Suppressors (aka silencers) have been getting a ton of publicity lately. If you haven’t been catching up on the news, organizations such as the Hearing Protection Act and SHUSH are working hard to pass bills that will deregulate these gun accessories.
If this happens and the bills pass, this act will prevent suppressors from heavy regulation, and will allow civilians to purchase them just as easily as they would a firearm, but without the tax stamp. In turn, shops would sell them over the counter, just like any other gun accessory.
However, because of all the hype, potential suppressor purchasers are beginning to get the wrong idea about suppressors and what they’re actually capable of (typically due to seeing them only in action movies). For instance, many believe their new suppressor will be absolutely whisper quiet. And this just isn’t the case. Given the wrong expectations, these individuals might feel like their new suppressor is a total waste of money.
According to The Truth About Guns:
The typical gunshot produces 140 to 160 decibels of noise. Any noise above 140 dB can produce instant hearing damage, so anything that brings a gunshot below that threshold is worth looking into.
It’s a myth that suppressors make any firearm “silent.” A gunshot is still going to sound like a gunshot; it’s just going to be somewhat quieter. That said, how much quieter?
The truth is there’s an economy of scale. Part of the noise attenuation comes down to the suppressor used. Is it designed for the caliber you’re using or is it more of a generic design intended for multiple calibers? How long/short is the suppressor and how is it made? Those factors make an impact on the noise reduction you’ll experience.
So does the ammunition you use. Supersonic ammunition — anything traveling at 1,125 feet per second and faster — makes a sonic “crack” when it breaks the sound barrier that subsonic ammo doesn’t. Ambient temperature, humidity and elevation also make an impact.
Put a bit more simply, how well a suppressor works on paper can and will differ from how well it will work for you depending on a number of factors, so your mileage may vary.
That said, let’s try to come up with an average noise reduction estimate of sorts.
Looking at a few different products, SilencerCo says 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, claims a 23 dB to 33dB reduction or down to about 127 dB. Liberty Suppressors says their cans reduce the sound of a gun shot from 24 dB to 38 dB, depending on model and other factors as above.
In short, we can presume something on the order of 30dB of attenuation as an average. Since the typical 9mm gunshot produces about 160 dB of noise, that means a suppressor will lower the boom to about 130 dB. It could be more or less – even much less, in some cases – but that’s a reasonable average. You can argue amongst yourselves in the comments if you take umbrage.
Assuming an average noise reduction of 30 dB and a sound level of 130 dB with a suppressor, you’ll still want to wear ear protection. Your fellow shooters and neighbors in the area will appreciate the relative quiet, but you’ll still need to protect your ears.
The louder the noise and the more you’re exposed to a noise level, the more likely hearing damage becomes. 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. Fifteen minutes listening to a 115 dB sound system will probably damage your hearing. An afternoon’s shooting, even if attenuated by a suppressor to that lower level, can still damage your hearing permanently.
This information is critically important for new suppressor purchasers to know. That’s because they often come in with the expectation that their new silencer will do just that – completely silence the shot every single time. And that just isn’t the case.
In the end, it all comes down to the firearm and the ammunition you choose. However, even considering all these factors and planning accordingly, the truth is that suppressors still will not silence the shot completely. And, although they are still very effective at reducing the noise and protecting your hearing, they are not 100% effective.
Therefore, it is a good idea for suppressor purchasers to still plan on using this device with hearing protection. Otherwise, they might see their purchase as a worthless investment.