Killing by the Dock of the Bay

Why gun-banner Dianne Feinstein once packed a pistol.

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, is taking the lead in blaming weaponry instead of evil, criminality and insanity. Feinstein plans to reinstate a ban on “assault weapons,” which escape easy definition, and president Obama supports her action. That invites a look at Feinstein’s experience during the 1970s when San Francisco Bay Area was a center of radicalism so violent it was dubbed “the Belfast of North America.”

As San Francisco Chronicle editor Jerry Roberts noted in Never Let Them See You Cry, his 1994 biography of Feinstein, the violent period began in the early 1970s with the “Zebra killings,” named after a police radio code. But “a gang of murderous black Muslims,” Roberts wrote, was responsible for the “spree of random killings and shootings” that claimed 15 victims.

During the mid-70s the Symbionese Liberation Army assassinated Marcus Foster, a black school superintendent in Oakland, and kidnapped newspaper heiress Patricia Hearst. Another group, The New World Liberation Front, was connected to at least 70 bombings in northern California. The NWLF wanted more money spent on jails and put out a death warrant on Feinstein, then a San Francisco supervisor.

“Dianne, as you fear what will happen to you and your family, so do poor people fear for our families,” said one NWLF communiqué. “Just what sort of understanding and compassion to you expect us to show you buzzards? We are giving you ten times more justice than we have ever received from the rich and their lackeys. If we deal out justice as it’s dealt us, we would have shot you long ago for your horrible crimes against the people.”

The NWLF were right about the “rich” part. Feinstein spent lavishly on her political campaigns and claimed a net loss of more than $100,000 after buying a home for $1.65 million. She and her husband took deductions for Mercedes and BMW automobiles. Feinstein was also a champion of high taxes and onerous regulations, but that cut no ice with the NWLF.

The Front planted a bomb at Feinstein’s San Francisco home, outside her daughter’s window. The device failed to detonate. Then the NWLF shot out a window at Feinstein’s vacation home on Monterey Bay. She responded by getting a pistol permit, learning to shoot at the police academy, and then packing a .38 in her purse.

After three tries, Feinstein was elected mayor of San Francisco in 1979. She failed to appoint a homosexual police commissioner, leading gays to call her “Ayatollah Feinstein.” Dick Pabich, an aide and friend of assassinated gay supervisor Harvey Milk, told Jerry Roberts that Feinstein was “pro-gay in some sense but homophobic in another.”

As mayor Feinstein launched an anti-crime crusade and backed a measure to ban ownership of handguns in San Francisco. She made a great show of giving up her own .38, and presented the Pope with a cross made of melted-down handguns. Her measure would have denied others the protection the gun gave her when the New World Liberation Front was out to kill her and her family.

The handgun ban was overturned but Feinstein’s zeal to ban weapons continued to exceed her zeal against crime and violent criminals. When she ran for governor of California she talked tough and attacked attorney general John Van de Camp for his handling of the “Hillside Strangler” murders. But as a prison board member she voted to release 21 murderers including some, as biographer Roberts notes, “who had committed crimes of a most gruesome nature.”

Dianne Feinstein voted to parole Violet Berling, who had tortured and murdered a ten-year-old girl in her legal custody. The killer claimed the child had occult powers. Violet Berling was obviously bent and so was Adam Lanza. But Dianne Feinstein remains more concerned with weaponry than demented murderers themselves.

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