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A Fighting Chance

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During a recent interview, Collins shared her thoughts on her attack, her fight to legalize campus carry and her road to healing.

Thanks for talking with us, Amanda. Can you start by explaining your background with guns? I grew up with firearms in my household. They were never made a secret with my sister and me, and that’s largely due to my dad. He introduced them to us with a very healthy respect for them. I remember being down in his workshop when I was little, sitting up on the table while he was cleaning his firearms, and he would talk very frankly with me about them. I always had an understanding of their capability. I was about 5 or 6 when I started target practicing. I remember the first time I went shooting with Dad, he bought me a little chipmunk .22. My thumb wasn’t strong enough to pull back the hammer so he always had to do it for me every time. When I was in high school I tried out for the rifle team and made it, and participated in that for three years.

So you were allowed to handle firearms at high school but not college? Yeah. In a controlled environment, but yeah. That’s kind of crazy, huh?

What prompted you to get your concealed carry permit? I was raised by both my parents not to be an easy target. My parents did everything they could to make sure that if somebody wanted me, I wouldn’t be an easy target. As a petite woman, I realized that even with martial arts training, realistically, the only equalizing factor between me and an opponent much larger than myself would be a firearm, so I wanted the ability to actively and realistically participate in my own self-protection.

Did you ever face any threatening situations prior to your attack? Well, a lot of martial arts training emphasizes not putting yourself in that situation or putting yourself in that position where you have to be that close to somebody. If nothing else, it helped me avoid putting myself in a situation that would require that.

How did it strike you when you learned you couldn’t carry on campus? I found out in the concealed-carry class. I suppose at first it was troublesome and it kind of irritated me; I didn’t understand why I could be trusted at the deli shop across the street, and then as soon as I crossed that arbitrary line, I was suddenly deemed incompetent and unable to make sound decisions or untrustworthy for whatever reason by the same authorities who granted me the permission to carry in the first place.

Did you ask for permission [to carry before the attack]? I didn’t even know there was a system in place to ask for permission from the president to carry. I guess I just accepted it for what it was—not so happily. I took it for what it was and continued to be aware of my surroundings and ensure my safety. You don’t want to cause waves because in the end you want that pretty, expensive piece of paper to hang on your wall.

What did you do after your attack? Anyone who’s ever been raped can relate that you make a plan to survive. My plan at the time was denial—“this did not happen to me.” Everything I’d done up to this point was to prevent me from finding myself in that situation. I honestly don’t know how I made it home. I went to my sorority house and took a shower, because I just wanted to get all that filth off of me and just wash it all away. I drove home, went to bed, woke up and honestly did not remember what had happened. My brain had just allowed me to believe that I’d had the worst nightmare when I was sleeping. It wasn’t until two weeks later that I went back to the parking garage to park there for class and remembered everything that happened.

When did you finally tell someone? I confided in my roommate probably a week or so after that. I was very edgy, very angry, just not myself. She was my best friend at the time and knew something was off and could tell. She wanted me to go and report it, but I didn’t want to because I didn’t have any physical evidence at that point, and I knew that, and I really, really wanted to avoid it, avoid going to court, avoid going through the whole justice process. I felt there was no way I could give the police anything that could help them catch this guy. There was no DNA left, basically just my story.

What got you involved in the end? A young gal in the area went missing; her name was Brianna Denison. Her case was believed to be linked to another case that had occurred in December. My roommate had a gut feeling that it was the same guy who had attacked me, so she said, “You need to go and report this, because I think it’s the same guy.” And I said, “No, it’s not, just leave it be.” And so I didn’t make any efforts to call the detectives or authorities. She actually contacted them, told them what had happened and gave them my contact information. Once they approached me, I realized it was no longer just about me. They were trying to find Brianna. I really didn’t think that giving them my story would amount to that much. I went in and told them what happened, and there were enough similarities between the attacks for them to believe it was the same person; I was able to give a description to the sketch artist. That actually ended up being a very important piece of evidence in the trial. About 10 months later, they found their man.

Do you feel like the college is responsible for what happened to you? It’s interesting, because Adam Garcia, the chief of police, said they recognized that they had failed me miserably. If the college denies us the ability to participate in our self-defense, then they assume responsibility for every individual that comes onto their campus. My case is a perfect example of that. My inability to be able to carry allowed [Biela] to continue assaulting women, and ultimately he murdered one, too. So I think there is a shared responsibility in that. It’s like my mom has asked the chancellor of the university, “If guns aren’t the answer, then what is? Where were your police when my daughter was being raped?” Oftentimes, police officers only show up after the fact. First responders are good and essential and necessary—but instant responders are better. The university takes instant responders out of the equation.

The college granted you a special right to carry after your attack, didn’t they? Right. We sent them a letter, and they called my dad. They told him that before [University of Nevada, Reno] President Milton Glick ever entertained the idea of someone carrying a gun on campus, I needed to undergo an interview process with the chief of police. My dad went with me, and they asked me a slew of questions. It boiled down to the fact that I was terrified to go on campus. We didn’t know where this guy was, we didn’t know if he was still following me because the police originally thought he knew my pattern and my behavior well enough to grab me in the way that he did. I didn’t know if I was being watched. It was just a lot of uncertainty. They ultimately ended up granting me the permission I asked for, but there were a lot of contingencies. I had to be a full-time student, I had to have my firearm inspected, I couldn’t tell anybody. If any one of those things had been violated, then the permission would be null and void.

So if you offered protection to one of your classmates, you would lose your own right to protection? Right, it’s almost like they took away my First Amendment rights in giving me my Second Amendment rights. If I had told anyone, “Hey, let me walk you to your car and then you can drive me to mine because I have the ability to protect us both,” then in theory it would have been null and void.

Are there any no-gun signs marked on campus? You know, I’ve never seen one. I know the parking garage has been lit up a lot more and they installed call boxes on campus. But a call box above my head while I was being straddled wouldn’t be any more help than the police were that night. What am I supposed to do, ask my attacker to hold on and then run and push the button, then fight off my attacker while telling the operator what’s going on?

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