By Kush Desai
Hillary Clinton claimed Monday that even more people would have been killed in the recent Las Vegas massacre if the shooter had used a “silencer.”
Clinton was making a pointed reference to a bill Congress is considering to ease restrictions on the sale and purchase of firearm suppressors.
Clinton’s claim implies that gun “silencers” reduce the noise made by the shooting of the bullet and the bullet’s flight and impact to a point of near inaudibility. Neither implication holds up to the facts.
A gun “silencer” or suppressor operates by “containing” the gases and fiery exhaust that are released upon the firing of a bullet. This release of high pressure gas and exhaust results in the loud sound associated with gunshots.
How loud a gunshot is depends on what gun and bullet are being fired. An average gunshot is around 140 decibels (dB), a unit that measures sound. Gun experts told The Daily Caller News Foundation that gunshots from assault rifles and automatic firearms, such as those used in the Las Vegas shooting, measure around 150 to 160 dB.
(For perspective, a busy city street measures around 80 dB loud.)
Suppressors similarly vary based on design and size in how much of this sound they can absorb.
Joshua Waldon, CEO of the gun suppressor designer and manufacturer SilencerCo., estimated to TheDCNF that unsuppressed gunshots range between 155 to 165 dB, while suppressed gunfire range in the “upper 130s,” a 20 to 30-decibel drop.
TheDCNF also examined a 2005 experiment that measured gunshot sound levels produced by over 120 combinations of guns, bullets, and suppressors. The experiment involved multiple assault rifles and automatic guns. The average sound level produced by the unsuppressed test shoots was over 160 dB. The average sound level produced by the suppressed test shoots was just over 135 dB, leaving an average 25 dB difference.
These case studies of suppressor effectiveness indicate significant sound reduction. Decibels are logarithmically scaled; a 12.5 percent drop in decibels from 160 dB to 140 dB represents a 10,000 percent reduction in sound, as each three-decibel increase or decrease represents a doubling or halving, respectively, of sound levels.
This supports Clinton’s notion that gun “silencers” or suppressors make gunshots significantly quieter. The issue, however, is that suppressed gunfire is still loud. Sound levels in the “upper 130s” decibels are comparable to those of a rock concert or sports crowd.
“It’s not like the movies,” SilencerCo. CEO Waldon told TheDCNF. “There’s zero reflection of what you see in Hollywood. It’s still loud.”
Gun suppressors lower gunshot sound levels “from simply ear shattering to very loud,” a New York-based gun hobbyist and Second Amendment advocate explained to TheDCNF.
The sound of the gunshot, however, is just half of the equation. There is also the sound made by the flight and impact of the bullet, both of which are affected by the speed of the bullet.
Suppressors’ effect on bullet speed is “low to nonexistent.”
The noise made by a bullet’s flight, often referred to as the sonic crack, is a “constant crack during the entire flight of the bullet because it’s flying [faster than] the speed of sound,” Waldon explained to the TheDCNF. “It’s an extremely loud, very loud sound.”
An experiment conducted for a 2014 outdoorsman and shooting training manual measured the sound made by variously sized bullets from a rifle, with and without a suppressor. Sound measurements were taken 165 feet away from the rifle. The experiment indicated immaterial changes in bullet flight sound levels with suppressor use.
This was just one experiment involving only one gun and suppressor with three different bullet sizes. Still, numerous gun experts and advocates confirmed its findings to TheDCNF – suppressors don’t reduce much sound from bullets already traveling faster than the speed of sound.
TheDCNF could not identify any publicly available measurements of the exact decibel sound level of bullet impacts at comparable ranges to the Las Vegas shooting with and without suppressors. Gun experts and hobbyists, including former military personnel, however, described bullet impacts as “just as loud as a bullet [being shot].”
Clinton claimed that the use of gun suppressors or “silencers” by the Las Vegas gunman could have worsened Sunday night’s tragedy that left nearly 60 dead and hundreds wounded on the basis that the crowd would not have heard the gunshots in time to flee. Although it is not confirmed yet if the shooter indeed was not even using a suppressor, Clinton’s claim relies on implications of how gun and gun suppressor mechanics work that do not hold up to the facts.