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Interview with Senator Dianne Feinstein

By The NewsHour, The NewsHour - December 17, 2012

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GWEN IFILL: In the wake of the shootings, the debate in Washington turned immediately to how and whether new limits on gun ownership can, and should, be enacted.

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California has pledged to revive a law banning assault weapons. She is chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. And she joins us now.

Welcome, Senator.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN, D-Calif.: Thank you very much.

GWEN IFILL: With half of the members getting an A rating from the National Rifle Association, do you have any sense that things will be different now for the assault weapons ban than it has been in the past?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, I have every sense that it's an uphill road. It was in the past when we did it in the past.

I wrote that bill. My office wrote that bill. It went through. It wasn't amended. It went through the Senate, the House. It was signed by the president. And it was the law for 10 years.

I think what is unique about this is, it's really just one class of gun, the assault weapon. The assault weapon is developed for military purposes, to kill in close combat.

And it doesn't belong in the streets of our cities. And it doesn't belong where it can be picked up easily by a grievance killer, who can walk into a workplace, a mall, a theater, and now an elementary school and kill large numbers.

GWEN IFILL: Explain to our viewers how what you are planning to introduce would have changed what happened in Newtown, Conn.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Well, over time, that weapon would be much less available.

What we're trying to do is ban the sale, the manufacture, the transfer, the importation of assault weapons. And it gets quite technical. And I won't go into that right now.

Grandfathered weapons that people already have, subject those weapons either to licensing or to a trigger lock, and spell out those grandfathered weapons, which would be over 900 in the bill, so nobody can say, oh, we took our -- their hunting weapon away.

Then I would be able to say, here's your hunting weapon. It's specifically exempted in the bill.

GWEN IFILL: So, we're talking about a prospective law, not one...

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: That's right. That's right.

GWEN IFILL: ... gun people already own?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: It would ban approximately 100 weapons by actual name and then weapons by physical characteristics.

GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the politics of all of this.

Today, we saw three pro-gun-rights Democratic senators, Sen. Reid, Sen. Manchin, Sen. Warner, all say that what happened in NewtownConnecticut has changed everything. Do you have a sense that there's a shift under way?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Oh, yes. I think this is the straw that broke the camel's back, to be very honest with you, Gwen.

I don't see how Americans can want, you know, a situation where a 20-year-old gets a gun from his mother, kills his mother, goes into a school, shoots his way through the glass, goes in and puts three to 11 bullets in 6-year-olds, 20 of them.

Now, if you just do an average of six bullets -- five bullets, that's 100 bullets. So it's the big clip, drum or strip that is also banned from sale, manufacture, importation, transfer. So it's the clip that enables you to have the firepower.

And I gather this particular Bushmaster, you can actually sort of dial down the ease with which you pull the trigger and its frequency. So you can just pump those bullets out in a very few seconds.

GWEN IFILL: Do you -- have you gotten any sense of a change of heart among the Republican members of the Senate?

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: I haven't had a chance to talk to Republicans. I certainly will be doing that.

I have really kind of been busy just fielding calls, which is unusual, some 20 calls to my house yesterday at home and calls today from members of the House and others that want to help with this.

GWEN IFILL: You called the White House today to talk to the president.

DIANNE FEINSTEIN: Yes.

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