The Corner

Politics & Policy

What ‘Silencers’ (Don’t) Do

(George Frey/Reuters)

About the recent shooting, Juliette Kayyem — “a former assistant secretary of homeland security and is faculty chair of the homeland security program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government” — has this to say in the Washington Post:

Details of the rampage include one fact unique to the growing list of active-shooter cases: the assailant used a .45-caliber handgun with extended magazines and a barrel suppressor. This small detail — that the loaded gun was fitted with simple, and lawful, “silencing” equipment — threatens to upend how we understand and train for active-shooter cases in the future.

. . .

It is true that suppressors do not quiet guns; industry experts often cringe at the popular reference to “silencers.” Instead, suppressors act like a car muffler — both devices were pioneered by the same inventor, Hiram Percy Maxim — by cooling and dissipating the gases that emanate from the chamber as the trigger is being pulled. That alters the sound enough that the gunshot’s normal sound — a suppressed gunshot can sound like a chair scraping on the floor — is difficult to identify.

A few points here. For one, the fact that this is “unique” to this shooting would seem to indicate that it’s not what we should dwell on when trying to prevent shootings in general, especially given that suppressors are legal in many states, widely available, and regularly used to protect hearing. (Not to mention already tightly regulated.) They’re not some new product that slipped through a legal loophole like bump stocks.

Second, if we’re concerned about other shooters mimicking this, calling it an “ominous precedent” in the Washington Post seems like an odd way to head that off.

And third, about that chair-scraping-on-the-floor bit. Here’s how a fact-checker at . . . the Washington Post . . . described the actual effect of a suppressor on various firearm calibers:

Katie Peters, a spokeswoman for [an anti-suppressor group], supplied an article that stated: “The average suppression level, according to independent tests done on a variety of commercially available suppressors, is around 30 dB, which is around the same reduction level of typical ear protection gear often used when firing guns.”

. . .

Peters acknowledged that gun enthusiasts recommend that even with suppressors, other hearing protection is necessary. Hearing damage begins to occur at about 85 decibels, about the sound of a hairdryer.

. . .

A 30-decibel reduction in theory means an AR-15 rifle would have a noise equivalent of 132 decibels. That is considered equivalent to a gunshot or a jackhammer. A .22-caliber pistol would be 116 decibels, which is louder than a 100-watt car stereo. In all likelihood, the noise level is actually higher.

Suppressors reduce the sound of a gun from painfully loud” to “loud but tolerable.” The makers of the “quietest 45 pistol suppressor on the market” brag about getting the sound down to about 129 decibels. And whatever the volume, they don’t sound like a chair scraping on the floor.

I won’t say this never matters when it comes to violence. There may be times when a gunshot is harder to hear over other loud noises, or when it’s harder to tell, from a distance, where gunshots are coming from. But that’s roughly the ten-thousandth thing we should be worried about when it comes to mass shootings.

The Free Beacon‘s Stephen Gutowski has a thread noting other issues with the new Post article as well here.

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