As fundraising pitches go, this could be one of the most brutal ever in Nevada.
From the very first line, the letter grabs readers as sexual assault victim Amanda Collins tells her horrifying story: “He put a gun to my head, clicked off the safety and told me not to say a word … before he brutally raped me,” she writes. “Those were the worst 10 minutes of my life. And thanks to lawmakers such as Nevada state Sen. Mark Hutchison, your mother, daughter, sister or wife could go through the same hellish nightmare!”
And those are just the first few lines on the first page of a six-page missive intended to endorse and raise money for hotelier and former state Sen. Sue Lowden’s bid against Hutchison for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor. And it pulls no punches.
Collins was an advocate for Assembly Bill 143 of the 2013 Legislature, a measure introduced by Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, R-Las Vegas, to allow concealed-weapons permit holders to carry their firearms on campuses of the Nevada System of Higher Education. The bill died in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, despite Collins’ impassioned pleas. A student at the University of Nevada Reno and a concealed weapons permit holder, Collins didn’t have her gun with her on Oct. 22, 2007 when she was attacked by James Biela. (Biela was later convicted in the rape and murder of Brianna Dennison and now sits on Nevada’s death row.)
So if the bill never made it to the state Senate, where Hutchison was serving his freshman session in 2013, why blame him for its defeat instead of, say, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jason Frierson, D-Las Vegas? After all, Fiore said at the time that she had the votes to pass the bill out of committee if only it had come up for a vote.
The letter contains a photograph of a handwritten note, sent from Fiore to Hutchison, asking him “Will you support my campus carry [bill] this morning?” In reply, Hutchison apparently wrote back that state Senate Minority Leader Michael “Roberson [R-Henderson] wants to caucus on this beforehand … asked us to wait to hear debate.” That ultimately turned out to be a no; Hutchison was one of four Republican senators (the others were Roberson, and Greg Brower and Ben Kieckhefer, both R-Reno) who did not sign on as co-sponsors.
(In an email, Hutchison said he doesn’t recall “either way” the note between him and Fiore.)
For Collins, however, the lack of sponsorship is tantamount to betrayal.
“I’m sorry, but what debate?” she writes. “Either you strongly support the Second Amendment or you don’t. Either you strongly support the right … not privilege; God-given inalienable right … to defend yourself or you don’t. This is, literally, a life-or-death issue … as Brianna Dennison’s murder attests. 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?” (emphasis and ellipses in original)
Elsewhere in the letter, Collins seems to hold Hutchison and his fellow GOP senators in worse regard than her attacker: “My husband and I now have two beautiful children, and I was able to find the strength to forgive Mr. Biela for what he did to me,” she writes. “On the other hand, I have no such charity for those legislators who forced me to be a helpless victim … and those who continue to place other disarmed women in harm’s way! I was legislated into being a victim.” (emphasis and ellipses in original)
Collins endorses Lowden in the letter, saying “she’s a strong advocate for the right of self-defense” and noting Lowden is a concealed weapons permit holder who has already agreed to testify on behalf of a campus carry bill when it’s introduced (presumably by Fiore) in the 2015 Legislature.
Lowden supporters think the campus carry issue is especially acute given an interview Hutchison did March 20 with the Douglas County Republican Party, when he was asked directly about Collins and campus carry legislation. His reply:
“Well, I’m a life member of the National Rifle Association. I was, or I am, a member of the American Eagle, excuse me, a member of the Golden Eagle Association. I’m a concealed carry weapons permit holder. And I’m somebody who is a ardent supporter of the Second Amendment. I was opposed to SB221 which would have created a gun registry within the State of Nevada. I gave speech about that on the Senate floor. And I believe strongly in our Second Amendment rights. I believe that Americans have the right to carry weapons as long as it consistent with both federal and state law. If there was a law that was presented for “campus carry” I would support that law.”
Although the bill never came to the state Senate — and thus Hutchison had no opportunity to vote on it either way — he clearly didn’t sign on as a co-sponsor, despite being asked directly to do so by Fiore.
Hutchison denounced Lowden for using the tragedy of the Collins attack to raise money, although it’s clear Collins willingly volunteered her story to help Lowden’s efforts.
“It is shameful that my opponent would use the victim of a horrible crime to raise money for her failing campaign,” Hutchison wrote in an email. “I’m the father of three daughters. I favor the right of college students who qualify for a CCW permit to carry a firearm on campus for their personal safety. The bill that is referenced never even reached the state Senate for consideration. As a constitutional lawyer and conservative, I strongly support Second Amendment rights. I’m a Life Member of the National Rifle Association and the Golden Eagles within the NRA. I have a CCW permit, and received the highest rating by the NRA. The Nevada Firearms Coalition recognized my leadership on Second Amendment issues during the 2013 legislative session.”
It’s impossible to know whether Collins could have fought off Biela on that horrific night in 2007 if she’d been allowed to carry her weapon onto campus. It’s just as impossible to know whether campus carry, as a policy, would prevent future attacks, instead of, say, increase the odds of a violent attacker using people’s concealed guns against them. (Fiore’s bill was opposed by university system officials and campus police.) But there’s little doubt that Collins believes she could have at least had a better chance to defend herself had she been armed, and that others will, too, if the law is changed.
“I didn’t get to choose on Oct. 22, 2007 … because lawmakers left me defenseless and helpless,” Collins writes. “They legislated me into being a victim. As such, it feels like I was violated twice that night … Once by James Biela … And again by legislators who trampled on my right to defend myself … and since then have refused to change the law to eliminate these deadly “gun free” school zones in which only the bad guys have weapons.” (emphasis and ellipsis in original)
The letter concludes by asking readers to send “my friend” Lowden a campaign contribution of at least $25 “…to help make sure no one else ever has to write a letter like this one again!” (emphasis in original)
Over the top as it may be in places, this pitch is as brutal as any I’ve seen. And despite Hutchison’s reliably pro-gun record — he did, as he said, vote against a background check bill that was staunchly opposed by gun-rights groups, which rate him highly — this line of attack has the potential to hurt.
UPDATE: The original version of this letter I obtained didn’t include a seventh “reply page” form, which again asks readers to contribute and contains the legally required “Paid for by Sue Lowden for Lieutenant Governor” disclosure. I’ve updated the .pdf with the complete letter here.