**Warning graphic** Guest OpEd: “Don’t disarm me with your vote”

By Kelly Maher

By Kimberly Weeks

Gun control. It’s pretty broad topic and no matter who you are, you’ve probably heard a lot about it lately, especially if you live in Colorado, the epicenter of the national gun control debate.

Fear of firearms keeps most of my college-aged peers from owning or carrying a gun. Going into my junior year at the University of Northern Colorado, I was one of them. I had grown up around my dad and brother’s shotguns and hunting rifles, but I didn’t believe I needed a weapon to defend myself. The very idea of carrying a handgun made me uncomfortable. Nothing would ever happen to me in Greeley, Colorado.

Then, everything changed in the early hours of a mid-May morning. I was sleeping in my college-area apartment when a stranger broke in through a closed window. He snuck into my bedroom. I awoke to a man covering my face with a shirt and didn’t stop for the next two hours as he raped me.  I had no choice. I didn’t scream, I didn’t cry, I just prepared for this man to kill me.

During the unbearable hours of my attack, I was painfully aware of what was happening. I wish I could have shut down – but I didn’t. I started doing whatever I could do to survive. I was fighting for my life.

During the assault, I lied and told my attacker I had herpes, which did not nothing to deter him. I told him I was claustrophobic, hoping he would move the shirt just enough so I could identify him later – if I survived. I asked to use the restroom saying I might wet myself, but he repeatedly denied my requests.

I was doing everything I could to escape – doing everything I could to stop the horrific violence that was being forced upon me. I did everything I could – and I prayed it would be enough.

Time was running out, so despite the pain, anger, and fear that was coursing through my body, I tried one more thing: I started talking and kept him engaged in conversation for the next hour as I watched the sun rise through my bedroom window.

Others that could help were so close, yet so very far away. No one else knew what was happening to me. It was lonely and terrifying.

I convinced my rapist that I would not report his actions, that I was too embarrassed, and I even told him that I forgave him. I told him everyone makes mistakes. When he asked if he could get a drink of water from my kitchen, I directed him to the wrong cabinet, hoping he would leave fingerprints behind. When he left to get a drink, I was alone in my bedroom. I frantically glanced around and saw my cell phone, a knife, a hammer, and other various tools sitting on my bookcase headboard from unpacking the night before. I knew I could not physically overpower him with any of those objects if he came back.

After what felt like an eternity, I saw something that I never thought I’d live to see – he walked out the front door.

I had survived.

I immediately called 9-1-1 multiple times over a 16 minute period. The dispatcher had a hard time telling officers where to respond because my call would drop repeatedly. They did everything they could to get to me quickly, but it was not quick enough. He had already raped me and was gone.

I will never know if I would have been able to stop my rape if I had owned a firearm. I can tell you that any fear I had of guns evaporated as soon as I got a second chance at living my life. Had I been armed, I very well could have changed my circumstances and possibly prevented another attack on myself or the next victim.

This man was capable of breaking into my apartment and raping me, and in the half-second I saw into his eyes, I knew he could do much worse. My case is atypical because three weeks after my assault, my rapist was caught by police at an apartment complex just half a mile from mine, picking out his next victim. Ronnie Pieros was preparing to attack again, but to what extent?  Would the next woman have lived to report her crime?

I firmly believe in Colorado’s Victim’s Rights Amendment – a law that affords victims of crimes to be heard present, and informed throughout the entire criminal justice process. It helped me through the most difficult time of my life, and I truly feel like the Greeley Police Department and the Weld County District Attorney’s Office were on my side. They did everything in their power to make sure I had a voice.

In front of the Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday, victims and law enforcement alike plead with the legislators not to pass HB 13-1226 – a measure that will ban concealed carry on college campuses. Monday evening, I realized how quickly, and how thoughtlessly, a small group of legislators put prior victim rights groups’ and legislators’ work at risk.

Victims of sexual assault in Colorado were silenced by the committee’s vote, but that’s not all. Now, we are now one step closer to being disarmed on our college campuses – on and near the very places we were sexually assaulted.

Every election season, we see Democratic candidates tout victims and women as a priority. But what happens after the election? Are we still significant?

It seems to me that candidates use this pandering technique solely get the votes they need. After the election, sitting comfortably in their chairs at the Capitol, the voting demographic they relied so heavily on is no longer the priority they once claimed. Some may say it’s unfair for me to make this assumption. But, earlier this week I sat directly in front of the Colorado Senate Committee telling them and a gallery of strangers, as well as media, the story of my vicious rape.

I plead with them not to strip me of my rights to carry the weapon I am licensed to carry on my college campus. The three Democratic Senators chose to ignore my plea. The very people that treated me like a priority when they needed my vote, voted against me when I needed theirs.

I ask – no, I beg – each Colorado Senator to stop ignoring the voices of citizens like me. Don’t re-victimize me with your legislation.

Please, Colorado, don’t disarm me with your vote.