Suppressors: Hearing Protection or Safety Threat?
NPR recently did a story on the Hearing Protection Act, legislation aimed at reducing restrictions on the purchase of suppressor also known as silencers. Currently, to own a suppressor you must go through a federal registration process and pay a $200 fee, the process takes about nine months. The Hearing Protection Act would eliminate the fee and not have a federal waiting period, but rather rely on state laws.
Supporters of the act, point to the reduction in sound level output as a method of reducing the risk for hearing loss, hence the name of the act. Opponents claim that suppressors make it harder to detect a gun and reduce the flash at the end of the muzzle. However, there appears to be misinformation from both sides of the debate. For example, supporters report that use of suppressors may negate the need for hearing protection devices. However, Lobarinas et al. (2016) found that the Armalite Rifle model 15 (AR-15), one of the more popular rifles, had unsuppressed outputs in the range of 160–185 dB peak SPL depending on the length of barrel and microphone position.
In the best-suppressed condition, i.e., longer barrel length, use of subsonic ammunition, output levels were still above 125 dB peak SPL, while most suppressed conditions ranged in the 140–150 dB peak SPL range. The authors reported that use of suppressors significantly reduced the danger of noise-induced pathology from firearms, but did not eliminate the need for hearing protection devices. On the other side, opponents point to decreased ability of law enforcement to detect the direction of weapon being fired, reduction in the flash from a weapon, and a potential for criminal use. Though the use of suppressors in crimes is very low and suppressors also make a weapon harder to hide, in addition to increasing weight (Clark 2007). Further, flash hiders are already available without a special license in most states.
Are suppressors another form of hearing conservation for recreational shooters and hunters? Is the act’s name merely a selling point to bring more revenue to gun manufacturers? Is the risk of criminal use (who may not follow laws anyway) too high to increase legal availability, despite potential hearing conversation implications?
What do you think?
Clark. (2007) Criminal Use of Firearm Silencers, Western Criminology Review 8 (2):44–57.
Lobarinas, Scott, Spankovich, Le Prell. (2016) Differential effects of suppressors on hazardous sound pressure levels generated by AR-15 rifles: Considerations for recreational shooters, law enforcement, and the military, Int J. Audiology 55:S59-S71.
Rott N. (2017) Debate Over Silencers: Hearing Protection or Public Safety Threat? National Public Radio (NPR). March 21.