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February 23, 2009

Missing Milk

Watching Sean Penn and Dustin Lane Black receive Oscars last night for their work on the film “Milk” reminded me of the great toll gun violence has taken on our political life. I can still recall the shock and horror I felt when the news broke that Mayor George Moscone and city Supervisor Harvey Milk of San Francisco had been gunned down in City Hall by former Supervisor Dan White. Once again, a gun in the hands of a disgruntled, deranged man had changed the course of American history.

Shortly after the shooting, Acting Mayor Dianne Feinstein came to Washington to participate in a press conference with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. I will never forget sitting next to Mayor Feinstein and seeing the pain etched on her face as she recounted the tragic events surrounding her discovery of the bodies of her friends and colleagues in City Hall. She would channel her grief into determination and help forge one of the nation’s toughest local gun control ordinances in the Bay City. Today, Dianne Feinstein continues to fight for public safety in the United States Senate, where she has served with distinction for 16 years.

Our nation readily recalls the terrible assassinations of great political figures like Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy. Let us hope the film “Milk” will awaken a new consciousness about Harvey Milk and what he meant not only to his city, but to our country.

These painful memories should also stir a renewed vigilance concerning contemporary threats on the life of our new President. Guns are still readily available to those suffering from mental illness in the United States, not only because of unregulated private sales, but also because the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) database continues to lack millions of disqualifying records. Until positive action is taken to stem the easy availability of guns in our beloved nation, our leaders will remain in the crosshairs of those who would do them harm.

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