Never did I expect to wind up living alone, in a new area, with a violent acquaintance threatening me because of some perceived offense.

Never did I expect to ever need to carry my handgun to and from work in case that man tracked me down and physically threatened me.

So naturally, I didn't have the paperwork I needed to defend my own life when I needed it most.

New Hampshire has a chance to help women who find themselves terrified, in my situation, by passing Senate Bill 454, which will do away with the paperwork now required to carry a concealed weapon. How unfortunate that the NH Women's Lobby doesn't see it that way and is opposing the bill, which can help women more than men. Men, after all, sometimes have fighting skills and brute physical strength that can help them defend themselves; women rarely do.

Back when I was in this surreal situation, I called the local police department and reported what was happening. The man who had threatened me had been arrested by them three or four times for violent outbursts over a month-long period.

I already owned a gun legally, had taken instruction in using it, and kept it safely in my apartment. I never intended to carry it outside the house, except when I was taking it to target practice.

But what would happen to me if this guy attacked me as I was walking to my car? Or leaving my office? Or as I was reaching for my apartment building key? I wanted permission to carry that pistol in my purse; I deserved a fighting chance to protect myself.

"You should just call us if anything happens," the police officer who took my phone call responded; "That's the safest thing you can do."

I couldn't believe it. I should fumble with my cell phone, pray I get a strong enough signal, and report the incident to the police as I was being attacked? Even if the police showed up one minute later, how long does it really take to assault a woman?

The N.H. Police Association is opposing Senate Bill 454. The fewer guns around, the easier it is for them to do their job. But God bless these heroes, they can't be everywhere at once.

I asked to speak with a higher ranking policeman, and he apologized that the desk officer had offered her personal opinion. Of course I had a legal right to apply for a concealed carry permit, he said. But there was a two-week waiting period. Two weeks -- or even two days -- is an insane amount of time to wait for a permit when someone wants to harm you.

Do bureaucrats really need that long to run a background check on me? Or were they hoping I'd "cool off" and change my mind about the permit? Or maybe the two-week period was simply designed to encourage me to drop out of the application pool.

Waiting period aside, the concealed carry permit application is, in many localities, very discouraging. Local police departments can ask some pretty intrusive questions when you apply for a concealed carry permit:

    * Have you ever taken illegal drugs? (That joint you smoked in high school counts, girls.)

    * Have you ever taken medication for mental illness? (What about that Prozac you tried for a few months, ladies, though you weren't quite certain you needed it?)

It all goes into the record, and gives the authorities a cause to turn you away -- if you're not so intimidated by the invasiveness that you don't turn away first.

Then you're on your own -- free to either live outside the law by carrying your gun illegally, or risk facing your worst nightmare: a violent death you could see coming days in advance.

In the end, things turned out all right for me, but I've been blessed with some fortunate circumstances: I know the "right people;" as a journalist I've been trained to ask the right followup questions; and finally, I had the ability to pack up and move rather than wait out the situation.

Most women aren't as fortunate as I am. What happens to them in states that stand in the way of them protecting themselves? What we do know, from scholars such as John Lott at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., is that crime rates drop once states remove hindrances to citizens carrying their guns.

If people misuse the guns they carry, punish them severely. But allow us, especially women, to have a fighting chance to defend ourselves.

Bernadette Malone is former editorial page editor for The Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News.

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