“When someone gets shot by a gun with a silencer, it’s quiet. Witnesses might not hear. Police will be less likely to track down the shooter.”
— Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), in a tweet, March 14
Virginia Governor Northam and Senator Tim Kaine are calling for a ban on suppressors. “Basically all the Democrats who run now, they run using gun safety as an offensive issue,” said US Senator Tim Kaine, Democrat of Virginia. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) has also called for a ban.
Despite what you might believe from watching TV shows or movies, suppressors (commonly known as “silencers”) do not make guns “silent” — not unless you consider an ambulance siren or jackhammer to be silent.
A typical finding regarding suppressors notes:
“The average suppression level, according to independent tests done on a variety of commercially available suppressors, is around 30 dB, which is around the same reduction level of typical ear protection gear often used when firing guns.“
A 9mm Glock makes a sound at 162 decibels. A 45 caliber ACP is at 158 decibels. Reducing those sounds down to about 130 decibels is still very loud (see graph below to get an idea of how loud these sounds are).
This tweet by Robyn Thomas of the Gabby Gifford Center shows lack of understanding that shooters use both suppressors and earplugs at the same time. Decibel levels of 130 are still very high. Using a silencer in conjunction with ear plugs or ear muffs can get the sound level down to a more manageable 100 db.
There is an apparent reason why the Virginia Beach killer used a suppressor. A .45 caliber gun is a powerful gun, and very loud. The echo inside of the building would make it particularly loud for the shooter. If you shoot at both outdoor and indoor shooting ranges, you will notice the difference. On average, suppressors reduce the noise generated by a .45 ACP pistol (the gun used in Friday’s attack) from around 157 decibels to something like 127 decibels, which is as loud as the peak noise in a stadium crowd and louder than a jackhammer, emergency vehicle siren, or thunder.
In early 2017, there were about 1.3 million silencers in the US. Very few crimes are committed with them.
The agency has only recommended prosecutions for 44 silencer-related crimes per year over the past decade. That means roughly .003 percent of silencers are used in crimes each year. Of those 44 crimes per year, only 6 involved defendants with prior felony convictions.
A BATF white paper put together under the Obama administration by Ronald Turk (January 20, 2017), the agency’s associate deputy director, wrote:
“Consistent with this low number of prosecution referrals, silencers are very rarely used in criminal shootings. Given the lack of criminality associated with silencers, it is reasonable to conclude that they should not be viewed as a threat to public safety necessitating [National Firearms Act] classification, and should be considered for reclassification under the [Gun Control Act].”
Here is also something on the Spokane, Washington police department adopting suppressors to “protect officers and civilians from hearing damage.”
More tests on suppressors are available here.