As I’ve mentioned here before, I was a professional musician long before I was a shooter. I’m also the son, grandson, great-grandson, etc. etc. etc. of musicians. As such, I make a part of my daily bread with my ears. And just like a dancer that needs to protect their legs or a visual artist that needs to protect their eyes, I’m fairly fanatical on protecting my ears. In fact, I carry a pair of hi-tech earplugs with me just about all the time. Unfortunately, last Saturday night, I forgot them. And that was the night I attended the reunion of a local 60s band at a downtown night spot. From 9PM ’til almost 1AM, I was in a relatively small, enclosed space, getting bombarded with loud noises. And the result of my little adventure got me to thinking about shooting and ear protection.
The human ear is a marvel of bio-engineering. It can detect everything from a whisper up to the sounds of a Space Shuttle launch and not miss a beat. But listening to loud sounds come at a cost. Every time your ears are subjected to extremely loud noises, you lose a little ability to hear. It’s not necessarily uniform. You can lose sensitivity to certain frequencies. And your ability to hear frequencies changes as you get older. If you’re an iPhone owner, head over to the iTunes store and search for “Annoy a Teenager.” There are several apps that upon command, emit a high-frequency sound that’s detectable only by someone kids, teens and twenty-somethings. Old farts need not apply. I used to drive my daughter and her friends nuts with this, when I first got my iPhone. Comedy gold.
Hearing damage is also cumulative. And impossible to self-diagnose. Case-in-point, my late father. He served in the Navy in WWII. His berth on the Battleship Missouri was right under the 16 in. big guns. Back in the day, nobody ever thought about ear protection. As a result, there were sounds (generally, high-frequency ones) that my dad had trouble hearing. Later in life, his hearing deteriorated. The VA showed us the results of his hearing tests, against the median results from people his age. The difference was like that between “lightning” and “lightning bug” – he needed hearing aids in the worst way. Which is exactly how he wore them to the day he died. He hated those things with a passion he previously reserved for SPAM and K-rations. Had they issued hearing protection during WWII, they said he likely would have had far less hearing loss and might not have needed hearing aids. Hmmm…
Hearing loss is insidious, because it’s gradual and imperceptible. When I left the club, early Sunday morning, my ears were ringing, as were everyone else’s. Someone said, “Oh, wow…wonder when my ears will stop ringing?” But I thought, “Oh, crap. I wonder how much damage I did to my ears, forgetting those damned earplugs?” For you see, the hearing you lose doesn’t really come back, at least not all the way. You just get attenuated to your new, diminished capabilities.
A friend of mine wrote a really interesting book on politics and the media. He’s an economics and political science professor at UCLA. He devised a test to detect bias in the media and rate it not just left or right, but to determine the degree. What he found is that there is bias in the media (no, DUH), but what’s interesting is that this bias has had a direct effect on how Americans think about the issues – and vote. Now you’d think that a college professor with street cred out the wazoo would be accorded some respect, and that he work might be debated, but not assaulted. And you’d be wrong.
While colleagues of his (from both sides of the political spectrum) have leapt to his defense, a number of people have attacked his book (both in the press and in academic circles). Why? They claim that his work couldn’t be accurate, because they, themselves, aren’t biased, and since they see no bias in the media, his book couldn’t be true. That’s what we call “circular logic.” You can’t justify a conclusion by saying since you perceive no bias, there’s no way your perceptions could be broken.
The same thing is true with hearing.
When FPSRussia claims he’s not damaging his hearing by shooting without protection, what he’s talking about is his perception of his hearing. He’s right – he perceives no difference. But put him in a soundproof anechoic chamber and give him a hearing test today, then do one six months from now, and I think he’d be surprised at the difference. My dad had no idea his hearing needed help. But I couldn’t stay in the same room with him when he turned on the TV. His set went from 0 to 50. 20 or so was a comfortable listening level for most people who came to visit. He couldn’t hear it if it was below 45.
Now to be fair, shooting outdoors is a little less damaging than shooting at an indoor range. All that sonic energy dissipates outdoors, whereas inside, it’s got no place else to go. But you can and will damage your hearing outdoors without protection. It’s only a matter of time.
So the next time you want to wonder why we rag on FPSRussia for not wearing hearing protection, remember that he’s a role model for thousands of people online. And just like musicians that need their hearing intact, the ability to hear what might be coming is vital to your ability to use a firearm both safely and effectively. Hear me?