How DiFi’s Past Shapes the Ban on Assault Weapons


Dianne Feinstein, who says she will introduce a renewal of the federal ban on assault weapons when the U.S. Senate reconvenes in 2013, has a long, personal and painful relationship with guns.

She became mayor of San Francisco in the wake of the November 1978 murders of George Moscone and Harvey Milk by Dan White. She was, as her most famous TV spot once proclaimed, “forged in tragedy.” In fact, as described in the (ahem) definitive biography of her, “Dianne Feinstein: Never Let Them See You Cry:”

Hearing the first shot, she thought that White had killed himself. But the firing didn’t stop and, besides, there was Dan, coming out of his office, “whipping by and out the door.”

Ninety seconds had passed since he shot the mayor.

Dianne rose as if in slow motion. She tried to force her mind and body to work together, her head thick with dread and confusion as she forced herself up from her desk and looked down the hall and saw all the doors along the narrow hallway closed.

She pushed open the door of White’s office, which was pinned shut by the body of Harvey Milk. She saw him splayed on his stomach, blood and brain matter splattered on the wall.

The daughter and widow of doctors, she instinctively reached to find a pulse. Her fingers slipped into a bullet hole.

A few years ago, in a speech on the Senate floor during debate over another weapons measure, Feinstein recalled another incident she experienced in San Francisco – one she often used to retell on the campaign trail:

I believe passionately about this. I will never forget, many years ago, before I was mayor, walking into the robbery of a corner grocery store. When people die of gunshot wounds, it is not the way it is on television or in the movies. I saw brain matter all over the walls. I saw the husband, a proprietor, the wife, a proprietor. This individual who came in even shot the dog. People are capable of terrible criminality. We should not encourage that criminality by making their access to weapons so very easy. 

After a gunman, wielding an automatic weapon killed eight people and wounded six in an office building at 101 California St. in July 1993 in San Francisco, Feinstein led the charge for a federal ban on assault weapons – a ban that lasted 10 years and expired in 2004. (BTW, since the expiration of the gun ban in 2004, the number of shootings per year has doubled, and the number of victims per year has nearly tripled.)

“Are we helpless in the face of these horrible tragedies, doomed to witness these scenes of carnage again and again?” Feinstein asked at the time – a question echoed by President Obama at Sunday evening’s memorial service in Newtown, Conn., where he said:

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage?

Now, Feinstein says, “As a first day bill, I’m going to introduce in the Senate and the same bill will be introduced in the House. A bill to ban on assault weapons.

“It will ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession. Not retroactively but prospectively. And it will ban the same for big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets. So there will be a bill,” Feinstein added. “We’ve been working on it now for a year. We’ve tried to take my bill from ’94 to 2004 and perfect it. We believe we have. We exempt over 900 specific weapons that will not fall under the bill. But the purpose of this bill is to get just what [NY] Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg said, weapons of war, off the streets of our cities.”

The only people who oppose banning military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 used in Newtown are either a) part of the gun-manufacturing lobby or b) nuts. Home self-defense, hunting and target shooting do not require battlefield weapons.

Of course, a federal ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines will not end mass murders. Of course, curing society of the kind of mental illness that leads a sociopath to slaughter a classroom full of innocent children is no quick fix. Of course, no single law is a panacea to an epidemic of gun violence.

But neither can these facts be allowed to become excuses for inaction to address the issue one step at a time, in ways that will reduce easy access to wartime weapons.

President Obama’s moving speech in Newtown – one of the finest of all time – will be remembered as hollow oratory unless he and Congress take steps toward limiting civilian access to assault weapons.

No matter the politics. And for this, Feinstein’s painful memories are a searing reminder of what must be done.

subscribe to comments RSS

There are 25 comments for this post

  1. avatar sqrjn says:

    Emotional appeal, bogus stats, technical ignorance of guns check check check. You guys hit all the highlights. Why can’t a sane person disagree with you when you concede that the measures you want to take will be ineffective?

  2. avatar RobertJMolnar says:

    AR-15’s are .223 caliber rifles. They are not “machine guns”, or “assault weapons”, or “military-style”…..its just a rifle. My family owns two of these .223 caliber rifles. along with a shotgun and another .270 bolt action hunting rifle. I use these rifles and shotguns for hunting (can use a .223 for small game up to a decent size wild boar with proper grain ammunition and well placed aim), for target shooting, and for competition shooting (you know, where a bunch of people take turns going through a target course).

    I am neither the gun lobby, nor “nuts”.

    So, with that said, and trying to be respectful of your, ahem, opinion….Drop the boring simpleton anti-2nd amendment rhetoric and the faux outrage, and please drop the disgusting political posturing and exploitation of a tragic circumstance, and discuss the facts of the matter.

    There is a place in law for tighter restrictions as to mental health challenged gun ownership. I’m willing to discuss that fact.

    I do admit to enjoying the hypocrisy you put forth…..you want drugs to be legal, you want open borders, you want government to be bigger, you want organized labor to be stronger, you want to take more private property to pay for all of these “freedoms”, yet you want this government and supporting society to ban and confiscate the 2nd amendment.

    Wild utopia you all dream about.

  3. avatar Noozeyeguy says:

    I’ll have to echo the above posting. An outright ban on “weapons of war” would have been highly effective had it been passed in 1934, not 1994 (or 2014). Instead the National Firearms Act of that year provided for Federal registration and a hefty excise tax for ownership of certain classes of weapons, primarily fully-automatic and concealable long guns. As the Supreme Court pointed out in Haynes v. United States (1968), the registration requirement was unenforceable owing to the 5th Amendment’s protection against self-incrimination. Nothing has changed since then; those that fear government restriction of their firearms (for whatever reason) will simply continue to ignore the law. As one poster on a BBS I frequent boasts, “My assault rifle isn’t illegal, it’s undocumented.”

    That said, I think we need to examine the legal environment surrounding firearms possession in this country. But we also need to acknowledge that with more guns than people in the US, any chance that an assault-weapons bill, however restrictive and sweeping its provisions, won’t solve the problem.

    Some good reading: the Congressional Research Service published this report in November looking at the history and issues surrounding gun-control legislation in the US. Link: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf

    • avatar RobertJMolnar says:

      Again, the political term “assault-weapon” should not be used in this discussion. Its a favorite and not really clever rhetorical device not unlike “death panels” or “fiscal cliff”, used to invoke emotional responses from the citizenry, instead of pragmatic policy discussion.

      Enough already. Reasonable people can disagree as to what restrictions should or should not be placed on firearm ownership, but the very act of owning a firearm will never be changed until you all put up a constitutional amendment.

      How did prohibition work for alcohol? I seem to recall seeing that DUI deaths still outnumber gun deaths in the U.S. Should we cut off the arms and legs of DUI offenders such that they cannot actually drive a car whilst drunk into a minivan full of a family of 6?

  4. avatar dyuhas says:

    DiFi’s “assault weapons ban” was nothing more than political theater. And she knew it. The gun manufacturers made small changes to the guns to get around the “ban.” I hate to say it, but I fear that any new “gun control” that gets passed in the wake of the Newton tragedy will be similarly ineffective.

  5. avatar chuckmcfadden says:

    Good Lord. I cannot believe the above posts. Calbuzz usually has a literate,aware readership. What happened this time? What we have here is a collection of gun-nut drivel. The fact is, we have a gun culture, where guns are available to nuts — such as the one who killed 20 little children last Friday. Please spare me the red-white-and blue tripe that somehow connects being a gun nut as being patriotic and manly. Twenty little kids with bodies torn apart by bullets does not equal patriotism We need to enact some gun-control laws pronto. Three cheers for Dianne.

    • avatar pdperry says:

      Your knee jerks almost as fast as the name-calling that flies from your lips.

    • avatar cthecoalman says:

      Sorry to bust your bubble but your stats for the other countries that have banned guns are wrong as a matter of fact they have had more violent since the ban went into effect

    • avatar cthecoalman says:

      April 13, 2009

      It is a common fantasy that gun bans make society safer. In 2002 — five years after enacting its gun ban — the Australian Bureau of Criminology acknowledged there is no correlation between gun control and the use of firearms in violent crime. In fact, the percent of murders committed with a firearm was the highest it had ever been in 2006 (16.3 percent), says the D.C. Examiner.

      Even Australia’s Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research acknowledges that the gun ban had no significant impact on the amount of gun-involved crime:

      In 2006, assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
      Sexual assault — Australia’s equivalent term for rape — increased 29.9 percent.
      Overall, Australia’s violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.
      Moreover, Australia and the United States — where no gun-ban exists — both experienced similar decreases in murder rates:

      Between 1995 and 2007, Australia saw a 31.9 percent decrease; without a gun ban, America’s rate dropped 31.7 percent.
      During the same time period, all other violent crime indices increased in Australia: assault rose 49.2 percent and robbery 6.2 percent.
      Sexual assault — Australia’s equivalent term for rape — increased 29.9 percent.
      Overall, Australia’s violent crime rate rose 42.2 percent.
      At the same time, U.S. violent crime decreased 31.8 percent: rape dropped 19.2 percent; robbery decreased 33.2 percent; aggravated assault dropped 32.2 percent.
      Australian women are now raped over three times as often as American women.
      While this doesn’t prove that more guns would impact crime rates, it does prove that gun control is a flawed policy. Furthermore, this highlights the most important point: gun banners promote failed policy regardless of the consequences to the people who must live with them, says the Examiner.

      Source: Howard Nemerov, “Australia experiencing more violent crime despite gun ban,” D.C. Examiner, April 8, 2009.

  6. avatar RobertJMolnar says:

    I am fairly certain that I am literate and “aware” (whatever that may actually mean). Do you have anything intelligent to say or does your literacy and awareness only cover trite ad hominem attacks?

    • avatar chuckmcfadden says:

      Well, let’s see. Australia banned assault weapons, and the murder rate went ‘way, ‘way down. Japan has about one percent of the gun murder rate that the United States has, (admittedly with a smaller population.) Of 25 industrialized nations, the United States has by far the highest murder rate. l
      I hope you are now more “aware,” and I certainly hope you don’t feel your manhood has been challenged.

  7. avatar RobertJMolnar says:

    Straw man.

    We are talking about Constitutional rights, the 2nd Amendment specifically. We are also discussing potential restrictions on gun ownership for those with mental health challenges.

    You jumping in with an ad hominem attack as your lead, and following it up with a straw man about murder rates (and another ad hominem), betrays your weak internet troll existence.

    Hey look guy, can you muster up a solution, or a belief, or a position that you hold, such that people can have the proper context by which to debate with?

    For example, are you just straight line “ban and confiscate all firearms?” Can you answer that question?

    • avatar chuckmcfadden says:

      AH, yes. “Straw man” and “troll.” But we must cease these ad hominem attacks.
      After a 1996 mass shooting incident, Australia banned assault weapons and tightened controls on other firearms, including shotguns. The American Journal of Law and Economics reported in 2010 that firearm homicides in Australia dropped by 59 percent.
      Got it?
      In 2008, Japan had eleven (11) people killed with guns. The United States had 12,000.
      Got it?
      The American murder rate is about 15 times that of other wealthy, industrialized countries.
      Got it?
      Specifically, I’d like to see a ban on assault weapons. (Yes, I’ll use that term. ; More background information on gun purchasers to lessen the chance of gun nuts getting ahold of firearms; a stepped-up program to aid troubled loners in schools and, finally, a disassociation of gun ownership, patriotism, and manliness.
      I hope this cools your fevered brow.

    • avatar Donald from Pasadena says:

      Ah, yes. Let’s talk about the Second Amendment, shall we? It reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

      What “well regulated Militia” are you a member of, Robert?

      The Second Amendment is an obselete vestige of late 18th century rural America, when the population of the United States numbered less than 5 million residents (including 2 million slaves) and the biggest city was Philadelphia with 110,000 residents — a little smaller than the size of Pasadena, CA today.

      Back then, there was no standing U.S. Army, and communities organized into militia companies for the purpose of mutual support and protection, because for the most part, if an emergency arose they were on their own. The Second Amendment reflected the necessity of these local rural communities to be able to defend themselves, without being hamstrung by a central government. Fast forward 220 years, and wow, like, you know, the times have changed.

      Our Founding Fathers drafted the Constitution of the United States with the idea that it was to be a living document, subject to amendment and re-amendment as the times and circumstances might warrant. I can’t help but think that if they could look around at us today, losing 10,000 to 12,000 lives annually to gun violence and accidents, they’d probably conclude that we’re both insane and irresponsible to not have repealed or greatly modified the Second Amendment a long time ago.

    • avatar Tigershark says:


      Where is the 2nd Amendment (or any other part of the Constitution) does it mention keeping guns out of the hands of the Mentally Ill, convicted felons or minors? You seem to be arguing the 2nd is absolute right to arms, but read into it limitations on some persons. Why can not Congress expand those limitations?

      (Please note, I’m not arguing for firearms in the hands of the mentally ill, but just wish to note that almost everyone agrees on some forms of gun control.)

  8. avatar Sideline says:

    My open letter to the National Rifle Association:

    Dear NRA: I know that, on days like today, your inclination is to circle your wagons and to counterattack in support of the 2nd Amendment, fearing that legislators and the media will move to restrict the purchase and possession of weapons. You will cry that most gun-owners are responsible and law-abiding and, of course, you will be right. But t
    hat’s typically where you stop. You go on the defensive, and you remind key legislators of your support and you threaten to withdraw it, but you don’t offer up your legions of members and your mighty treasury in support of anything that is particularly helpful. Well, today, you can. You can issue a statement that our country does not do nearly enough to identify and treat mental illness. You can demand that all insurance plans cover a broad spectrum of treatment for mental illness. You can demand that states’ Medicaid plans include robust mental health coverage. You can demand that Congress and the States examine the state of residential care for the mentally ill, and threaten to withdraw your support from any legislator who does not vote in favor of expanding mental health services. Demand Congressional hearings on the issue. Demand State hearings on the issue. Demand legislation and funding and support for the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders in every community in the United States. Because as long as you have mentally ill people killing children with guns, there will be people like me who want to go after the guns. You can offer me an alternative, but only if you go after it with all the vigor and passion with which you protect gun ownership. So, come on. Get busy. Man up. Show us what you got.

  9. avatar RobertJMolnar says:

    Chuck, thank you for providing something of substance to work with. Appreciated.

    Fair enough. Is this a retroactive ban, such that “the government” will come to my house to confiscate my rifles, despite me being a law abiding citizen who legally purchased and registered my firearms as per existing laws?

    I think you mean lessen the chance of a mentally disabled or disturbed person acquiring or purchasing a firearm. I tend to agree with this, however, it will run smack dab into health care privacy laws, yes? So the government would have free access to your health records?

    This has nothing to do with the 2nd amendment.


    I don’t really understand what your point is with this, much like i don’t really understand your first few character attacks. Are you suggesting that people only purchase firearms to be patriotic or to feel macho? If so, would it logically follow that in order to change a cultural mindset that you would need to infringe upon the 1st amendment?

    In other words, are you in favor of banning violent movies and video games that glorify the use of firearms to children?

  10. avatar RobertJMolnar says:

    doh, copy and paste fail, but its just a line by line retort. enjoy.

  11. avatar chrisfinnie says:

    Thank you Donald for your lucid argument on the Second Amendment. We have the “well-regulated militia” clearly meant by this language. It’s called the National Guard. They supply weapons. Guardsmen no longer need to supply their own.

  12. avatar marcdanziger says:

    What, no mention of her CCW? The gun in her purse after the Milk/Moscone murders, or when she was the target of a terrorist group in the 80’s?

  13. avatar mcappelli says:

    If her bill passes, it would mean that everyone who has legally owned certain types of weapons would now have to register them, get fingerprinted AND pay a heafty tax on each item which has been owned for years, LEGALLY. There is No consideration to those of us with prior military and law enforcement experience with proper training. Taking away my rights and charging me money on items I have owned for years due to her political agenda. The careless deviant behavior of the few will now cost me rights and money for her personal political agenda. This is getting way out of hand. She wants to make it difficult if not impossible for the criminal element to get guns…..the same way our current laws have done so well with cocaine, heroine, pcp, meth, etc. I do not see her doing anything to outlaw alcohol which is responsible for more deaths every year then guns, drugs, knives, and suicide, combined, every year! Seriously?

  14. avatar cthecoalman says:

    i here by oppose the assault rifle ban for law abiding citizens

    • avatar chrisfinnie says:

      First, many of the proposals do exactly that–limit firearm ownership only to law-abiding citizens.

      Second, many of the most recent shooters had no trouble with the law until they became mass murderers.

      Third, the mother of the Sandy Hook shooter was a law-abiding citizen who owned her guns legally. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, the weapons she bought for protection were turned against her and actually lead to her death.

      Finally, why do you need an assault rifle? Are you such a poor shot that you can’t bring down an intruder or the wild game of your choice with a standard magazine? If so, a larger magazine in a gun that shoots faster would only make you more of a danger to yourself and others. You want a gun, fine. Why shouldn’t you have to prove you are a responsible owner, have a license for it, and know how to use it, just as you do with your car? And, if you demand military weapons, do you also want a tank? An RPG? Guided missiles? Armed drones? Where do your demands stop? And where do my rights to live safely in the same state start? I hereby demand my right to go out in public without having to worry about being shot by some dingbat with an assault rifle.

Please, feel free to post your own comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.