Regular readers (all three of you) know that I've made the argument in the past that guns are, on balance, not a good investment for self defense. There are a great many potential misuses, and the statistical evidence that having a gun in the home puts you more at risk, not less, is overwhelming. For those of you who want to read those past posts - there are too many to link here - you'll find them in the archives, usually with the Self Defense label.
With all of that having been said, I have to acknowledge that guns can be used for self defense. Sometimes, they are in fact the tool for the job. For those who prefer to think of guns in a positive light (or for those of us who need to be reminded that the world is a complex place), here's a case to consider:
The take-home message here isn't simple, however - especially in light of the current national debate. The gun in question was presumably legally owned, and was legally used in a way that nobody has argued against. The gun itself, a .38 special, is likely to remain legally available under any reasonably conceivable gun regulations. To the extent that this woman may have needed to obtain some kind of training as a condition for acquiring her weapon, that was likely all to the good.
Proposed restrictions on "assault weapons" don't have any impact on this scenario. Neither do changes to regulations surrounding gun shows (.38 specials being legally acquirable through licensed dealers), or high-capacity magazines, or "stand your ground" laws. The post-Newtown conversation really has nothing at all to do with this kind of case, and there is no foreseeable chance that other women faced with this scenario will have their options restricted in ways that this woman did not.
So there is no reasonable argument that guns are never useful for self defense. They provide some benefits against some scenarios (aggressive home intruders) while increasing risks in others (escalating arguments, suicides, accidents, children taking them for other purposes). In a society in which guns are legal (as ours is and will remain), the decision to have a gun is an intensely personal one. We should hope that people make this decision in light of all the evidence, and not because they belong to a particular political tribe or have latched on to one particular anecdote.