Suppressors, the firearm accessory called a “silencer” by those who wish to see them remain tightly regulated, have become a sort of boogeyman for those wishing to control and limit access to both guns and suppressors. In spite of the widespread vilification of the devices, the Spokane, Wash., Police Department has chosen to equip every single AR-15 within their responsibility with a suppressor to protect the hearing of their officers and bystanders.
Most people likely don’t consider hearing safety to be a primary concern for law-enforcement officers. But it is of great concern to the officers and any civilians that may be near a firearm in use by the police. A suppressor doesn’t actually silence the gun; it merely muffles the sound and reduces muzzle flash. Lt. Rob Boothe, range master and lead firearm instructor for the Spokane Police Department, told The Spokesman Review that the accessory is analogous to a common car part: “It’s nothing more than like the muffler you put on your car.”
The Spokane PD has 181 service rifles in its inventory; using suppressors on them has the potential to reduce workers compensation claims and lawsuits from bystanders. The sound of a firearm’s discharge has been likened to the engine noise of a jet at takeoff. That’s a ton of noise for an unsuspecting bystander to withstand without proper warning.
The Spokane PD has 181 service rifles in its inventory; using suppressors on them has the potential to reduce workers compensation claims and lawsuits from bystanders.Concerned citizens have raised questions about the amount of sound that is reduced by suppressors. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration sets the bar at which people experience hearing damage at 140 decibels, the discharge of the type of rifle used by Spokane PD measures at 152 decibels. The suppressor in use by SPD reduces that to 134 decibels—just under the OSHA safety level. The sound emitted from those rifles will still be louder than that of a chainsaw.
This action not only makes sense, it’s recommended by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). ATF waives the $200 tax that is required of individuals seeking to purchase a suppressor and expedites the requests of law enforcement agencies.
“There’s this Hollywood mystique,” Boothe said, explaining why more civilians don't support the use of suppressors. The current furor over proposed legislative changes that would make suppressors easier to purchase is nothing more than fearmongering by individuals who haven’t taken the time to inform themselves on what the device can and cannot do. A suppressor cannot “silence” a firearm. It can only reduce the sound and muzzle flash, and suppress the concussive impact of each shot.
Boothe went on to properly categorize suppressors, describing them as “an OSHA-approved noise-reduction device.” He’s right; this truly is a safety issue. According to B. Gil Horman writing at americanrifleman.org, “The second element of a firearm's report is the pressure wave created by the rapid expansion of propellant gases produced when a cartridge's powder charge ignites.” Horman goes on to describe the “bang” that routinely associated with gunfire: “As these hot, fast-moving gases collide with the cool, slow-moving air around the muzzle of the gun, they produce the familiar ‘bang’ associated with shooting. It's this portion of a gun’s noise that suppressors are designed to reduce.” This lessens the thud or pounding noise to the ears and chest of those near the discharging weapon. Again, the use of suppressors is to increase the safety of the user and any persons nearby.
Spokane PD plans to do an informational outreach program to apprise the public of the reasons for the suppressor purchases and benefits of their use. Suppressor use is not, and has never been, about making guns silent to shield the public from their use. It’s about protecting the hearing of shooters, whether law enforcement officers or average citizens.
Stacy Washington is a decorated Air Force veteran, Emmy-nominated TV personality and host of nationally syndicated radio program “Stacy on the Right,” based in St. Louis. She loves God and guns, and is a member of the NRA.