White House officials, frustrated by their inability to pass even minimal changes to gun laws in a Congress narrowly controlled by Democrats, say they have acted more forcefully than Mr. Biden’s recent predecessors. They point to their decision to offer up a second nominee to A.T.F. instead of leaving a career official in charge — after acknowledging that they had mishandled Mr. Chipman’s nomination — as proof of their commitment.
Mr. Chipman, a fiery former bureau agent who had vowed to take on the gun lobby, stepped aside in September after Senator Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, expressed opposition to Mr. Chipman following a pressure campaign from gun owners in his state and national groups.
Mr. Dettelbach, who served from 2009 to 2016 as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, which includes Cleveland, Toledo and Akron, seems to be a less polarizing figure. He is known for criminal prosecutions, hate crime cases and voting rights investigations.
In early 2021, he said he was “interested” in leaving his post at a white-shoe law firm to reclaim his old job. Officials in the Biden administration also discussed whether Mr. Dettelbach should oversee the Justice Department’s civil division, which defends administration policies in court, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Dettelbach, a Democrat, has never run a national law enforcement organization and has never worked at the A.T.F. Rank-and-file agents respect and like the agency’s acting head, Marvin Richardson, according to multiple people who work with the bureau.
If confirmed, Mr. Dettelbach would become only the second permanent director in the past 15 years of the A.T.F., an undersized and underfunded agency hamstrung by the gun lobby and congressional Republicans. On Sunday, White House officials described him as an uncontroversial nominee who had been confirmed unanimously as a U.S. attorney.
During an unsuccessful bid for Ohio attorney general in 2018, Mr. Dettelbach, a Harvard graduate who began his career in the Justice Department’s civil rights division under President Bill Clinton, supported an assault weapons ban, universal background checks and tighter restrictions on gun buyers with mental health issues.