Sen. Dianne Feinstein told thousands of California Democratic delegates and elected officials Saturday that she will aggressively pursue legislation banning assault rifles in the wake of this month’s Florida school shooting that left 17 people dead, including teenage students.
“I am not going to stop, ladies and gentlemen, until we get these AR-15s off of the streets and out of the hands of people who would use them to kill others,” Feinstein said, drawing roaring applause from a raucous crowd gathered for a breakfast at the California Democratic Party convention in San Diego.
Feinstein is the author of the previous federal assault weapons ban that Congress passed in 1994. It expired in 2004.
She re-introduced legislation to ban assault weapons last November following the Las Vegas concert shooting that left 58 people dead and a shooting at a Texas church. The shooter in that case used an AR-15 to kill 26 people in Sutherland Springs, Texas. She has also introduced legislation to ban bump stock devices that transform rifles into rapid-fire machines.
Feinstein said that on her flight to the Democratic Party convention, the pilot asked her what he should do, recalling that he said “I have a 7-year-old daughter and she’s scared to death to go to school.”
“Schools should not be this way,” she said. “We need to get this done.”
Feinstein is expected to make gun control a central focus in her U.S. Senate campaign. She faces primary challenges from state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León and Los Angeles attorney Pat Harris.
She used her prime-time speaking spot at the general session Saturday afternoon to echo her earlier message pushing for stronger gun control measures, again drawing loud applause from Democratic delegates.
She followed de León, who drew a more enthusiastic welcome.
Without ever speaking her name, de León jabbed relentlessly at Feinstein, painting his opponent’s record as hopelessly out of touch with the party’s values.
“Real leadership, moral clarity, is always doing the right thing, even when no one is watching. It should never take a primary challenge for California’s leadership to stand up for California values,” he said.
De León, the state Senate leader, has been mobilizing the party’s liberal wing in an underdog challenge to Feinstein, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Senate. As both candidates vied this weekend for the Democratic endorsement, delegates received de Léon with much greater enthusiasm.
In a short address to the convention, de León said he was “never fooled into believing that Donald Trump can be a good president,” a reference to Feinstein’s much-criticized comment last summer that she believed the Republican could be a “good president” if he learned and changed.
Then de León launched into a list of policies he would never vote for, obliquely highlighting some of the most controversial moments of Feinstein’s tenure in the Senate: supporting school vouchers in Washington D.C., authorizing the Iraq War, and voting for a law that allows intelligence agencies to sweep up Americans’ communications without a warrant as they are spying on foreign nationals. De León also criticized Feinstein for using young undocumented immigrants as “bargaining chips” with Trump.
“I’m running because California’s greatness comes from acts of human audacity, not congressional seniority,” he said. “Who do you trust to have the courage of your convictions?”