Unsuppressed gunfire is loud. Also, water is wet.
I learned just how loud gunfire is a few weeks back at my covered outdoor range, when the trigger-happy dude in the next lane decided to start blasting away as soon as the day’s shooting was permitted to begin, without checking if the other shooters loading mags had their ears on. (I do not absolve myself of blame, but my finger was not the one on the trigger.)
A single round of 9mm in the next lane, 3 feet away from my left ear with just a 1/2″ barrier of plywood between us, caused me some pain, partially deafened me temporarily, and made my ears ring for a while. The effects could only be worse if there were multiple shots, if there was no barrier between me and the gunfire, or if the shooting occurred indoors.
What is “loud”? From the link above: “Keep in mind that conversational speech is approximately 60-65 dB, and the threshold of pain is considered to be 140 dB. According to Dr. William Clark, Ph.D. senior research scientist in charge of the NOISE LABORATORY at the Central Institute for the Deaf in St. Louis, the damage caused by one shot from a .357 magnum pistol, which can expose a shooter to 165 dB for 2msec, is equivalent to over 40 hours in a noisy workplace. ”
Some people claim that limited amounts of gunfire will not cause permanent hearing damage if they are experienced when the recipient has adrenaline stoking their furnace. Anecdotes are furnished, and many make perfect sense, but anecdotes are not fact. And which of us would like to volunteer to test it? Not me.
And that got me thinking: hearing is very important to self-defense. It’s a 360-degree sense, unlike vision which has a field-of-view less than 180-degrees horizontal and 100-degrees vertical (for humans other than Marty Feldman). Even with ear protection on, a shooter should be able to identify a squib round’s different sound and know that they should stop shooting.
Consequently, the inability to hear can place a person at a severe disadvantage. Just look at the people shuffling around with iPods plugged into their ears, waiting to get mugged or run over in a crosswalk. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Culling the herd of hipsters would be an improvement in this Gen-Xer’s opinion.
Back to the guns & hearing issue. Firing a gun even once will probably cause a temporary loss of hearing. During that time, you are at a disadvantage. You won’t be able to hear someone sneaking up behind you. You won’t be able to hear someone whispering to a partner-in-crime or reloading their gun around the next corner, or in the next room, or a loved one calling for help upstairs.
If a policeman responds to a crime scene, he or she has no way of knowing for sure who the perp is and who the legitimately-armed citizen defending him- or herself is. And if you can’t hear, you might not hear the officer’s arrival or their challenge, and wind up getting shot because you did not comply with their instruction to drop your weapon.
Leaving aside the option of suppressed weapons, this issue has implications for people who intend on using a firearm to defend themselves. The typical advice offered for self-defense weapons in the home falls into 3 flavors:
If we throw the hearing issue into the mix, here is what a shooter has to cope with:
Remember, the threshold of pain is 140 dB, and every 10 dB means a doubling of the sound intensity. And the noise of gunfire will be magnified indoors.
While the best-laid plans often go right out the window when the defecation contacts the rotary oscillator, investing in some electronic hearing-protection and keeping them with your home-defense gun is probably sound advice. Heh.
One idea that I am curious to get confirmation on is the noise level of pistol-caliber carbines. Pistol ammo generally uses fast-burning powder, and a 16″ barrel will give a lot more volume for the powder of a handgun round to finish expanding. Which means less noise, I think.
If anyone has a line on some hard data for the noise levels of pistol ammo in rifle-length barrels, post a link in comments.
But I am still going to keep a pistol-caliber carbine handy as my go-to gun for responding to situations where I have time to prepare myself.