Jane Weiss, a retired Snohomish County teacher, wears a button that reads “Survivor” and one that bears the photo of her niece, Veronika Weiss, who was shot and killed in 2014 in a mass shooting at the University of California Santa Barbara in Isla Vista, Calif.. Weiss was present for testimony, Feb. 25, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on a new bill that would ban high-capacity gun magazines in Washington state. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Jane Weiss, a retired Snohomish County teacher, wears a button that reads “Survivor” and one that bears the photo of her niece, Veronika Weiss, who was shot and killed in 2014 in a mass shooting at the University of California Santa Barbara in Isla Vista, Calif.. Weiss was present for testimony, Feb. 25, at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on a new bill that would ban high-capacity gun magazines in Washington state. (Ted S. Warren / Associated Press)

Commentary: A second chance to do right by shooting victims

A new bill seeks to limit the capacity of firearm magazines; it’s legislation that can save lives.

By Jane Weiss / For The Herald

Feb. 24, 2020, was my niece Veronika’s 25th birthday.

She should be here today, a college graduate, making her way in the world and cheering on her beloved Seahawks and Huskies.

But Veronika is not here. Almost six years ago, my bright and beautiful niece was shot and killed in a hate-filled rampage in Isla Vista, Calif., near the campus of the University of California-Santa Barbara.

On May 23, 2014 — the Friday of Memorial Day weekend — Veronika and two sorority sisters were walking back to their house. A disgruntled young man, who set out to target other sorority girls in a premeditated rampage, rolled down his car window and opened fire. He then made a U-turn and sped to the Isla Vista main street, driving and firing recklessly for several more minutes.

By the time his rampage ended, the gunman had killed seven people, injured 14 others and terrorized an entire community. The Southern Poverty Law Center considers it to be the first “alt-right” killing.

The shooter who killed Veronika was armed with three guns and more than 400 rounds of ammunition. He used a semi-automatic pistol to shoot Veronika and her two sorority sisters. He fired 15 shots in just a matter of seconds.

Only one of the seven bullets that hit Veronika was fatal. Only one of the five bullets that hit her sorority sister Katherine was fatal. None of the three bullets that hit Bianca was fatal.

It all happened in a matter of seconds.

Our own region has seen the devastation of mass shootings, too. In 2016, another disgruntled young man armed with a semi-automatic assault rifle and a high-capacity magazine opened fire at a gathering of friends in Mukilteo, killing three 19-year-olds and wounding another. Last month in downtown Seattle, a 50-year-old woman was killed and seven others were injured when gunfire erupted during rush hour. One of the suspects was prohibited from purchasing a firearm, but easily and legally bought a high-capacity magazine just hours before terrorizing our community.

The single best predictor of mass shooting rates is whether a state prohibits high-capacity magazines. That is because limiting magazine capacity size forces a shooter to pause to reload, buying precious seconds for victims to escape and for law enforcement to intervene.

During the Sandy Hook shooting, 11 children were able to escape while the shooter paused to reload. And the 2011 shooting of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Casas Adobes, Ariz., was interrupted only when the shooter, who was using a 33-round magazine, stopped to reload and fumbled with the fresh ammunition.

Right now, the Washington state Legislature has the opportunity to prevent senseless acts of gun violence — like the one that stole the life of my niece — by prohibiting high-capacity magazines.

A group of lawmakers, beholden to the gun lobby, tried to bury this lifesaving measure under more than 100 redundant, obstructionist amendments. This was a blatant attempt to hijack the legislative process and undermine the will of the people. It is yet another example of gun lobby representatives doing anything and everything they can to try to avoid an honest debate on gun responsibility measures because they know that a majority of Washingtonians want to see action to reduce gun violence.

And they are right. Voters, across the state and here in Snohomish County, have overwhelmingly approved three gun safety ballot initiatives since 2014. In a recent poll, 61 percent of community members surveyed in the 44th district said they supported prohibiting high-capacity magazines.

Now it is time for our legislators to step up to protect our families and communities.

House Bill 2947 will keep our families and communities safer by prohibiting the possession, manufacture, and sale of magazines holding over 15 rounds and funding a buy-back program.

Failing to bring this measure up for a vote would not only reward the obstructionist bully tactics of the representatives who buried this policy, but it would also do a disservice to the majority of Washingtonians who have demanded action to end gun violence.

Our lawmakers have the opportunity to prevent other families from experiencing the devastating loss that mine did. They have a responsibility to our communities to bring this lifesaving measure up for a vote. I hope they have the courage to do so.

Jane Weiss is a retired elementary school teacher from Snohomish County.

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