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Watch what happens when regular people try to use handguns in self-defense

In a study commissioned by the National Gun Victims Action Council, the group found that people without firearms training performed poorly in simulated scenarios, like a carjacking, an armed robbery and a suspected larceny. (Video: National Gun Victims Action Council)

In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, the National Rifle Association proposed putting more guns in schools. After a racist shot up a Charleston prayer group, an NRA board member argued for more guns in church. And now predictably, politicians and gun rights advocates are calling for guns in movie theaters after a loner killed two people at a theater in Louisiana.

The notion that more guns are always the solution to gun crime is taken seriously in this country. But the research shows that more guns lead to more gun homicides -- not less. And that guns are rarely used in self-defense.

Now a new study from researchers at Mount St. Mary's University sheds some light on why people don't use guns in self-defense very often. As it turns out, knowing when and how to apply lethal force in a potentially life-or-death situation is really difficult.

The study was commissioned by the National Gun Victims Action Council, an advocacy group devoted to enacting "sensible gun laws" that "find common ground between legal gun owners and non-gun owners that minimizes gun violence in our culture." The study found that proper training and education are key to successfully using a firearm in self-defense: "carrying a gun in public does not provide self-defense unless the carrier is properly trained and maintains their skill level," the authors wrote in a statement.

They recruited 77 volunteers with varying levels of firearm experience and training, and had each of them participate in simulations of three different scenarios using the firearms training simulator at the Prince George's County Police Department in Maryland. The first scenario involved a carjacking, the second an armed robbery in a convenience store, and the third a case of suspected larceny.

They found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people without firearms training performed poorly in the scenarios. They didn't take cover. They didn't attempt to issue commands to their assailants. Their trigger fingers were either too itchy -- they shot innocent bystanders or unarmed people, or not itchy enough -- they didn't shoot armed assailants until they were already being shot at.

The researchers released some fascinating video comparing how regular citizens and trained police officers performed in the scenarios. In the carjacking scenario, for instance, the police officer draws his gun, takes cover, and issues verbal commands to the would-be carjacker.

By contrast, here's what one average citizen did:

The civilian just stands there, holding her gun limply at her side. She doesn't begin to raise it until the assailant has already fired his first shot.

In the armed robbery situation, again the officer ducks for cover and waits until bystanders are out of the way before engaging the assailants.

By contrast, here's how one civilian fared:

The study, of course, has its limitations. Seventy seven participants is a very small sample size, for instance. But its conclusion should be fairly uncontroversial: if you want to be able to use a gun in self-defense, you should be trained in how to do so. The NRA has long emphasized the importance of training and safety in personal firearms use, and offers a series of courses dedicated to self-defense.

The NRA likes the idea of training so much that it's floated the idea of mandatory firearms training for school children. On the other hand, it's opposed laws requiring mandatory training for gun purchases. Many states allow concealed carry without any training or permit for people as young as 16. Most states don't require gun owners or purchasers to even be licensed, much less trained. And a handful, like Arizona, have passed laws prohibiting localities from imposing their own training requirements.

There's a lot of middle ground between "repealing the Second Amendment" and "requiring school children to pass firearm training." Requiring gun owners to be trained and licensed, similar to what we require of say, automobile drivers, may be in a middle area that more people could agree on.