Feinstein, Harris Team Up to Push Tougher Gun Laws

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Sen. Dianne Feinstein announces a bill to close a loophole in a federal law banning automatic weapons on Oct. 4, 2017 (Scott Shafer/KQED)

WASHINGTON -- As Sen. Dianne Feinstein stepped to the podium to announce a new bill to close a loophole in an automatic weapons law, you could hardly blame her if she had a case of deja vu.

Referring to Nov. 27, 1978, she said: "I have found, as you all know, somebody shot to death who was a colleague of mine. And the mayor shot to death. I know what guns can do."

The assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk suddenly vaulted Feinstein into the national spotlight and launched a career of fighting for tighter controls on guns.

"Some say now is not the time," Feinstein said at a press conference Wednesday in the nation's capital. "Ladies and gentlemen, when is the time going to be there?" She added that "there's no better way to honor the 59 people slaughtered than to take action to prevent this from happening yet again."

Fully automatic weapons are already banned by the 1934 National Firearms Act.  Feinstein's Automatic Gunfire Prevention Act would ban the sale and manufacture of bump-fire stocks and other accessories that can be attached to semi-automatic weapons to make them reach the same rate of fire as fully automatic weapons.

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Feinstein said the shooter in Las Vegas Sunday night had about a dozen bump-fire stocks or similar devices in the hotel room from which he opened fire on the crowd below, killing dozens of people and wounding more than 500.

Noting that her own daughter had planned to attend the Las Vegas concert with neighbors, only to change plans at the last minute, Feinstein said, "That's how close it came to me. It’s one of those misses in life. It could have happened to any one of us."

Feinstein's hastily announced bill drew 26 co-sponsors in about an hour, she said, all Democrats, including Sen. Kamala Harris.

In her office two hours later, Harris said that despite what critics of stricter gun control laws say, this is not about upending the Second Amendment or the right to responsibly own guns.

"Let’s be reasonable," she said. "Let’s understand that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. We don’t need weapons of war on the streets of America."

Harris offered a dramatic suggestion before people speak out against tighter gun laws.

"I think all the people who are going to express an opinion about whether or not we’re going to have reasonable gun safety laws should be forced to look at the autopsy photographs of the victims of that violence," Harris said. "And then, speak with their conscience and speak with courage."

Harris, who has seen her national profile rise sharply since taking office less than a year ago and appears on many lists of prospective presidential candidates in 2020, didn't pull punches on an issue that sometimes bedevils Democrats.

"This is about slaughtering human beings," Harris said, "and we gotta understand that we have it in our power and control to do something about this."

But it will happen only if Republicans in Congress agree.