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Unexamined Premises

San Francisco, 1978, Dianne Feinstein and Gun Control

January 24th, 2013 - 7:14 pm

Harvey Milk and George Moscone.

That something else was the murders that day of Moscone and Milk by White, a former firefighter and city cop who killed them both with his loaded service revolver, which he had brought (along with an extra ten rounds of ammo in his coat pocket) to City Hall that day as he pleaded with Moscone to re-appoint him to the supervisor’s seat he had so rashly given up a couple of weeks earlier. Feinstein, who had seen White exiting Moscone’s office after he’d emptied his revolver into the mayor and reloaded, was also the first to find Milk’s body. And it was left to her to make the tragic announcement, catapulting her to instant national recognition. Even today, I cannot watch this without getting chills: it was one of the finest examples of grace under pressure (Hemingway’s definition of courage) in modern American political history:

Here’s a transcript of the pertinent part of a police interview with White shortly after he turned himself in after killing Moscone and Milk:

Q Dan can you tell Inspector Erdelatz and myself, what was your plan this morning? What did you have in mind? 

A I didn’t have any, any devised plan or anything, it’s, I was leaving the house to talk, to see the Mayor and I went downstairs, to, to make a phone can and I had my gun down there.

Q Is this your police service revolver, Dan?

A This is the gun I had when I was a policeman. It’s in my room an ah. . .I don’t know, I just put it on. I, I don’t know why I put it on, it’s just. . .

Q Where is this gun now, Dan?

A I turned it in to Officer ah. . .Paul Chignell who I turned myself in to at Northern Station. I, I. . . . . . . .

Q You turned yourself in, I wasn’t aware of that.

A I turned myself in at Northern Station to Officer Paul Chignell who, who I could trust and I, I know would do things properly. An then, an then I, I went to the, to the Mayor’s office.

Q You went directly from your residence to the Mayor’s office this morning?

A Yes, my, my aide picked me up but she didn’t have any idea ah. . .you know that 1 had a gun on me or, you know, I just was going to the Mayor to, to see if he was going to reappoint me and if not, the reasons why. And I went in to see him an, an he told me he wasn’t going to reappoint me and he, and he wasn’t going to, intending to tell me about it. He had some, he told me he had a press conference scheduled and he was going to announce it at the press conference. Didn’t even have the courtesy to call me or tell me that I wasn’t go­ing to be reappointed. Then ah. . .I got kind of fuzzy and then just my head didn’t feel right and I, then he said, Let’s go into the, the back room an, an have a drink and talk about it. An ah. . . .

Q Was this before any threats on your part, Dan?

A I, I never made any threats.

Q There were no threats at all?

A I, I. . . .oh no.

Q When were you, how, what was the conversation, can you explain to inspector Erdelatz and myself the conversation that ex­isted between the two of you at this time?

A It was pretty much just, you know, I asked, was I going to be reappointed. He said, no I am not, no you’re not. And I said, why. He said, he said well I’ve had people in your district say they don’t want you and I, I reiterated that I told him before that these were people that had brought false charges against me and had been dog­ging me since I’ve been in office and that he had been in politics and he understood that there are going to be people that dislike you, you, not everybody as a 100% supporter but I told him that oh, you know, an overwhelming majority of the people in my district wanted me as their supervisor and I told him how a person told me last night that they had on their own gone out with neighbors and gathered over a thousand signatures in one day, my constituents, to keep me in of­fice. He knew that and he told me, it’s a political decision and that’s the end of it, and that’s it.

Q Is this when you were having a drink in the back room?

A No, no, it’s before I went to the back room and then he could obviously see, see I was obviously distraught and upset and then he said, let’s go in the back room and and, and have a drink and I, I’m not even a drinker, you know I don’t, once in a while, but I’m not even a drinker. But I just kinda stumbled in the back, went, went, went in the back room and he sat down and he was all, he was talk­ing and nothing was getting through to me. It was just like a roaring in my ears an, and then em. . . . .it just came to me, you know, he.. . .

Q You couldn’t hear what he was saying Dan?

A Just small talk that, you know it just wasn’t registering. What I was going to do now, you know, and how this would affect my family you know an, an just, just all the time knowing he’s going to go out an, an lie to the press an, an tell ‘em, you know, that I, I wasn’t a good supervisor and that people didn’t want me an then that was it. Then I, I just shot him, that was it, it was over.

Q Was he, was he using the telephone at the time or going to use the phone?

A No.

Q Not any time. . . .

A I, I don’t even know if there’s a phone in that back room.

Q What happened after you left there, Dan?

A Well, I, I left his office by one of the back doors an, an I started, I was going to go down the stairs and then I saw Harvey Milk’s aide across the hall at the Supervisors an then it struck me about what Harvey had tried to do an I said, well I’ll go talk to him. I said, you know, at least maybe he’ll be honest with me, you know, because he didn’t know I had, I had heard his conversation and he was all smiles and stuff and I went in and, like I say, I, I was still upset an ah. . . .then I said, I wanted to talk to him an, an, an just try to explain to him, you know, I, I didn’t agree with him on a lot of things but I was always honest, you know, and here they were devious and then he started kind of smirking cause he knew, he knew that I wasn’t going to be reappointed. And ah, . . . .it just didn’t make any impres­sion on him. I started to say you know how hard I worked for it and what it meant to me and my family an then my reputation as, as a hard worker, good honest person and he just kind of smirked at me as if to say, too bad an then and then I just got all flushed an, an hot an I shot him.

Upon Moscone’s death, Feinstein — as president of the Board of Supervisors — was instantly elevated to the mayoralty, where she ably served a couple of terms (she was, believe it or not, a moderate Democrat back then). She ran unsuccessfully for governor of California but quickly won election to the U.S. Senate in 1992, in which she has served ever since.

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