Rape victim offers emotional testimony for bill to allow guns on campus

CARSON CITY — Amanda Collins told lawmakers Wednesday that she had left her firearm at home on the night of Oct. 22, 2007, when she was raped at the University of Nevada, Reno, despite having a concealed-weapons permit.

Collins, in emotional testimony to the Assembly Judiciary Committee, supported Assembly Bill 143, which would allow permit holders to carry their guns on campus. It was the first legislative hearing on the bill.

Collins said she could not have stopped the attack by James Biela if she was legally allowed to be armed. But she said she may have been able to defend herself at some point, possibly preventing two later rapes, with one involving a murder, committed by Biela. He was arrested in 2008 and later sentenced to death.

But Collins said she did not bring her weapon on that night because of the prohibition on doing so. The campuses are gun-free zones, with limited exceptions.

“On Oct. 22, 2007, my right to say no was taken away from me by both James Biela and the Nevada legislation that has decided there should be an arbitrary line where university campuses begin,” Collins said. “This arbitrary line declares campuses a gun-free zone, or a safe zone, rendering me and every other law abiding citizen defenseless.”

The bill introduced by Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, would replace current policy adopted by the Board of Regents that allows individuals to carry weapons on campus only on a case-by-case basis and with the approval of a campus president.

Officials with the Nevada System of Higher Education oppose the bill, which was considered for the first time in the 2011 session. The bill passed the Senate that year but failed in the Assembly.

Collins testified for the bill in the 2011 session as well.

Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick submitted testimony supporting the bill, saying concealed-weapon permit holders must take training and show competency in handling weapons.

The committee then moved on to another gun bill from Assembly Majority Leader William Horne, D-Las Vegas, which would establish a tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition.

Assembly Bill 234 would levy a fee of $25 per gun and 2 cents for each round of ammunition, with the money going to mental health programs and victims of violence.

“I want to stress this bill is not intended to punish responsible, law-abiding gun owners,” Horne said. “It is a message from gun owners to the community that we are willing to do our part to help.”

Susan Meuschke, executive director of the Nevada Network Against Domestic Violence, provided testimony in support of the section on background checks, noting that Nevada ranks No. 1 in the per capita deaths of women killed by men with handguns.

The background checks will save lives in Nevada, she said.

But the Nevada Firearms Coalition opposed the measure, calling it a tax bill, not a firearms safety or mental health bill.

“The NRA also opposed the bill, calling it a move to impose “punitive excise taxes on firearms and ammunition.”

No action was taken on either bill.

Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at swhaley@reviewjournal.com or 775-687-3900.