The majority of Arizona females murdered by a male died at the hands of someone they knew, and were most often shot to death, according to a national study expected to be released Wednesday.

Compared nationally, Arizona was the 21st most deadly state for women, with 35 murders in 1996, the most recent FBI data available.The study looked at only murders in which there was one female victim and one male offender, not all homicides involving female victims.

The anti-gun Violence Policy Center in Washington, D.C., released the study to coincide with Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October.

But center officials also say they want to paint an accurate picture of who is killing women and debunk what they call a pro-gun "myth" that women need guns to protect themselves from stranger attacks.

"The reality of female homicide in America is that females aren't killed by the stranger lurking and waiting to rape and murder them," said Sue Glick, a health policy analyst for the center. "It's someone they know."

But in those cases, the potential victim may be more in need of personal protection, said Sandy Froman, board member and second vice president of the NRA. Particularly in the case of a stalker, said the Tucson attorney.

"That's even more of a reason to think about whether she wants to take the responsibility of purchasing a firearm, learning how to use it . . . and protecting her family," she said.

Based on the results of the study, Froman said, "I don't see how that translates into `They don't need guns.' "

Bahney Dedolph, acting executive director of the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said it is difficult to draw much from the study.

"Looking at one year of data doesn't tell us a whole lot, except that certainly way too many women are killed," she said.

But she said the study confirms the anecdotal information they receive on a daily basis.

"I think it affirms once again the risk that our intimate partners can hold for us," she said.

"Those places where we think we're safest we're not, and that's in our home, with people that we know."

According to FBI data, there were 3,631 female homicide victims - adults and children - across the country in 1996. The study looked at 2,129 of those in which there was a single female victim and a single male offender.

In a state-by-state comparison, Nevada had the highest homicide rate among the female victims with 3.44 per 100,000 people. That was more than twice the national average of 1.57 per 100,000 residents.

Arizona hit the national average and tied with Maine for 21st in the rankings.

Of the 35 females killed by a male in Arizona, 30 knew their attacker and 14 had intimate relationships with them at the time or in the past.

Twenty-four females were shot to death. Eleven of the victims were either under age 18 or senior citizens.

Nationally, the study found that an overwhelming majority of the females, 1,866, were murdered by someone they knew; 151 were murdered by strangers.

Of the 1,866 victims, just over half were killed by an intimate partner, such as a husband or ex-boyfriend.

A murder weapon was identified in 2,023 of the cases studied. The center found that more than half of the victims, 1,139, were shot to death. The others were killed with knives, blunt objects, bodily force or strangulation.