The Sound and the Fury

Evolution in action

Evolution in action

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:

  1. A pump/auto shotgun (powerful & intimidating; 2-handed = more accuracy)
  2. An assault rifle like the AR15 and Mini14 (powerful, high capacity, 2-handed = more accuracy)
  3. A handgun (leaves a hand free to hold a light/open doors/dial a phone; easier to maneuver indoors)

If we throw the hearing issue into the mix, here is what a shooter has to cope with:

  1. 12ga (18″ barrel)……….. 161.50 dB
  2. 55gr .223 with 18″ barrel…………155.5 dB
  3. 9mm handgun…………… 159.8 dB

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.

Problem is, I cannot find any solid documentation in any of these interweb tubes.  Plenty of anecdotal confirmation, though.

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.

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5 Responses to “The Sound and the Fury”

  1. Dennis says:

    Boy do I know that is true! I found out when I hand my hearing protector to another person on an indoor range. Just .22 rounds but times that by 8 people and och. Good to know about the other guns.

  2. Skinnedknuckles says:

    It must be old age making for fond memories, but when bird hunting as a teenager I don’t remember being “deafened” but shotgun blasts, either from my own or my hunting partner’s gun. But that was a long time ago and maybe the wide open spaces of the Mid West might have had something to do with it. And maybe that’s part of the reason my wife tells me I need to get my hearing checked 😉

    Concerning pistol caliber carbines, could you suggest a list of possibles, particularly in .38/.357. I know of a few levers, pumps seem to be out of production, and while the Ruger bolt action looks like a great little gun, it doesn’t seem like a good HD candidate.

  3. Gunnutmegger says:

    As far as new guns go, I would avoid Marlin lever actions. Their quality has slipped drastically since they were absorbed into the Cerberus/Remington conglomerate. Used models more than 3 years old should be fine, but they are appreciating in value.

    Kel-Tec makes a 9mm or .40 carbine called the Sub2000. Unlike their handguns, the Sub2000 has a decent track record of reliability.

    Beretta makes the CX4 Storm in 9mm, .40 and .45. One neat feature of the CX4 is that the user can change the gun from a right-handed/right-ejection setup to a left-handed/left-ejection setup.

    Pistol-caliber uppers are available for AR15s. Different brands use different methods of adapting the big mag-well for skinny pistol-caliber magazines.

    Heckler & Koch makes the USC in .45. Expensive but nice.

    Taurus is supposed to have a model coming out, but their track record for quality is spotty.

    Hi-Point makes some models, but I am not convinced that they will hold up to serious use.

    Although they are not made anymore, if you can find a used Ruger PC9 or PC4, buy it. Tough and reliable.

  4. Double A.D. says:

    With all due respect, shame on you and any other shooter who were anywhere near the firing line with out having hearing protection on or not. That guy had every right to start cranking away once the line was cleared. I shoot at Blue Trails occasionally and I pretty much put my “ears” on as soon as I get out of the car. I’ll take them off inside to pay the range dues, then back on they go.

    • Crapgame says:

      To be fair to Gunnutmegger — the dumbass in the next lane was me. It was just the two of us on the line at our club. We were setting up before the time you can start shooting. I’ll say it was out of character for me, but it just goes to show that even someone experienced and safety conscious can have a lapse. I made a bad assumption and hurt my friend. We were both very lucky that it wasn’t worse.