One of the biggest news items in the gun world of late: suppressors and the National Hearing Protection Act. For those not following the news, the NHPA would remove suppressors – a.k.a. “silencers” – from the list of heavily regulated devices, allowing one to purchase them without having to get the tax stamp from the ATF.
This is also the reason a number of people have a threaded barrel for their pistol, whether the threaded barrel goes in their concealed carry holster or not. But just how well do they work?
It’s worth looking at, as one of the biggest selling points of suppressors is that they attenuate noise. The typical gunshot produces 140 to 160 decibels of noise, which instantly damages hearing. Any noise above 140 dB produces instant hearing damage, so anything that brings a gunshot below that threshold is worth looking into.
Just Don’t Call Them Silencers
It’s a myth that suppressors make anything “silent.” A gunshot is still going to sound like a gunshot; it just might be somewhat quieter. That said, how well do they work?
The truth is there’s an economy of scale. Part of it comes down to the suppressor used – is it for the caliber you’re using or is it a generic design for multiple calibers, how long/short it is and how its made – as those factors make an impact. So does ammunition; supersonic ammunition, meaning that traveling at 1,125 miles per hour and faster, makes a sonic “crack” that subsonic ammunition does not. Ambient temperature, humidity and elevation also make an impact.
Put a bit more simply, how well a suppressor works on paper differs from how well it will work for YOU depending on a number of factors, so YMMV (your millage may vary).
A gunshot is still going to sound like a gunshot; it just might be somewhat quieter. That said, let’s try to come up with an average of sorts.
Looking at a few different products, SilencerCo. attests their suppressors reduce the sound pressure of a 9mm gunshot to anywhere from 125.7 dB to 131.5 dB, depending on the model. Advanced Armament Co, another popular supplier, attests a 23 dB to 33dB reduction or down to 127 dB. Liberty Suppressors, another manufacturer, attests a reduction of 24 dB to 38 dB, depending on model and other factors.
In short, we can presume something on the order of 30dB of attenuation as an average. Since the typical gunshot produces about 160 dB of noise, that means a suppressor will still lower the noise to 130 dB. It could be more or less – even much less, in some cases – but this is more of an average rather than for a specific make/model silencer for a specific caliber. You can argue amongst yourselves in the comments if you take umbrage.
Do suppressors work? I still use Ear Protection At All Times…
Presuming an average attenuation of 30 dB and sound level of 130 dB with a suppressor, you should still wear ear protection.
The louder the noise and the longer you’re exposed to the noise level, the more likely hearing damage becomes or the more permanent damage occurs. Hearing loss can be induced by being exposed to a constant 85 dB noise, which is why OSHA mandates 85 dB be as loud as workplaces get – even industrial ones – without mandatory ear protection.
Noises in excess of 120 dB – which is the sound pressure generated by a jumbo jet on tarmac from 100 yards away – can cause permanent hearing loss if exposure lasts just minutes; 15 minutes with a 115 dB sound system will damage your hearing. An afternoon’s shooting, even if attenuated to that low a sound pressure level, can still damage hearing permanently.
However, a pistol or rifle suppressed to 130 dB, with further attenuation from hearing protection, will be safer still.
So, to sum up, suppressors don’t “silence” a gun shot by any means. Though they can be effective and definitely reduce the overall noise level, they still generate – in most cases – sufficient noise to damage hearing. Thus, if you get one, make sure you use it with hearing protection as well.
About Sam Hoober
Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry.