There's been a steady stream of stories over the past year about the rapes of women in India. Now, Indian officials have unveiled a gun they say women can use to protect themselves.

The .32-caliber revolver is called Nirbheek, for the victim of a December 2012 gang rape and murder aboard a bus in New Delhi. Indian law forbids the identification of rape victims, and the Indian media called her "Nirbhaya," which means fearless.

"After the gang-rape incident, our researchers were working on a revolver which is very light and can be carried by women in their purses or small handbags," Abdul Hamid, the general manager of the Indian Ordnance Factory in Kanpur, told the semi-official Press Trust of India news agency.

Hamid said there have already been 20 orders for the lightweight weapon that's made of titanium alloy. He said the gun, which will be delivered in a special ornamental box, also will be sold to men. Here's how The Times of India reported on it:

"Described by arms experts as an Indian hybrid of a Webley & Scott and Smith & Wesson, for its simple mechanism and light frame, it is the smallest revolver made in India — an ideal to fit a purse or a small hand bag."

Civilian ownership of firearms in India is relatively uncommon, mainly because of the cost of weapons as well as onerous licensing requirements. Indeed, the Nirbheek is priced at nearly $2,000, in a country where the per capita income is about $1,500 (purchasing power parity is $3,608).

The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, in its 2011 report, estimated that there were about 46 million civilian firearms in India. It's the second-highest number of civilian firarms in the world. By contrast, there were 270 million civilian firearms in the U.S., the top-ranked country. But India has more than 1 billion people, and the survey estimates that there are 4 civilian firearms per 100 residents. (In the U.S., by contrast, there are 89 per 100 residents.)

Still, the Times of India notes that the marketing of a weapon to women in Uttar Pradesh state, where Kanpur is located, shouldn't be surprising. Here's more:

"In a state where government offers arms licences as incentive to achieve wheat procurement and immunization targets, it is not surprising that a total of 11,22,814 persons have licensed arms as per the state home department records. This is over four times the count of firearms available with the Uttar Pradesh Police. ... Hence a ready market already seems in place for Nirbheek."

Reaction to the gun, which was unveiled Jan. 9, has been mixed.

"Once a target of rape whips out a handgun, the element of surprise is sure to scare the life out of most of the persons who attempt rape," Arun Kumar, a senior police officer in the state, told the newspaper. "In most of criminal cases in India, the perpetrator, irrespective of whether armed or not, neither expects nor faces any stiff resistance from the target. Women carrying small handguns will surely make a difference to the tendency."

But Shalini Seth, a medical executive, told the newspaper that carrying a gun is unlikely to help a woman who is being attacked.

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