimes and take criminals off the streets.

In 2020, the ATF investigated more than  400 bombings and nearly 5,500 suspicious packages and just over  7,000 arson cases. The work that the bureau does is too important to be carried out without a Senate-confirmed director.

The ATF is a resource and a partner for law enforcement in Maine, including in Cumberland County, and around the country. Their agents assist local law enforcement agencies in tracing guns, tracking down illegal gun purchases, and in ballistics. Dettlebach has demonstrated that he is highly qualified and the leader that the bureau needs.

Overall in our state, communities are safe – we know that. Our crime rate is low and our neighborhoods are filled with people who care for and look after one another. But as we’ve been reminded recently, we are not immune from gun violence and gun crime. It’s critical that we have an ATF director who can help us meet the challenges of today. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins should protect our communities and support this law enforcement agency. They must vote to confirm Steve Dettlebach as director of ATF.