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Until Christmas Eve 1996, she had never contemplated carrying a gun.

Then her husband beat her.

The woman, of Salt Lake City, promptly got a divorce and a protective order - and a 9mm Glock pistol.

"I was always terrified of guns. But my fear of my ex-husband became far greater than my fear of guns. I saw what he was capable of," said the woman.

The Tribune is not identifying the woman because her ex-husband has not been charged with any crime.

She said protective orders alone are not enough to protect her and others like her. A piece of paper won't save them from an abuser hurtling toward them with a fist or a weapon.

So they're taking up arms. And Clark Aposhian, manager of Totally Awesome Guns and Range in Kearns, is helping them do it.

The certified firearms instructor offers a five-hour course on most Saturdays. It is required to receive a Utah concealed weapons permit. The class is $75 a person, but for women or men with a valid protective order, it's free.

Until protection orders are made out of Kevlar, Aposhian said, carrying a gun is the only way a woman can truly defend herself.

"It's not realistic to think a person who is stalking you or harassing you is going to pay attention to a protective order," he said.

Such was the case for the Salt Lake City woman, who said her ex-husband violated her protective order multiple times.

While police officers were quick to respond to her calls for help, she said the courts rarely held her ex-husband accountable.

So she bought a Glock. And she asked the Brigham City Police Department to show her and her children how to use it. At 5 feet tall and 104 pounds, the woman, who also has multiple sclerosis, said she is no match for her ex.

"He has told my daughter, my youngest, that she would not believe how many times and how many different ways he has thought of killing me," she said.

Some abusers make good on their threats. Over one three-day weekend in 1996, Aposhian said there were seven domestic-related homicides in Utah. All seven victims had protective orders.

"What if they wanted to protect themselves or their kids? What could they have done?" he said. "I just picture someone I might love being in the same situation."

That same year, Aposhian began offering the class free to women and men with protective orders. Since then, more than 50 people have taken advantage of the training.

The firearms instructor assumes his students have never seen or used a gun before. He drives home two simple rules: Keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot and always point the muzzle in a safe direction.

Aposhian's students learn how to carry and store their weapons, load and unload, fire, clean and perhaps most importantly, when they should consider using the gun.

"If you feel your life is in danger, or you're in danger of serious bodily injury, or an innocent third person - a child, a friend, someone you've never met before [is also in danger] - you may use any force necessary to stop that attack," he said.

Aposhian said he plans to approach the Legislature's Administrative Rules Committee next month and seek a waiver of the $35 concealed weapons permit processing fee for those with protective orders.

"It all revolves around self defense," Aposhian said. "These are all folks who don't want to hurt anyone. They may or may not have grown up around guns, but they see a need that only a gun can fill."

In North Carolina, lawmakers are encouraging domestic violence victims to exercise their constitutional right to bear arms.

Gov. Mike Easley signed a law Oct. 1 that requires court clerks to give battered spouses information on how to apply for a concealed weapon.

The Domestic Violence Victims Empowerment Act encourages victims to seek temporary permits.

The bill also adds protective orders to the evidence a sheriff can consider when determining whether to issue an emergency permit to carry a concealed weapon. Normally, an applicant must wait 90 days.

Victims advocates in North Carolina criticized the bill, however, arguing that firearms and domestic violence are a deadly combination.

"Generally, the law has focused on taking guns away from the perpetrator as opposed to giving them to the victim," said Craige Harrison, chairman of the Utah Domestic Violence Council.

While a link has been established between guns and violence in relationships, there are no studies linking the safety of a victim to the victim's possession of a concealed weapon, Harrison said.

"I'm not really sure it's going to increase safety," he said.

The Salt Lake City divorcee, however, insists it will.

"When I do pick up my gun to do target practice or whatever, I just feel like, 'Wow, this is empowering,' " she said. "I never thought I would get over [being afraid of guns] and it's nice to know a little lady like me can protect myself."