Campus gun bill get first hearing


CARSON CITY -- If Nevada's colleges and universities allowed concealed weapon permit holders to carry guns on campus it might have prevented two rapes and a murder, a sexual assault survivor told state lawmakers Friday.

During emotional testimony before the Senate Government Affairs Committee Amanda Collins, 25, testified for Senate Bill 231, which would eliminate a restriction that prevented her from carrying her legal concealed handgun the night she was raped in a University of Nevada, Reno parking garage.

The attacker, James Biela, went on to rape another woman, and was convicted of kidnapping and killing a campus visitor, Brianna Denison.

"On Oct. 22, 2007 my right to say 'no' was taken from me by both James Biela and the Nevada Legislature," said Collins, recounting the night she was attacked. "If the purpose of the current law is to ensure safety to those on university property then it is not serving that objective."

The bill, introduced by Sen. John Lee, D-North Las Vegas, would allow permit-holders to take guns on campus without getting special permission from the college president.

"This bill is not about campus security, it is about personal security," Lee said. "This scenario is perfect for a would-be assailant knowing they have minutes to commit a crime and their victims would be defenseless."

The committee did not vote on the bill.

Those speaking for the bill included gun rights activists, a representative of the Washoe County district attorney, who prosecuted Biela, students and Assemblyman Scott Hammond, R-Las Vegas, a high school teacher and part-time University of Nevada, Las Vegas instructor. The National Rifle Association, which helped Collins prepare for the hearing, filed written comments in support.

Stefanie Utz, a nurse and UNR graduate, described treating gunshot wounds while testifying for the bill.

"I can tell you those I have cared for were all victims," said Utz, of Fallon. "It wasn't the good guys, it was the bad guys who injured those individuals."

Utz told the panel she also was sexually assaulted while in college, and said a weapon "gives us a chance, at least a chance, to defend ourselves."

Leading opposition to the bill were campus police chiefs representing UNLV, UNR, Truckee Meadows Community College and the College of Southern Nevada. Most opponents argued that colleges are generally safer than communities around them, and having more guns on campus raises the danger.

"One of the reasons I feel safe is (campus) is not supposed to be a place where there are guns," said James Richardson, a Nevada Faculty Alliance lobbyist.

UNR Police Chief Adam Garcia cautioned about unintended consequences. He said suicide is a bigger threat than violent crime, and that 90 percent of gunshot suicides are successful compared to just 3 percent by drug overdose.

Garcia also noted the bill doesn't acknowledge that his campus has day care facilities, elementary, middle and high school classrooms -- all places where firearms are prohibited.

"I believe the university has a legal duty to adopt policies to promote a safe environment," Garcia said. "The university should maintain the authority to determine what is appropriate for the workplace."

But most of the testimony was in favor of the bill. Some questioned how well college presidents and campus chiefs do when weapons permit holders ask to carry on campus. Such approval is rare.

According to the Nevada System of Higher Education, six permit holders made requests at UNLV in the past 11 years. All were denied.

UNR has given permission just once, to Collins, after her rape and only on condition she would keep it secret.

"Why does it take for somebody to be assaulted in order to be able to defend themselves," Collins said. "Is it because I was assaulted at gunpoint in a gun-free zone?"

Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at bspillman@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3861.

 

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