Does a Suppressed Pistol Sound like a Nail Gun?

(Editor’s Note: The following is an article from the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action.)

In response to reports that the Virginia Beach shooter used a firearm suppressor in carrying out his terrible crime, David Chipman, Senior Policy Advisor for the Giffords gun control group, claimed that a suppressed pistol is especially dangerous because the noise associated with the firearm is difficult to distinguish from a nail gun. As per usual for claims Chipman and his employer make about firearm suppressors, this is false. 

In an article appearing in the Virginian-Pilot, Chipman claims, “The gun does not sound gun-like. It takes the edge out of the tone . . . This is how I would describe it: It makes a gun sort of sound like a nail gun.” 

But, a suppressed .45 caliber pistol, like the one that is reported to have been used in Virginia Beach, is many times louder than a nail gun:

  • A suppressed .45 caliber pistol produces about 130-135 dBA.
  • A nail gun produces about 100 dBA.
  • Decibels (dBA) are a logarithmic scale, so sound levels increase in a non-linear fashion. A 3 dBA increase doubles the sound pressure level. (Although most people perceive a 6 to 10 dBA increase as double the noise level.)

The 30-35 dBA difference between a nail gun and a suppressed pistol will be perceived as at least eight times louder to the human ear.

As an interesting comparison, an unsuppressed pistol produces about 165 dBA. So the difference between an unsuppressed and suppressed pistol is about the same difference in sound pressure level between a suppressed pistol and a nail gun.

Chipman can’t have it both ways, if, as he claims, suppressed gunfire can’t be easily identified as gunfire, then suppressed gunfire doesn’t sound anything like a nail gun.

This isn’t Chipman’s first attempt to mislead the public on firearm suppressors. In 2017, he made a false claim about the design intent of suppressors. And, his employer received three “Pinocchios” from the Washington Post fact checker for misleading claims they made about suppressors.

Unfortunately, the Virginian-Pilot article created further confusion about suppressors by producing audio files that purport to show the difference in sound level between nail guns, suppressed pistols, and unsuppressed pistols. Listening to recorded audio through speakers or headphones cannot accurately depict these sound differences. Due to microphone and speaker specifications, most sounds in audio recordings are reproduced at a similar sound level. This is why normal conversations and gunfire can both be reproduced in the same audio recording despite the fact that one of the sounds is over 100 dBA louder than the other.

The only way to accurately perceive the differences in sound levels is to hear them in person (with appropriate hearing protection). Short of that, if the Virginian-Pilot wanted to accurately convey differences in sound level, using commonly occurring sounds can be helpful.

For example, a suppressed pistol at over 130 dBA is louder than the maximum sound level of a jackhammer. Not exactly quiet and nothing like a nail gun.  

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{ 7 comments… add one }
  • Michael June 28, 2019, 8:41 am

    As a legal owner of a silencer I finally had a way to shoot without having the ringing I constantly have not turn up and blast my ears for hours after going to the gun range. Shooting rimfires is a joy again and hunting a blast since the whole woods doesn’t shut down after a shot. I liberals will never quit in their quest and our side should never cave in to the onslaught.

  • andy June 25, 2019, 3:55 pm

    .22 subsonic about like a BBgun

  • Johnny June 14, 2019, 7:55 pm

    I’m stuck in a no suppressors whatsoever state so, can’t chime in too much but, across state lines have had the chance to fire a handful of suppressed weapons and different suppressors. I almost have to laugh when I hear how evil “silencers” (SUPPRESSORS!!!) are due to them being able to make a firearm as quiet as the anti gunners and simply ignorant folks believe. I say “almost” because a lot of this nonsense does get passed:’’’(

    Without trying to stir any pots and certainly not naming names as they were quality suppressors but, I can honestly say the first time I got the chance to fire a suppressed 9mm (unsure of ammo they gave me to try it?), I felt like the young ladies who leave my house Saturday and Sunday mornings feel when I get lucky…let down and totally unsatisfied! LOL

    Without hearing protection was is much more tolerable and SAFE? Sure. Can I honestly say it was what I’d consider “quiet or, for that matter “silenced”? Not even a little. I hope the rest of the free states get left alone here.

  • Steve in Detroit June 14, 2019, 7:46 am

    It seems to me that these anti firearm groups lie out their teeth, and media gobbles it up. Maybe it is time for Pro 2nd to get more aggressive on this.

  • kenny smith June 14, 2019, 4:28 am

    one idiot shooter and now another idiot ban. a suppressed weapon indoors would probably save more lives since people wouldn’t be in shock and freeze from the insane noise but they would realize the danger.

  • Jaque June 10, 2019, 8:44 pm

    Who believes Trump will read more than a sentence about supressors before he orders their ban. The man has done many great things but supporting the Second Amendment has not been one of them. The NRA’s boy has double crossed us. Or maybe the NRA knew about trump all along.

    • BR549 June 14, 2019, 7:27 am

      I really hate to say it, but I agree with you. Between this issue, the fact that we are STILL having illegals being dropped off at cities across the US, AND his entire stance on Israel, I’m beginning to wonder if Trump wasn’t a globalist Trojan Horse from the start.

      No one, I repeat, NO ONE, supposedly that savvy in the business world could also be that stupid not to see the damage being caused by globalism, not just to the US, but to each and every country on the globe trying to maintain their rightful sovereignty.

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