This week’s “Daily Journal” guest columnist is Jana Dunkley, Program Assistant for the John Locke Foundation.

My own ideas of female equality aside, most women suffer a severe disadvantage in physical fights with men. Without an equalizing force or strength, women who are taken unaware often find themselves victims of violent crimes. Guns can and do, for many women, serve as a safe, legal, and sensible equalizer against violent criminals.

Unarmed women are far more likely to become victims of a crime. The N.C. State Bureau of Investigation indicated there were 2,430 reported cases of rape in North Carolina in 2006. Of those reported cases, 2,068 offenders were unarmed and used their hands, fists, feet, or physical force to carry out the assault. If more of the victims had been armed, they would have stood a better chance of fending off their attackers.

Reality and statistics prove that armed women are safer. Each day about 500 women use firearms for protection against sexual assault or physical abuse. The National Center for Policy Analysis indicates in more than 98 percent of self-defense cases with firearms the victim does not even have to use the weapon to prevent the criminal from attacking.

Women should consider a handgun to be a legitimate means of protection. A number of women firmly believe they will never fall victim to a sexual assault, murder, or burglary — making them a more accessible target to potential attackers. Others feel carrying a gun for protection is equivalent to fighting violence with violence. Some women are afraid that by using a firearm they will harm themselves or someone else. However, if a woman’s life is on the line, using a weapon to disable the attacker is simply a means of survival. Often fear comes from the lack of firearm education. Women should at least learn how to operate a gun as a form of protection. Understanding how a gun works can actually decrease one’s fear of a firearm.

Firearm education is a vital source of protection, and when completed successfully, can decrease the crime rate. In 1965 Orlando was experiencing an increase in the number of rapes taking place in the city. The police responded by offering a widely advertised gun-training course for women. By 1966 Orlando’s rate of violent sexual assault dropped 88 percent. In the rest of the country, the rate remained about the same as it had been. Imagine the decrease in the number of such assaults in North Carolina if more women had enrolled in a firearms education course.

Mostly out of fear, I never considered the option of protecting myself with a gun. I had been unfamiliar with guns, having never seen or touched one until recently. Honestly, I always had been irrationally convinced that a gun could pull its own trigger.

Hypothetically, I began to ask myself — how could I protect myself from a violent criminal? I could grow my fingernails out several inches and scratch my attacker, or rely on my screams to be heard by someone — anyone — nearby. I could even use my spiked heels as a weapon. Perhaps I could take a class in physical self-defense for women. Self defense classes are time-consuming, requiring development and mastery of skills I am uninterested in learning. When it comes down to it, I fear that I have no way of really protecting myself against violent attack.

With the encouragement of friends and co-workers, I enrolled in a one-on-one gun-training course to overcome my fear of firearms and to educate myself about this source of protection. After a half-hour of lecture on aim, stance, and proper hand alignment I faced my fear and fired some lethal weapons. I didn’t do too badly, either. A few rounds in, I made some definite progress on my target.

I also learned that it actually takes five pounds of force on the trigger to fire a bullet from the Smith & Wesson revolver I was shooting. Contrary to popular belief, I am assured that guns do not randomly decide to shoot.

Unfortunately, our law enforcement personnel cannot predict the criminal intentions of potential rapists, burglars, and murderers. They can only respond after the fact. It is up to us to protect ourselves. If ever given the situation, I would much rather know how to shoot the gun than be entirely defenseless.