Mr. Bratton predicts that “the most successful focus is going to be on the licensing and background checks. Because that’s the heart of the problem—who gets access to the guns?” he says. “Clearly a large number of people who shouldn’t have firearms actually apply through the process and obtain firearms.” He also argues that Congress ought to confirm a permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for the first time since 2006.
But the gun reform that truly gets Mr. Bratton fired up is one you don’t hear much about these days. It is what he calls “certainty of punishment,” or stricter gun-crime sentences.
“People are out on the streets who should be in jail. Jail is appropriate for anyone who uses a gun in the commission of an act of violence. Some cities have a deplorable lack of attention to this issue,” he says, citing Philadelphia.
In Chicago, where the murder rate rose 16% last year, “to try to put someone in jail for gun-related activity you really have to go the extra mile,” he says. “If there’s one crime for which there has to be a certainty of punishment, it is gun violence.” He ticks off other places where help is needed: “Oakland, Chicago, D.C., Baltimore—all have gangs whose members have no capacity for caring about life and respect for life. Someone like that? Put ’em in jail. Get ’em off the streets. Keep people safe.
[When appointed NYC Police Commissioner] Mr. Bratton publicly promised to cut crime by 10% in his first year and 15% in his second. Privately he told Mr. Giuliani that crime would drop 40% in three years.
And down it went. In two years, murders fell 39%, robbery 31%, burglary 25% and car theft 36%. By 1998, two years after he left the job but with his programs firmly in place, murders had fallen 70%, robbery 55%, burglary 53% and car theft 61%.
Another innovation was the almost obsessive use of timely crime data to drive tactics and accountability. Police began questioning every person arrested with a gun about where, when and how it was obtained. Detectives were instructed to investigate all shootings as if they were murders.
All of this went on under a legal architecture that had existed for years, including a 1974 state gun-control law considered the strictest in the nation. The tide turned so dramatically only in 1994, says Mr. Bratton, because finally the police enforced the law “fairly, compassionately and consistently” across all neighborhoods.
… Another part of the anti-violence solution was the 1968 Supreme Court ruling Terry v. Ohio, which held that a police officer is allowed to stop, question and frisk a person on the street if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. “Stop-and-frisk” became a central feature of policing—and now, in a transformed New York two decades later, it has become a matter of controversy. Liberals want it banned.
Critics of stop-and-frisk argue that it discriminates against blacks and Hispanics, who are the subjects of a majority of stops. Proponents say this simply reflects the demographic realities of crime. Although blacks make up only 23% of New York’s population, for example, they accounted for more than 60% of all murder victims in 2011 and committed some 80% of all shootings. The issue is now in the federal courts, where for the first time a judge last week ruled a part of the program unconstitutional.