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Unexamined Premises

San Francisco, 1978, Dianne Feinstein and Gun Control

January 24th, 2013 - 7:14 pm

Senator Dianne Feinstein of California has now released her hit list of weapons that would be banned under her proposed “gun control” legislation. They include the usual suspects, including the AK-47 rifle — which is only the most widely used rifle on planet Earth — and the dreaded AR-15, a weapon that strikes fear and terror into tender hearts just at the sight of it.

Nowhere on the list, though, do I see “police service revolver” — the .38 caliber handguns that were standard issue in American police departments for decades, and which were in use in November of 1978 when former San Francisco city supervisor Dan White shot and killed mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk with one of them. And it is this tragedy, coming right on the heels of the Jonestown massacre (in which 918 people were killed, mostly by drinking poison), to which Sen. Feinstein, in a bitterly ironic twist, owes her entire state and national political career.

I know, because I was there, working as a reporter and chief classical music critic for the San Francisco Examiner.

The murders came as the city was reeling from a solid week of worsening news from Guyana, where congressman Leo Ryan and several others had been murdered during an ambush at the Port Kaituma airstrip as they prepared to fly back to the U.S. Among the dead were an Examiner photographer, Greg Robinson, with whom I had recently worked on a story; another of our reporters was badly injured. San Francisco — where Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple had been headquartered until it fled to the jungles of Guyana — was just returning to normal.

On the morning of Nov. 27, 1978,  I left the Examiner offices early in the morning to catch a plane for Chicago, where I was covering the world premiere of Krzysztof Penderecki’s opera, Paradise Lost, at the Lyric Opera. I went directly from O’Hare Airport to the Lyric in order to attend that afternoon’s dress rehearsal, and immediately ran into several of my national colleagues, who greeted me with: “What the hell is going on in San Francisco?”

I assumed they were talking about Jonestown, which just that morning had finally ceased to dominate the front pages of the city’s newspapers. (The headline in the first edition of the Ex that day was something like, “Trade Deficit with Japan Widens.”)  But no — they were talking about something else.

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