U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein, Chris Murphy, at podium, and Richard Blumenthal at a news conference to discuss proposed gun legislation. C-SPAN

Connecticut politicians are paying tribute to U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who died Thursday night.

U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said Feinstein, the oldest sitting U.S. senator, paved the way for the modern anti-gun violence movement.

“For a long time, between 1994 and the tragedy in Newtown in 2012, Dianne was often a lonely but unwavering voice on the issue of gun violence,” Murphy said in a statement. “We all grieve this tremendous loss.”

Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal said he’ll remember Feinstein as “a smart, strong leader and legislator as well as a thoughtful, sweet friend.”

“I was proud to work with Senator Feinstein on issues that she championed tirelessly over decades, like gun violence prevention and civil liberties protection – she never backed down,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

Feinstein, a centrist Democrat, was elected to the Senate in 1992 and broke gender barriers throughout her long career in politics. She was 90.

Feinstein was elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 1969 and became its first female president in 1978, the same year Mayor George Moscone was gunned down alongside Supervisor Harvey Milk at City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled former supervisor.

Feinstein found Milk’s body, her finger slipping into a bullet hole as she felt for a pulse. It was a story she would retell often in the years ahead as she pushed for stricter gun control measures.

One of Feinstein’s most significant legislative accomplishments was early in her career, when the Senate approved her amendment to ban manufacturing and sales of certain types of assault weapons as part of a crime bill that President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1994. Though the assault weapons ban expired 10 years later and was never renewed or replaced, it was a poignant win after her early career had been significantly shaped by gun violence.

“She never faltered in her efforts to pass comprehensive gun control legislation to make our communities safer,” said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. in a statement.

Feinstein had little patience for Republicans and others who opposed her views on guns, though she was often challenged. In 1993, during debate on the assault weapons ban, Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, accused her of having an insufficient knowledge of guns and the gun control issue.

Feinstein spoke fiercely of the violence she’d lived through in San Francisco and retorted: ”Senator, I know something about what firearms can do.”

Two decades later, after 20 children and six educators were killed in a horrific school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, first-term Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas similarly challenged Feinstein during debate on legislation that would have permanently banned the weapons.

“I’m not a sixth grader,” Feinstein snapped back at the much younger Cruz – a moment that later went viral.

She added: “It’s fine you want to lecture me on the Constitution. I appreciate it. Just know I’ve been here a long time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story was first published Sept. 29, 2023 by Connecticut Public.