Silencing Firearms to Protect Hearing

Judy Huch
October 18, 2016

HHTM Staff: Last month a multi-month Noise series arrived at the practical stage by describing actual products that go in ears to protect hearing in potentially damaging noise situations.  Speaking specifically to those who hunt with firearms, Patty Johnson, AuD, described active hearing protectors as an ideal solution that provides:

“enhanced awareness, clear communication, and blast protection [while] allowing quiet and moderate sounds to pass through as though nothing were in the ears…” 

We thought that ended it: Case Solved.  Use active ear protection when shooting.  Next subject.


Not so Fast!


October 2013 brought proposed legislation in Ohio’s House of Representatives which would allow hunters to outfit their firearms with noise suppressors, on the rationale that this would make “shooting firearms safer, more neighbor friendly and more enjoyable.”   Maybe so, but that statement confuses us as Audiologists and neighbors.  Fortunately, Patty Johnson had something to say on the topic last month and also directed us to a expert in the field of silencers and suppressors.  Their comments, together with the Ohio Representative’s,  form the bulk of today’s post.


The Argument for Noise Suppressors


Knox Williams

Knox Williams

Knox Williams is the expert on silencers and suppressors.  His impressive bio is found below today’s post. Cheryl Grossman is the co-sponsor of the Ohio legislation, Patty Johnson wrote two Guest Posts on electronic earplugs.

Patty Johnson (excerpted from her post) :  Sometimes a silencer will reduce the blast to below 140 dB but other times it’s not enough. And how will you know if your gun is one of the louder ones? You won’t. I’m all for anything that helps, so if you have a suppressor, please use it! But realize that it probably doesn’t reduce sound enough, and you’ll still need hearing protection, especially if you do a lot of shooting.

Cheryl Grossman (regarding her legislative bill):  “Suppressors or silencers can help reduce the noise of gunfire to safe hearing levels. Suppressors are a valuable asset in preventing noise-induced hearing loss. It is not unique to hear of hunters who require the use of hearing aids as a result of exposure to shooting.”

Knox Williams (regarding all of the above):  I serve as the President of the American Silencer Association. We are a non-profit trade association which represents the suppressor industry. Part of our mission is to reform state hunting and ownership laws and regulations in order to advance our industry. Ohio is one of the states in which we are working to repeal the prohibition of suppressor use while hunting.

Rep. Grossman’s quotes are spot on. Most hunters understand the dangers of single shot exposure to gunfire, yet still choose not to wear hearing protection in the field because they do not want to sacrifice their situational awareness. There are options available for savvy hunters, including  electronic earplugs, which allow hunters to protect their hearing and still maintain their situational awareness, but these, and similar items, have not yet found widespread use within the industry.

Suppressors, on the other hand, have become an increasingly popular accessory within the shooting and hunting communities. In large part, this is due to their ability to allow hunters to maintain their auditory situational awareness. Their primary purpose is to decrease the SPL of their host firearm, which has intrinsic benefits to both the shooter and those nearby.

Patty is correct about the wide range of dB reduction, but it is easier for shooters to determine their effectiveness than by testing them themselves. Most manufacturers publish their dB reduction data for each suppressor with a specified type of ammunition. This gives a fairly accurate estimate of dB reduction for the suppressor. The majority of well-engineered suppressors reduce the SPL of their corresponding host firearm to below the hearing safe threshold of 140 dB for impulse noises. Thus, for single shot exposure, suppressors are able to mitigate and/or eliminate the possibilities of tinnitus and/or NIHL. That said, for prolonged exposure to gunfire, hearing protection should certainly be worn.


Silencer or Suppressor?


I was curious as to why all of the above refer to noise “suppressors” but the national organization’s title is American Silencer Association.   Knox Williams explained:

To your question about suppressor vs silencer, when the ATF regulated suppressors in 1934 it referred to them as silencers. The name stuck, and many people refer to them as silencers, even though they do not actually silence gunshots. The terms are largely interchangeable, but I prefer to refer to them as suppressors because they suppress gunfire, they do not silence it.


End of Story?


We don’t think so.  The way we read it, many hunters and all those on the firing range still need to wear earplugs of some sort to protect against gunshot noise.  If so, then the suppressor/silencer is a form of added protection for the shooter.  In that case, the legislation is not to replace earplugs, but rather to supplement them.  But Mr. Williams says earplugs are not widely used by shooters, while suppressors are becoming “increasingly popular.” We see nothing in the legislation that educates or encourages shooters to use electronic earplugs together with suppressors, yet hunters who use only suppressors will continue to risk hearing damage.

Back to the original legislative rationale that suppressors will make “shooting firearms safer, more neighbor friendly and more enjoyable.”  Somewhat safer and more enjoyable for the shooter, yes.  But the neighbor friendly part doesn’t seem supported by the statements above, unless our neighbor is shooting off the front porch and the noise is bothering us.  Are people allowed to do that? Personally–and we think Harry Whittington might agree–we would feel more neighborly and enjoy life more if we could hear people shooting at us.  As Harry said, “accidents happen.”

The Ohio bill did pass in 2014 for use of suppressors with hunting and took effect in 2015.  We have also included HHTMs coverage on the Federal Level with noise suppression as well here.

Feature Image courtesy of Outdoor Hub


ABOUT KNOX WILLIAMS:  Knox Williams is the President and a Board Member of the American Silencer Association (ASA), a non-profit trade association that represents the suppressor industry. Knox has been involved with the ASA since it was formed in 2011. Previously, Knox was the Special Projects coordinator at Advanced Armament Corp., a suppressor manufacturer and subsidiary of Remington Arms Company. Knox has a BA in History from the University of Georgia, is a Life Member of the NRA, and is an Eagle Scout.

Leave a Reply