Hutchison not to blame for campus-carry bill’s death


Near the start of a fundraising letter paid for by the Sue Lowden for lieutenant governor campaign, sexual assault victim Amanda Collins warns you her story won’t be easy to read.

She’s not lying. Collins — who was sexually assaulted on the University of Nevada, Reno campus on Oct. 22, 2007 — recounts her attack and its aftermath in graphic detail. That includes the awful realization that the man who assaulted her — James Biela — later murdered 19-year-old Brianna Dennison. (Biela was later convicted of that murder and awaits execution on Nevada’s death row.)

Collins wrote that she could have defended herself had she been armed with the gun she was legally licensed to carry concealed almost everywhere else in Reno, but not on the UNR campus. That’s why she’s become such an advocate for so-called campus carry laws, which would allow licensed concealed-weapons permit holders to be armed on campus.

There are those who say Collins — who volunteered to write the letter for Lowden — was exploited, or at the very least is exploiting her tragedy for political ends. But nobody says that when, for example, the families of victims of Sandy Hook describe their tragedy and advocate for stronger gun control laws.

The point of Collins’ letter — other than to endorse and raise money for Lowden — was to attack state Sen. Mark Hutchison, Lowden’s rival for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, because Hutchison didn’t take the opportunity to co-sponsor a campus carry bill during the 2013 Legislature, even after a personal request by bill sponsor Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas.

Collins’ letter reproduces a copy of a note Fiore sent to Hutchison, asking for his co-sponsorship. In reply, Hutchison wrote back to say Senate Minority Leader Michael “Roberson wants to caucus on this beforehand — asked us to wait to hear debate.”

Hutchison didn’t vote against the bill; it never actually made it to the Senate. It died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, even though Fiore claims she had the votes to pass it. But instead of aiming her wrath at Judiciary Committee Chairman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas, Collins blames Hutchison.

“Either you strongly support the Second Amendment or you don’t,” she writes. “Either you strongly support the right … not privilege; God-given, unalienable right … to defend yourself or you don’t.” (ellipsis in original) “And Senator Hutchison needed to check with his boss and listen to what the anti-gun, victim-disarmament crowd had to say about it first?”

For the record, Hutchison says he does defend gun rights, and has the National Rifle Association backing to prove it. “I favor the right of college students who qualify for a CCW permit to carry a firearm on campus for their personal safety,” he wrote in an email.

There are plenty of bills party caucuses in both houses discuss behind closed doors before lawmakers announce their position. Roberson, Hutchison, and Greg Brower and Ben Kieckhefer, both R-Reno, withheld their support, even as six other members elected to ignore Roberson’s advice and signed on to the bill anyway.

Collins writes that she’s found the strength to forgive Biela for the assault, but adds “I have no such charity for those legislators who forced me to be a helpless victim.” First, that list would not include Hutchison, who was an attorney in private practice in 2007, when Collins was assaulted. Second, it seems odd that she’d carry a grudge against lawmakers more than she does against the man who actually assaulted her.

There’s no way to know for sure if Collins could have fought off Biela if she’d had her gun, a fact she acknowledges in the letter. There’s no way to know for sure if allowing licensed concealed-weapons permit holders to carry their weapons on campus would stop future crimes. (It would, at the very least, leave criminals unsure if their intended prey is armed.) Those questions are decisions for the Legislature, which in 2013 elected to offer no answer.

But we do know for sure that it was not Mark Hutchison who prevented Collins from carrying her weapon on campus that night in 2007. His refusal to co-sponsor the 2013 bill didn’t affect its fate in the least. By implying otherwise, Amanda Collins has the wrong man in her sights.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist who blogs at SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.