After Las Vegas, Bill Bratton’s prescription doesn’t fit in a sound bite

While he is critical of Congress, Bratton said it is too easy to lay the blame solely at the foot of Capitol Hill.
While he is critical of Congress, Bratton said it is too easy to lay the blame solely at the foot of Capitol Hill.Bryan R. Smith/New York Times/File 2016

As one of the most sought-after security consultants on the planet, Bill Bratton found himself in Las Vegas the day after a guy with as much firepower as an infantry platoon rained death down on people from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

“It was just coincidence,” Bratton said as he headed down Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan, in a car being driven by Al Sweeney, who graduated from the Boston Police Academy with him 47 years ago.

Bratton has been doing security reviews for some of the casinos and had meetings in Vegas on Tuesday. He had dinner with an old friend, Joe Lombardo, the sheriff of Clark County who, through his regular press briefings, has become the official face of the Las Vegas massacre.


Bratton took the red-eye from Vegas to Boston on Thursday, to give a speech at Curry College, so I figured I’d ask someone who is a world leader on progressive policing what he made of what, for one more day at least, was the worst mass shooting in US history.

What Bratton said doesn’t fit into a sound bite. He has no panacea. And while he is critical of Congress, saying too many there are beholden to the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers, he said it is too easy to lay the blame solely at the foot of Capitol Hill.

He is surprisingly lukewarm on the need to restore the assault rifle ban, which expired in 2004. He said the ban was largely symbolic, and that manufacturers were able to circumvent it by making slight modifications.

“We have to focus on people,” Bratton said, “and I hate to say that, because it plays into the NRA position. But there’s nothing you can do about the stranglehold that the NRA and the gun industry has on Congress. Here in the Northeast, we are for the most part not part of a gun culture; we don’t see that.”


Bratton said the sad reality is that we are a nation with more guns than people.

“There are 350 million guns out there, and we can’t take them back,” he said. “We can improve registration. We can have a better handle on who has these guns. In terms of gun control, so much more could be done.”

Bratton remains committed to the idea that gun violence can be reduced, and that Congress can do more by investing more in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and by instructing federal officials and agencies to treat guns and shootings as a public health matter, not one solely of criminal justice.

But given the political reality in Congress, he thinks it’s imperative that state and local governments forge ahead with locally tailored efforts. Boston is not New York, which is not Los Angeles.

“With assault weapons, certain cities didn’t have problems. New York didn’t have problems, but Los Angeles and Atlanta did. That’s why I’ve spent time on laws at the local level, focusing on those who use the guns and sell the guns,” he said.

In the cities where Bratton headed departments — Boston, New York, and Los Angeles — the use of guns decreased, and not just among criminals. In New York, now headed by Bratton protege James O’Neill, they’re on pace for officers discharging their weapons 40 to 50 times this year. In the 1970s, police in New York fired their guns 900 to 1,000 times a year, Bratton said.


Bratton was amused to hear that Fox talk-show host Sean Hannity dismissed him as a leftist after Bratton criticized Congress’s cozy relationship with the gun industry and was quoted on MSNBC as saying mass shootings are the “new normal.”

The leftists who used to dog Bratton in New York City are probably amused, too.

Bratton’s take on what to do is not leftist talking points. It’s reality-based. Given his accomplishments in reducing crime in different places, I’d take his advice over Sean Hannity’s.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com