L.A. Police Chief: Gun Limits Help Keep Crime Down

William Bratton, chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, talks about what Thursday's Supreme Court ruling could mean for other cities. He says the reason for those restrictions is to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and children.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

As we've heard, today's ruling will affect many cities including Chicago. Chicago has banned new handguns since 1982, and the city requires all existing guns to be re-registered every two years. Today, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley said he would defend the city's ban despite today's Supreme Court decision.

Mayor RICHARD DALEY (Chicago): We are concerned about - does this lead to everyone having a gun in our society? If they think that's the answer, then they're greatly mistaken. Then why don't we do away with the court system and go back the Old West - you have a gun and I had a gun and we'll settle on the streets - if that's their thinking. And to me, this is a very frightening decision for America.

SIEGEL: Mayor Daley went on to say that he had a responsibility to keep the city of Chicago safe.

We turn now to William Bratton, who is chief of the Los Angeles Police Department. He's also been a police chief in Boston and in New York City. Chief Bratton, welcome to the program.

Chief WILLIAM BRATTON (Los Angeles Police Department): It's a pleasure being with you.

SIEGEL: And what's your reaction to today's ruling? Do you share the concerns of the mayor of Chicago that this could lead to much greater gun violence in his city?

Chief BRATTON: Well, I think there is clearly a strong potential for that. I think most mayors and most police chiefs who are closest to this issue, in a sense of the impact of gun violence, see this as a weakening of our efforts to try and restore sanity to our cities and to this country.

SIEGEL: I want to ask you about one line of reasoning that Justice Scalia used and what you make of it as a law enforcement officer. He said that people have a right to own a gun to protect themselves in their own homes. And therefore, a gun control law that required somebody to put a lock on the gun or to disassemble the gun so that it wouldn't be readily used to protect oneself or one's family against an intruder, say, that those are too burdensome, restrictions of that sort.

Chief BRATTON: Well, I would quarrel with that from the position that we see all too often, that firearms are used both to take a life accidentally - I've got several very close friends here in Los Angeles whose children have taken their lives because they had access to a weapon that was not locked or secured. Suicide by firearm is an extraordinarily common event. So, the idea of requiring gun locks et cetera is - not only deal with the potential intrusion of a criminal, but also to protect innocents at home.

So I think the court in terms of - with that narrow interpretation, has not take into account what we - police chiefs, mayors, gun control advocates -would also trying to address.

SIEGEL: But what about the countervailing interest that Justice Scalia cites, which is that the gun is there for self-defense. Have you encountered many instances...

Chief BRATTON: I'm not all that sure that there's that many instances where that gun could or would be used appropriately. My experience being, quite frankly, over the years is that as often as not, it can be used against the individual, and a major problem that we have is guns stolen from homes that are then in the hands of criminals. So one of the features of a gun lock, or if they're secured in a safe, would preclude criminals from stealing them when they break into homes.

There is no clear-cut answer here, unfortunately. I'm not opposed to people having firearms in their homes, but I'd like to have those weapons registered so when the damn thing is stolen, I've got a footprint of that weapon and we're aware it's stolen. In California, we have countless weapons that are stolen that people, because they forget they have the weapon and don't even know that's gone or when it's stolen, they don't bother to report it to the police, so it just compounds our problems.

SIEGEL: One last point, cynics about gun control would remark that there are cities with very highly restrictive laws about who can have a gun and who can't have a gun and yet one can read, in some of those very cities, stories of gun violence and deaths by gunfire daily. On balance, how effective are these laws?

Chief BRATTON: Very effective. Very effective, in the sense that it'd even more horrific if they weren't regulated. In my city, Los Angeles, the most pernicious gang problem in America, that gang problem is still being significantly reduced. But the problem of accessibility to firearms compounds those abilities to reduce it even further.

So I have very strong gun regulations. New York City had very strong gun regulations. Washington had very strong gun regulations. Chicago has very strong gun regulations. If you look at the amount of crime in those cities, it is still down by 50, 60, 70 - in the case of New York City almost 80 percent, what it was in the early 1990s. A lot of that has to do with meaningful gun laws and the ability to regulate who has weapons and the punishments that can be meted out when they're used inappropriately.

We're never going to eliminate criminals, unfortunately. We're never going to eliminate criminals' access to firearms, but one of the things we are able to do with good laws, good sentencing and good policing is reduce the violence that's created by people who have access to guns.

SIEGEL: Chief Bratton, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

Chief BATTON: A pleasure talking with you.

SIEGEL: It's Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton.

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