Editor's note: The following opinion piece is a response submitted through the National Rifle Association to a Feb. 24 column, "More Guns on campus is not the answer to sexual assault," by Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
Across the country, legislators are debating the right of law-abiding concealed carry permit holders to legally carry firearms onto university campuses.
Just the other day, I was asked “Why do you need a firearm on campus? What’s so threatening about becoming educated?” Here’s my answer: Eight years ago, during my junior year at the University of Nevada-Reno, I was raped in the parking garage only feet away from the campus police office.
"Why do you need a firearm on campus? What’s so threatening about becoming educated?"'
As this stranger raped me while holding a pistol to my temple, I could see the police cruisers parked for the night, and I knew no one was coming to help me. Eventually the man who raped me, James Biela, was caught. He was tried and convicted for not only raping me at gun point in a gun-free zone, but also raping two other women and murdering Brianna Denison. So, I ask, “How does rendering me defenseless protect you against a violent crime?”
At the time of my attack, I had obtained my Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) permit for the personal choice of not wanting to be a defenseless target. In Nevada, permit holders are not allowed to carry firearms on campuses. As a law-abiding citizen, I left my firearm at home, which means that the law that is meant to ensure my safety only guaranteed the criminal an unmatched victim.
I still wonder what would have been different if I’d been carrying my weapon that night. But here’s the truth: Had I been carrying my firearm, I would have been able to stop the attack. Not only that, but two other rapes would have been prevented and three young lives would have been saved, including my own.
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Any survivor of rape can understand that the young woman I was walking into the parking garage that night was not the same woman who left. My life has never been the same after my attack. Legalized campus carry would have saved my family, who happens to be the collateral damage in my story, and me a great deal of untold torment.
My case is a perfect example that despite law enforcement’s best efforts to ensure our safety, they are unable to be everywhere at once. All I wanted was a chance to effectively defend myself. The choice to participate in one’s own defense should be left to the individual. That choice should not be mandated by the government. As a law-abiding citizen, I should not have to hand over my safety to a third party. Laws that prohibit campus carry turn women like me into victims by stripping away our Second Amendment rights.
Unfortunately, legislators opposed to campus carry are more intimidated by law-abiding citizens like me sitting in class with a legal firearm, than the rapist waiting for me in the parking garage. Most people are unaware that one in four women will be raped while attending college and one-third of them occur on the campus they attend.
Currently, seven states allow campus carry. Not a single one of those states has seen an increase in crimes committed with firearms. In fact, there has been a decrease in crimes committed on campus property. Still, law-abiding citizens are barred from exercising this fundamental freedom on our publicly funded university campuses, leaving them defenseless against gun-wielding criminals who disregard the laws.
The laws need to change so that those who have a valid concealed carry permit can lawfully bring their firearms onto college campuses, just as they do elsewhere in their daily lives. I know from my personal experience that threats to personal safety don’t magically disappear in declared “safe-zones.”
Some who oppose campus carry cite research showing that alcohol is involved in most sexual assaults, and that alcohol leads to impaired judgment about gun use. The solution to that is focusing on reducing underage drinking, not denying Second Amendment rights.
Perhaps the weakest argument against campus carry was from a professor at Florida’s Eckerd College, who said that “proponents will argue that allowing concealed carry will protect female students from sexual assault. I will point out the obvious; you will be arming the assailants, too.” That statement ignores the fact that assailants are already armed, and there is nothing in place to keep them from coming onto our campuses.
My attacker was armed, and as a law-abiding citizen I had more to lose than he did that night. If I’d had my firearm I would have faced expulsion from school, losing my permit and possibly jail time. My attacker was not a student nor did he have a CCW permit.
I believe in empowering women with the choice to protect their bodies. Law-abiding concealed carry permit holders should not be denied their fundamental, constitutional right to protect themselves on college campuses.
Amanda Collins is a member of the National Rifle Association and has testified in support of NRA-backed campus carry legislation across the country.