In this election year, gun control advocates have seized on the idea that “women” hate guns and will vote for candidates who promise stricter gun control.

As a matter of fact, the number of women who own guns has almost doubled in the past ten years. In 1995 Mary Zeiss Stange, author of “Arms and the Woman: A Feminist Reappraisal,” reported that, of the approximately 65 to 80 million American gun owners, an estimated 17 million are women. A far larger number of women have access to guns owned by others in the household, and women comprise half of “purely precautionary gun owners,” that is, people who have guns for self-defense purposes only (and not for target shooting or hunting).

In his book More Guns, Less Crime, Prof. John Lott compared crime statistics from states with “right-to-carry” laws (where law-abiding citizens may obtain permits to carry a concealed weapon relatively easily) versus states that severely restrict concealed weapons permits. He found violent crime rates are much lower in the “right-to-carry” states. In particular, he found that rape and sexual assault rates plummet in areas where a greater number of women have concealed-carry permits. Rapists may be sick and crazy, but not so stupid that they’ll readily assume the risk of hitting on an armed victim.

We are used to hearing about “gun crimes” in which thugs attack defenseless victims. Fortunately, not all potential victims are defenseless. Various experts have estimated that guns are used in self-defense by civilians as many as two to three million times per year.

This includes women. Local crime reports from across the country tell numerous stories of women using shotguns, rifles and pistols to defend themselves and others.

Countless cases are similar to that of Amy Sash in Des Moines, IA. In February 1999, the day after her former boyfriend was released from jail for assaulting her, she bought a revolver for protection. Only a few days later, the man kicked in her door. After warning him, she fired. Although the ex-lover was under a court restraining order, Ms. Sash told the press, “You have to protect yourself at some point.”

Many stories involve women who keep a gun at hand because they find themselves in risky situations, such as working in a jewelry or convenience store, or walking on city streets late at night. But consider Sherry Rives, of Bear Creek, NC, who in June 1997 stepped out of her shower and found a stranger with a knife who said he was going to rape her. She slipped past him to her bedroom, retrieved her pistol and managed to drive him away by firing several shots.

In August 1997 Cindy Murphy’s husband went to the kitchen to investigate a noise and was shot without warning by the intruders. Hearing the shot from the bedroom, Cindy picked up a pistol, went to the kitchen and fired back. Lawton, Okla., police later praised her as “heroic” for having “the presence of mind to defend her fallen husband and two-year-old daughter.”

The “weaker sex” uses guns as an equalizer. Rachel Jackson, of Red Springs, NC, is confined to a wheelchair with spina bifida, but when a man broke into her home in July 1998, she first sprayed him with tear gas, then pulled out her pistol and fired. “I don’t like to feel like a victim,” she later said.

Of course one should always be careful, but having a handy means of self-defense can improve your luck. Tramona Crawford of Winston-Salem, NC, had a certain feeling about the man at her door who asked to borrow jumper cables in March 1999. When she went to get the cables, she also surreptitiously picked up her gun. A moment later, he burst into the room and attacked her with a knife. She shot him. “I keep asking myself,” she later said, “what if my instincts hadn’t gone off?”

Some gunwomen are quite plucky. Lela Phillips, 66, was awakened one night in April 1999 by an intruder, who told her, “This is a stickup.” She replied, “Damn right it is,” and pointed her handgun in his face. Zelda Hunt went to investigate the sound of breaking glass outside her house in Nogales, AZ, in September 1997, carrying her portable phone and her pistol just in case. Seeing a man entering through a window he had just broken, she dialed 911 and then confronted him. As he tried to escape, she said, “Oh, no. You’re not going anywhere. Sit down in that chair and stay there.” Which he did until police arrived.

Often, Moms must step in when the attacker is a real animal. A rabid skunk appeared in the York family’s Palmyra, ME yard and began attacking the family dog. Kathy York, using a single-shot rifle, had to fire several times (her eight-year-old son helped her reload) before the crazed animal was subdued.

Polls may show that a lot of women dislike guns, but real life shows that many women rely on them. It is sad to think that the soccer moms, driving their SUVs in and out of gated communities, would want other women — those who need the night-shift job; those who are stalked, weak, alone; those who live in crime-ridden neighborhoods or distant rural lots — to be deprived of the most effective guarantee of physical safety they are likely to have.