“In the hour that (she) has been holding her hearing aimed at banning AR-15s,” read one tweet, referring to a type of weapon Feinstein would like to see off the streets, “Americans have bought 150 more.” Then it urged opponents to stop her.
Feinstein has said that her repeated attempts to ban assault weapons have nothing to do with preventing people from defending themselves.
“She’s not afraid of guns,” said Susan Kennedy, a political consultant and former Feinstein aide.
After a militant anti-capitalist group called the New World Liberation Front tried to bomb her house in the 1970s, she got trained to use a gun.
“I know the urge to arm yourself, because that’s what I did,” she told Senate colleagues in 1995. “I made the determination that if somebody was going to try to take me out, I was going to take them with me.”
To Feinstein, the battle is about keeping what she considers weapons of war out of the hands of those who intend to massacre innocent people. And it’s not just her personal experience that impels her to wage it.
Before the December shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, there was the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton, Calif., in January 1989. A 26-year-old man opened fire on a group of children with an AK-47 rifle, killing five and wounding more than 30 before taking his own life.
Before the movie theater shooting last July in Aurora, Colo., which resulted in 12 deaths and wounds to 58 others, there was the office tower shooting at 101 California St. in San Francisco in July 1993. A gunman with a grudge against a law firm shot and killed eight people with an automatic weapon before killing himself.
As time has passed, these tragedies have faded from public memory. But Feinstein has not forgotten.
“This is something I’m deeply passionate about, and I believe it saves lives,” she said. “I don’t intend to stop.”
Feinstein is married to investment banker and philanthropist Richard Blum. Their estimated net worth, between $46 million and $108 million, makes her one of the Senate’s 10 wealthiest members.
Those who know her said she could be done with the frustrations and political intransigence of Washington and lead a major corporation or nonprofit, or simply enjoy a nice life in California, where she and Blum share a home in the affluent Pacific Heights section of San Francisco.
“There are no limits on what she could do and be successful at,” said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, a Democrat from nearby Napa County who’s a hunter and a leading supporter of an assault weapons ban. “She’s here because of a passion and a commitment.”
Feinstein is a veteran lawmaker who knows how to work behind the scenes and across the aisle, which is how much of the real business of Capitol Hill gets done.
“She’s developed a chain of colleagues she can call on,” Kennedy said. “She knows very well how to use her position on other committees.”
Feinstein is an influential member. She ranks 14th in Senate seniority. Besides her seat on the Judiciary Committee, she serves on the powerful Appropriations Committee and chairs the Intelligence Committee.