Readers counter Goldblog over the question:
I’m no gun nut. I don’t even own a gun (although I do sometimes go shooting). I’m a San Francisco liberal. I believe first and foremost that this is mainly about silencer sales. That being said, I think Jeffrey Goldberg is on the losing side of this argument. Guns are really loud. Goldberg acknowledges that and says that it’s true that “hunters who don’t wear ear protection may eventually damage their hearing.” That’s an understatement. Most guns are around 150-160 db. Just one shot can be enough to damage your hearing. “Silencers” (aka suppressors) can’t actually silence a gun or even get anywhere near that. It’s absolutely nothing like the pfft pfft you’d hear in a Bond film. It’s still about 130-145 db. This brings it down to the level of a military jet taking off. A car horn going off a meter from your ear is still quieter than a gun with a silencer. Even with a silencer, you should still be wearing hearing protection.
In other words, neighbors are still going to hear your shots if you fire a gun with a suppressor. On the other hand, it may be just enough quieter to save the hearing of many gun enthusiasts.
A hunter can wear ear protection. The guy getting up in the middle of the night to an intruder doesn’t have that luxury, and a suppressed weapon will allow him to fire more than one shot without it being as though a bomb has gone off and potentially deafen him and his family for the rest of their lives (since being indoors magnifies the sound from a fired gun many times over).
A gun owner writes:
What’s a silencer for? Hearing protection. Goldblog’s glib dismissal of the utility of silencers is a prime example of why gun people get so fed up with non-shooters and the idiocy about guns that Hollywood propagates.
Here is a pretty high-tech and very well established suppressor company, AAC. Here is a listing of all their large caliber suppressors. The “best” one in terms of dampening reduces noise levels by 39 decibels (dB); the typical suppression value is about 30 dB. Whats 30 dB? In an echo chamber, that’s the sound of someone whispering in a library six feet away from you. Typical rifle calibers have sound levels in excess of 150 dB. A jet engine at full throttle 100 feet away is only 140 dB (and please keep in mind, the scale is logarithmic). So attaching a silencer to a hunting rifle might reduce the loudness from 150 to, at most, 110 dB. Well, what else is around 110 dB? Running a circular saw 3 feet away (108), or a motorcycle (100), or an amplifier 4′ away from your head (120).
Should suppressors be available to everyone? No, probably not. But they should definitely be more available then they currently are, where you need to pay a $200 tax stamp to the federal government, subject yourself to a six-month FBI background check, and then get personal approval from your local police chief or sheriff, who hey, might want to “ask” you for political donations (just ask anyone at calguns.net for their CCW approval process).
Another passes along a video demonstrating how oil filters can be used as effective suppressers:
Perhaps Mr. Goldberg can explain how while a suppressor is as readily available as an oil filter (if you’re willing to break Federal Law), they’re not frequently used in violent crimes?
Western Criminology Review “Criminal Use of Firearm Silencers” (pdf) puts the number of suppressors related to crime (including cases where the unlawful possession of a suppressor was part of the charges) at around 30-40 federal cases/year between 1995-2005, and only 12 federal cases (not per year – just 12 total) where the suppressor was used in the commission of the crime. Partially-reported case data for California shows similarly rare incidence of use.
Bruce Schneier coined the term “movie-plot threat” when talking about security and risk analysis in terms of terrorism, but it certainly applies to the use of “silencers” here.