Did the suppressor (“silencer”) used in Virginia Beach attack make a difference in the carnage?

Jun 3, 2019 | Featured

“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].”




Glenn Kessler, the Fact Checker at the Washington Post, also made a very similar post.

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.



  1. Michael Prieur

    Great post, Dr. Lott. It puts sound into a physical perspective that can be understood by comparison to normal sounds that we hear.

  2. Tom Campbell

    In much of Europe, suppressors are encouraged for sporting firearm use and are available without the kind of licensing required here. I’m not sure about Canada. They think of firearm suppression as a health issue: hearing protection.

    There is some movement, backed by the NRA, to loosen the requirements for suppressor ownership for similar health reasons, for target, competition, and hunting.

    As noted in early reports from VA BCH that the perp had used a suppressed handgun, occupants reported having heard shots and recognized them as such. Hollywood has been bamboozling the theater-going public for a very, very long time. The only firearm for years that the CIA considered actually silenceable was an H&R .22 cal semi-auto. The current candidate may be a Ruger model.

    A suppressor reduces the energy of the discharge sound. It does not reduce at all the sound of the cycling of a semi-auto, which, in the personal protection calibers, will be significant on its own, and is a component of the total sound signature.

    Excellent, very informative graphics.

  3. jeffrey

    Using a suppressor will diminish the report at the muzzle, slightly. It does cause more gas to escape thru the ejection port which will increase the Db level.

  4. Wayne Reimer

    Suppressors in Canada are prohibited weapons. Completely illegal for anyone other than the military and Police tactical teams to possess and use. This is an excellent article; measured free of bias and scientifically supported. I like it; we don;t see this often any more

    • Tom Campbell

      Keep reading Lott’s site.
      Other to recommend: drgo.us (Doctors for Responsible Gun Ownership)

  5. Richard Hinman

    “it sounded like someone had been using a nail gun”- (David Benn- (traffic engineer/survivor of VA Beach shooting).
    “(I) thought it was a nail gun”- Christi Dewar, survivor of VA Beach shooting
    “If it was a regular gunshot we would of known a lot sooner”- Christi Dewar
    “(Christi) believes the lost time cost some of her co-workers their lives”- VA Pilot newspaper
    “silencers make it more difficult to quickly and accurately isolate the shooter’s location”- Dana Schrael, president of Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police.
    Sources: Virginia Pilot newspaper (pilotonline.com) and AP.

    • Cody

      It sounds nothing like a nail gun. Period. As for making it difficult to locate the shooter, that’s a load of bull. It’s still exceptionally loud.

    • Kelly Harbeson

      I can’t tell you how often I have heard a nail gun and thought it was a real firearm. Out where I live gunshots are more common than the sound of nail guns.

  6. Don Peoples

    All this talk about difficulties of detecting firearm shot location because of a suppressor in the VA Beach shooting or even recognizing noise as gunfire. According to news reports he had 2 45 Cal pistols but a suppressor on only one. So maybe only half of the shots were suppressed, which means the other half were at the normal decibel level.