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Senator Feinstein on Her Assault Weapons Ban: “I am a Former Mayor on a Mission”

January 28, 2013

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA) assumed the Office of Mayor of San Francisco in 1979 following the shooting death of Mayor George Moscone, and so she describes her service as mayor of that city as a “product of assassination.” In her remarks January 18 at the 81st Winter Meeting of The U.S. Conference of Mayors—an organization in which she played a major leadership role throughout her years in city hall—she recalled this time and acknowledged that, since becoming mayor, guns have been “a big part of my life.”

But years of watching the deadly role guns have played in America did not prepare her for December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. “I never thought we’d see a situation where someone would walk with a military style assault weapon into an elementary school and shoot six principals, psychologists, and teachers as well as 20 six- and seven-year-olds and put anywhere from three to 11 bullets from a high velocity weapon into their small and beautiful bodies. Never thought it would happen in this country, no matter what.”

Feinstein characterized Newtown as a “sea change” and a “watershed moment” for the nation and appealed to the mayors in the room to support the “litany of common sense recommendations” that President Obama and Vice President Biden put forward in the White House’s comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence, which had been announced two days earlier. “I can tell you, the gun organizations will do whatever they can do to prevent regulation of firearms in this country, and that is really too bad,” she said.

Feinstein described her work on the assault weapons ban enacted in 1994, which expired in 2004, and said, “We are going to try to do what we did in 1994, only do it better, and do it in a way that no one loses a weapon they own today, but in a way that will prohibit the sale, the transfer, the manufacture, and the importation of assault weapons. The 1994 plan was not perfect. We learned a lot and we have made changes since then.”

The Senator provided a summary of the major provisions of the bill, including, for example, its ban on approximately 150 specifically-named firearms and certain other semiautomatic rifles, handguns, and shotguns that can accept a detachable magazine and have one military characteristic; semiautomatic rifles and handguns with a fixed magazine that can accept more than ten rounds; and semiautomatic rifles that are shorter than 30 inches in length. The bill, she explained, strengthens the 1994 ban by moving from a two-characteristic test to a one-characteristic test of whether a firearm qualifies as an assault weapon; banning firearms with “thumbhole stocks” and “bullet buttons” to address attempts to “work around” prior bans; and adding a ban on the importation of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.

Feinstein thanked the Conference of Mayors for its December 17 letter of support for her bill and announced the January 24 Capitol Hill press conference which would accompany its introduction—and in which Conference of Mayors President Philadelphia Mayor Michael A. Nutter would participate. The bill, she explained, will go through “regular order,” meaning it will go to the Judiciary Committee and hearings will be held to provide opportunities to amend and change it as it progresses.

“Let me tell you one thing about me,” Feinstein said. “I do not quit. I am a former mayor on a mission and I intent to continue to press this fight and, hopefully, all of you mayors in this room will join me. It is important and I believe the safety, to a great extent, of all of our cities depends on it.”