WASHINGTON - California Democrat Dianne Feinstein will begin her fourth full term as a U.S. senator much as she started her Senate career: fighting for a ban on assault weapons.
Feinstein's new bill, which will be introduced Thursday in the Senate, among other things proposes to:
- Ban the sale, transfer, importation or manufacturing of about 150 named firearms, plus certain rifles, handguns and shotguns fitted for detachable magazines and having at least one military characteristic.
- Strengthen the 1994 ban by moving from a two- to a one-characteristic test to determine what constitutes an assault weapon.
- Ban firearms with "thumbhole stocks" and "bullet buttons."
- Ban the importation of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.
- Ban high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
The bill would grandfather in weapons legally owned on the day of enactment and exempts over 900 specific weapons "used for hunting or sporting purposes."
Feinstein first got involved with gun control 34 years ago, when San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Harvey Milk, the nation's first openly gay elected official, were murdered by disgruntled former city supervisor Dan White.
FULL COVERAGE: Debate over guns in America
"I became mayor as a product of assassination," she told USA TODAY.
While county supervisor and mayor, Feinstein said, she saw "up-close and personal the death and destruction that these guns carry with them."
"I have watched these incidents from 1966, which was the first one, the Texas bell tower, and watched it go through school after school, business after business, law firm after law firm," she said. In 1966, former Marine Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded 32 others while shooting from atop the tower on the University of Texas campus in Austin.
But it was a mass shooting at a law firm in a San Francisco high-rise in 1993 that began her long push against the availability of assault weapons; the first version became law in 1994 and expired in 2004.
"I have worked on this for a long time," she said. "I'm not a newcomer or a novice to guns."
Feinstein has pushed to renew the assault-weapons ban ever since it expired in 2004, but the murder of 20 children and six adults last month at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., has given it an unfortunate new relevance, she said.
The issue has made her a frequent opponent of the National Rifle Association, a group she says goes "out of their way to develop hate toward anyone that does have a different view than they."
"The NRA sort of specialized in trying to denigrate me, but I don't think there's anyone around that's spent 20 years on this subject, plus some," she said.
This year's effort will be as hard, if not harder, than the last time the bill became law, particularly because Republicans control the House.
"It is an uphill battle all the way," she said. "That doesn't mean the battle shouldn't be waged."
Although the NRA frequently calls Feinstein hostile to gun rights, she said she supports the Second Amendment.
In fact, when a terrorist group targeted her in 1976, she bought a gun to protect herself.
"They put a bomb at my house, shot out windows of the beach house," she said in a recent interview. "I got a permit from the chief of police and was instructed in a handgun which was a five-shot revolver, a .38 special for myself."
She never used the gun, she said, and eventually had it melted down with other weapons and forged into a cross to give to Pope John Paul II as a gift.
"I don't think it can get much worse than Sandy Hook school," she said. "And the numbers of bullets used, the damage done to these little bodies. ... It is absolutely horror and it should not happen in America."