Robert J. Spitzer, author of Guns Across America, penned an opinion piece about silencers in the Washington Post this week. Like much of what we are accustomed to reading about firearms in today’s media, Spitzer is disingenuous in his arguments against the Hearing Protection Act (HPA) – a bill that proposes suppressors be removed from the National Firearms Act (NFA) of 1934. He begins:
Gunfire — loud, sharp, rude, abrupt — is an important safety feature of any firearm. From potential victims who seek to escape a mass shooting to a hiker being alerted to the presence of a hunter in the woods, the sound warns bystanders of potentially lethal danger. Yet gun advocates insist there is a greater danger: hearing loss by gun owners.
I am sure Spitzer is not the first gun control advocate to suggest that the report of a firearm is actually an “important safety feature”, however it is the first time I’ve heard it used in this context. A common misconception about silencers that has been repeated numerous times, is that a suppressed weapon can be used as a “silent killer”. Just two weeks prior, the author’s same publication addressed the Hollywood perception of silencers, confirming they are anything but silent.
Proponents of the deregulation of silencers, such as myself, will repeat this one fact over and over: legally referred to as silencers, these devices do not silence a firearm. In the majority of cases, additional hearing protection, such as ear plugs, must be worn even when a suppressor is used while shooting. So the author’s argument that silencers remove a “safety feature” (loud noises) from a discharged firearm is already crumbling. Honestly, for a professor, I’d expect at least some research followed by fact-based arguments.
But don’t take my word for it, Knox Williams, President of the American Suppressor Association (ASA) introduced me to Dr. Micheal Stewart, Director of Audiology at the Department of Communication Disorders at Central Michigan University. I asked Dr. Stewart “Is it possible to damage a persons hearing when using muffs or plugs alone?” He writes:
Yes, it is possible, especially if individuals are shooting numerous rounds of large caliber firearms with hearing protection devices (HPDs) that are not properly applied. For instance, the famous yellow plug has a high noise reduction rating (NRR), but it must be inserted properly. Also, it is not well suited for small, curvy ear canals so there is not a good acoustic seal and thus individual do not achieve the tabled attenuation values. In fact, NIOSH has de-rated formable plugs 50%, muffs 25%, and most other plugs 70%. The real world attenuation values may be significantly lower than the attenuation values obtained in the laboratory. Additionally, our research at CMU has consistently found that most hunters do not wear HPDs during hunting activities and many target shooters do not wear HPDs on a consistent basis.
As hearing conservationist, we are interested in the science regarding suppressors, not the politics. There is no doubt that suppressors (often incorrectly referred to as silencers) are effective in reducing auditory risk, however, HPDs should be used in conjunction with suppressors to further reduce risk. Depending on the type of firearm, caliber of firearm, and the acoustic environment, recreational firearm users may be able to wear HPDs with lower NRR values that still allow them to hear while protecting their hearing when shooting firearms equipped with suppressors.
‘Hearing Conservation, Not Politics’. Sounds familiar…
But there is a deeper concern with Spitzer’s Washington Post editorial, Spitzer makes claims regarding the HPA that need to be addressed. He writes:
The NRA is renewing with gusto its misbegotten push, begun in the last Congress, to make gun silencers easier to acquire by swiping a page from the public health community’s long-standing efforts to warn of the dangers of firearms. The Hearing Protection Act, which would remove federal registration and identification requirements for those seeking gun silencers…
First off, suppressors will only be “easier to acquire” because of the disappearance of abnormally long wait times to possess silencers which are fueled by bureaucracy and not due to a lack of background checks. The HPA proposes that the purchase of silencers be treated the same as long arms, which means that prospective buyers will still need to undergo a background check and follow all state and federal firearms laws. Let’s not forget that sound suppressors are nothing more than hollow tubes – they can’t fire any ammunition on their own.
Which leads me to another point: basic firearm silencers can be constructed from materials found in two isles of a hardware store for less than $20. If would-be criminals were so inclined, in a few hours time they could fashion a firearm suppressor that performs on par with commercially manufactured suppressors. Of course, in the process they would be violating several federal laws, punishable with a minimum of ten years in prison. But everyone knows that criminals check to see which laws not to break, on their way to break several other laws.
Since silencers don’t actually silence firearms and add up to a foot of length to any weapon, an overwhelming majority of criminals give no thought to attaching a muffler to their instruments of criminality. We are talking about statistically insignificant percentages of suppressors being used to commit crimes.
Go on, Professor, you were saying:
Absent some kind of cataclysmic hearing-loss crisis by America’s tens of millions of gun owners, this political push should be recognized for what it is: an effort to provide an extremely small benefit to gun owners that willfully ignores what can happen to others once a bullet leaves a gun barrel. The lifesaving safety benefits of gun noise should weigh far more in the silencer debate. Just ask anyone caught in the vicinity of a shooting.
Since when do shooters “willfully ignore” what happens when a bullet leaves a barrel? And yes, most suffer from some form of hearing loss; no it’s not an “extremely small benefit”. In a recent post by the ASA, they reference a 2011 report completed by the Centers For Disease Control (CDC) after a noise and lead analysis at a range in California. On page five the authors conclude:
The only potentially effective noise control method to reduce students’ or instructors’ noise exposure from gunfire is through the use of noise suppressors that can be attached to the end of the gun barrel. However, some states do not permit civilians to use suppressors on firearms.
It’s journalism like this column in the Post, masked as news analysis, that makes much of America wary of what they read in papers today. The Washington Post touted your opinion piece as being written by an expert, and yet you willfully ignore facts, data and evidence to push an agenda.
For shame, Professor. A man with your educational background should understand that fact-based arguments outweigh emotional rhetoric. Almost every aspect of your opinion piece is invalid and rooted in common misconceptions.
The HPA removes unnecessary barriers to lawful suppressor ownership through deregulation. Sure, they will no longer be listed on the NFA registry (a glorified national list of tubes), but each buyer must still pass the same background check used for every other gun purchased in the United States. And remember, silencers cannot fire a single bullet on their own.
This is the part of the article where I am supposed to offer you the chance to come over and shoot a few suppressed firearms in an attempt to “win you over”. No thanks; after reading your borderline slanderous opinion piece, I’m certain there is no empirical evidence that will help you come to an informed decision.
Ironic that we are talking about silencers since it is pretty clear that you are stuck in your own echo chamber.