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White House To Announce Executive Action On Guns

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

President Obama says without Congress, there's not much he can do about gun violence in America. But later today, Obama will announce a few steps the White House believes he can take on his own. By executive action, the president will redefine what it means to be a gun dealer subject to regulation. And that will mean background checks for some buyers who are now exempt. Republicans are likely to fight all of this. Presidential candidate Marco Rubio said he would repeal the president's actions his first day in office. We're joined on the line by Bill Bratton, commissioner of the nation's largest police force in the nation's largest city - New York City. Commissioner, welcome back to the program.

BILL BRATTON: Good morning. Good to be with you.

GREENE: Let me ask you first, you know, the president's plan - we'll get the fine print later today, but based on what we know at this point, I mean - what kind of impact do you think it could have?

BRATTON: Minimal. Let's face it, absent Congress returning to some degree of sanity, these actions are peripheral to the issue. But every little bit helps. If we can keep a gun out of the hand of a person who shouldn't have it, well then that's one less potential Newtown, San Bernardino. So I applaud the effort, but I wouldn't think that it's going to have a significant impact on the issue.

GREENE: It seems significant that someone in your position would say that because the president is going to make this major announcement. But, you know, for you to say that Americans should not expect much to change from this seems important.

BRATTON: Well, the President himself - there's not much he can do, absent Congress joining with him, within his executive powers - which, I understand this is an executive action. He is going seek to use those powers to the fullest. Republicans are already on the campaign trail. Senator Rubio indicates his first action, first day - you know, the usual baloney we get from him. But no, I applaud the president's efforts at gun control. It's not abolition. We're not going to abolish guns in this country. But we need some gun control, even of the amount that the president is offering in this initiative. All of it is helpful. Again, all of us would like to not have these mass murders occurring every day.

GREENE: Let me ask you, if I can, commissioner, new figures out yesterday for your city - sounds like gun arrests up in 2015, over all major crime down. And, you know, opponents of gun control often say, look, the key is not new gun control at the federal level. It's about police just needing to enforce the laws. I mean, is New York City proving their point in a way?

BRATTON: No, actually it's a - what New York is trying to do is a delicate balancing act of trying to find those who are committing the crimes - who are doing the shootings and the murders in this city - and at the same time not interrupt the normal lives of the millions of other residents of the city. I think we have found that balance over the last couple of years, that crime continues to go down - it's been going down now for over 25 straight years here. And that's the trend. While we're up slightly with murders and robberies, shootings are down. Gun seizures are up. Stop, question and frisk activity is down to about 25,000 from about 600,000 at its peak back in 2010. So we estimate close to 1 million fewer law enforcement encounters by the New York City police officers with residents of the city while the city continues to get safer. And at the same time, incidents of gun violence in the city are going down. Our officers are being assaulted less and making fewer arrests for resisting arrest.

GREENE: Well, commissioner, forgive me for interrupting since we don't have too much time. I guess I just wonder, why does that not bolster the argument of people who oppose new gun control if they say, look, here's the nation's largest city, they're doing a good job enforcing the laws, they're bringing violence down; we don't need the federal government to, you know, add more gun control.

BRATTON: Because we're like a doctor looking at our patient, and every American city, every state is different. In New York, we're very fortunate - in New York City we're very fortunate that we have very significant gun laws. There are only 4,000 people out of 8.5 million that are licensed to carry a concealed firearm in the city. We regulate it very closely. So it's - there is no panacea, but it's a matter of trying to find the right combination of laws and enforcement action. We will be announcing later this month an initiative sponsored by our citizens' crime commission which they want - the idea of creation of gun courts in each of the five boroughs of the city that will expedite the handling of gun cases so that we can more quickly identify and put in prison those who use guns. Again, it's a constant effort to try to find additional medicines to apply to the problem.

GREENE: All right, using the doctor metaphor there. Commissioner Bratton, thank you so much, as always.

BRATTON: Pleasure being with you.

GREENE: That's Bill Bratton, the commissioner of the New York City Police Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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