It’s been 16 years since Amanda Collins Johnson was brutally assaulted and raped as she was walking to her car in a parking garage on the University of Nevada-Reno campus; unable to defend herself with a concealed firearm because the university prohibited anyone from lawfully carrying without first obtaining permission from the school’s president. After Collins Johnson was assaulted, and with the suspect still on the loose, she received that permission but was told to keep it quiet lest any other student decided they too wanted to be able to protect themselves with a firearm.
In the years since Collins Johnson lived through that horrific encounter with a man who would later be convicted of another sexual assault on campus as well as the murder of student Brianna Denison, she’s become a vocal proponent for campus carry. I was honored to help her share her story publicly for the first time twelve years ago when I traveled to Reno and interviewed her for NRA News, and I was gratified to see her speaking out in a new column at Townhall in response to the murders of three instructors at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
My rapist, just like Wednesday’s mass shooter at the University of Nevada, took advantage of the gun-free zone, ensuring that his victims would be defenseless. How does rendering me, a law-abiding citizen, defenseless protect anyone against a violent crime?
Eventually, the man who raped me was caught, but not before, also raping two other women and murdering one of them.
At the time of my attack, I had obtained my CCW permit for the personal choice of not wanting to be a defenseless target. The University of Nevada still bans permit holders from carrying firearms on campus. As a law-abiding citizen, I left my firearm at home; consequently, the very law meant to ensure my safety only guaranteed the criminal an unmatched victim.
The question plaguing me is: what would have been different if I’d been carrying my weapon that night? I know. Had I been carrying my firearm that night, I would have been able to stop my attack as it was in progress. Consequently, the rapist would have never raped two other women. 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 concealed 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.
We don’t know for sure, of course, whether there would have been an armed citizen on the UNLV campus who could have stopped the killer before he took the lives of three innocent people. But it is indisputable that UNLV’s prohibition on lawfully carried firearms was no impediment whatsoever to the attacker. No alarm bells sounded when he set foot on campus with a firearm. There was no police response to his presence, at least not until he began firing shots. The “gun-free zone” wasn’t free of firearms after all. A deranged killer with murder on his mind was free and clear to bring a gun to campus. It was only those students and staff who didn’t want to violate campus policy who were actually disarmed by the university’s edict.
In her column, Collins Johnson describes herself as both saddened and enraged by the murders at UNLV, noting that “[f]or over a decade, state legislatures in Nevada have had the opportunity to change this travesty of safety,” but have chosen instead to “remain willfully ignorant of the fact there is nothing in place to keep armed assailants from on our campuses today,” as was the case 16 years ago when she became the target of an armed assailant in another Nevada campus that was ostensibly a “gun-free zone.”
I know that speaking and writing about these events isn’t easy for Amanda Collins Johnson. It would be easy to just stay quiet in the face of these tragedies rather than speak up and become subject to the online hate and vitriol that will inevitably be directed at her for daring to suggest that college students and staff have a right to bear arms in self-defense. But she’s a fighter; not only for herself but for others who could easily find themselves in circumstances similar to her own that evening 16 years ago; alone and defenseless against someone intent on doing her harm, disarmed by the very authorities who promised that a “gun-free zone” was all the protection she needed.