Opponents of Gun-Free Zones at Universities Find Unlikely Hero in Nevada Woman
Published April 08, 2011
Across the country, lawmakers are debating whether universities should let students and faculty with permits carry their concealed weapon on campus. Those who want to put an end to such gun-free zones have found an unlikely hero in a petite, soft spoken, young woman who wonders why colleges protect most Constitutional rights, but not the one that matters most when staring into the face of a violent criminal.
Amanda Collins, 25, is a wife and new mom, and a concealed weapon permit holder for years. At her father's law office in Reno, she showed us the 9-mm Glock she carries for her safety.
"It's got a pretty standard magazine," she said, "and night sights so you can see in the dark when you're aiming."
However, Collins couldn't aim her gun at the serial rapist who attacked her at the University of Nevada at Reno, where she was a student. That's because, like most public colleges outside of Utah and Colorado, UNR is a "gun free" zone. The rule required her to leave her gun at home, leaving her defenseless the one time she needed its protection most.
In October of 2007, while walking to her car after a night class, Collins was grabbed from behind in a university parking garage less than 300 yards from a campus police office. The school's "gun-free" designation meant nothing to James Biela, a serial rapist with a gun of his own, who saw Collins as an easy target. "He put a firearm to my temple," she recounted, "clocked off the safety, and told me not to say anything, before he raped me.
The university has since installed more emergency call boxes and lights in the parking structure, but Collins says that won't stop an attacker who knows the campus is a gun-free zone, a policy she believes invites crime, and may have even emboldened the man who raped her.
Just months later, Biela went on to murder 19-year old Brianna Dennison in a case that received widespread national attention. While Biela now sits on death row, Collins is convinced the outcome would have been different had she been armed.
"I know, having been the first victim, that Brianna Dennison would still be alive, had I been able to defend myself that night."
Collins is believed to be the first victim of an on-campus rape to come out and publicly share her horrific attack in an effort to change the law and keep people safe.
Last month, she testified before Nevada lawmakers in support of , a bill that would allow concealed weapons at the state's public universities. It would abolish the requirement that permit holders get permission from the university president -- a request that is routinely denied. (Amanda was finally allowed to carry her weapon -- after she was attacked).
But others say campus gun-free zones are vital to maintain security and reduce chances of gun related accidents and violence. Reno police oppose the bill, as does an academic group called the Nevada Faculty Alliance. Dr. Gregory Brown, professor of history at UNLV and vice president of the UNLV Faculty Alliance, points to studies that argue more guns on campus translates into more violence at school.
Nevada State Senator Michael Schneider, D-Las Vegas, fears guns in the hands of students will be disastrous.
"They are not trained professionals," Schneider said. "By the time any student could get a gun, when they were attacked by someone else with a gun if they went for their gun, it would be a bad outcome."
But author John Lott, who writes in support of gun rights, argues that at the 70 schools that allow students and faculty with permits to carry guns, "not one has experienced the type of harm predicted by opponents. Not a single permit holder on these campuses has been involved in a firearm accident or crime."
For Collins, the ban defies logic.
"I don't understand why (the state) trusts good, responsible people to be able to have their firearm across the street, and as soon as they cross an arbitrary line, they somehow lose all reason and ability to be able to be competent with that responsibility. It makes no sense to me at all."
Her main argument comes from self protection. "Everyone deserves a chance to defend themselves," she says. "The criminals who are intent on committing a crime don't care about what the rules and regulations are. The only ones that do are the law abiding citizens, and those are the ones who are permitted to carry everywhere else."
Later this month, SB 231 heads to the Senate floor, where Schneider vows to block it.
A dozen other states, including Florida, Idaho, and Texas, are also debating whether to lift gun bans on college campuses. As traumatic as it to relive her attack, Collins says she'll testify wherever and whenever she can to help make that happen.